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Blessed ‘Bongo’ – man, priest, teacher

This is the season of acceptances and rejections when high school seniors experience the joy of victory or the agony of defeat when the dreaded envelopes arrive.

My oldest grandchild, a senior at BC High, applied to about 10 colleges and, unlike me, got into most of them. It looks like he will be studying engineering at Notre Dame next year.

A member of the National Honor Society, he invited me to his induction last year. After the ceremony, he asked if I had been a member. I smiled and said I don’t think they had such an organization when I was at BC High; at least I never heard of it.

The truth be told I had about as much chance of getting into the National Honor Society as Father Frank Scannell, our beloved senior home room teacher, had of being pope.

Fr. Scannell always got the rascals in the “How did we manage to graduate?” section. He was the probably the only one with the patience and good humor to put up with us.

I will always remember that solemn face breaking into a smile at someone’s antics in the classroom, and the chorus of “We got him going” that always provoked a laugh. A kind and gentle priest, he was not cut out to be a disciplinarian.

He acquired the nickname “Bongo” from his students, the product of his many years as a missionary in Jamaica. When he started to smile, the entire class began to softly sing Jamaica Farewell: “Down the way where the nights are gay and the sun shines daily on the mountaintops …”

The smartest kid in the section was Louie White, the only African American in the class. Now deceased, he went on to have a distinguished career as a lawyer, later changing his name to Salim Shakour. I once asked him if he was still a Catholic. He replied that he was but the name change was good for business.
When Father Scannell needed the right answer, he could always call on Louie, a class act. If there was anyone in our section in the National Honor Society, it was him.

The rest of the class was made of misfits, most of whom had managed to become seniors after time spent in summer school. But, they were a delightful group of guys and some of the funniest fellows I ever met.

As seniors, the pressure was off and we were likely to graduate. With his “easy-rider” reputation, we knew Father Scannell would see to it. His classroom was fun; you never knew when someone would say or do something that would cause “Bongo” to smile.

I remember one class when Charlie Kelly, a St. Gregory’s graduate and outstanding football player at the high school, fell asleep. Seeing this, Father Scannell called on him. The fellow sitting behind nudged Charlie and he woke up.

Realizing he had been called upon, Charlie got to his feet, not having a clue as to what question was asked. He looked desperately for a lifeline.

Someone near him whispered, “a stitch in time saves nine. Charlie’s eyes lit up and in a commanding voice, he said, “a stitch in time saves nine.” That having nothing to do with the question, the whole class, including “Bongo,” broke up.

Unlike my grandson, I was spared having to make choices between colleges. The only one that accepted me was Boston College. Back then, if you graduated from BC High, you were virtually assured admission to BC.

I remember my high school experience with great affection. For me, it was more important then college. The combination of discipline, hard work, dedicated teachers, few distractions (no girls), and great classmates was what I needed. I appreciate it more now than I did then.

To the late Father Frank “Bongo” Scannell from all the boys he taught over the years: a thank you. Your kind and gentle spirit will not be forgotten. May you rest near a tropical beach, listening to the waves as the gentle trade winds blow onshore.

James W. Dolan, BC High Class of 1956, is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.