The history of Sunset Point Camp
As summer approaches and the school year ends, we thought it worth looking at the foundations of Sunset Point Camp, operated by Catholic Charities Boston.
The earliest iteration of Catholic Charities Boston was the Central Bureau of Information, established Jan. 1, 1903, with the primary purpose of overseeing the well-being of orphans who had been placed with families. However, it was soon renamed the Catholic Charitable Bureau, and the breadth of its charitable works greatly expanded.
Only eight years after its inception, the bureau began providing a summer vacation for Boston's poor sickly children, believing that removing them from the city for a time and providing "fresh air, sunshine, and the healing strength of sea bathing" would restore their health.
For example, in July 1918, The Pilot made known that Mrs. W. W. Taff of Brookline provided her summer home in Marblehead for this purpose, and that 25 "needy sickly children" were in residence, supervised by a lay woman, a nurse from the Boston School Nurses Department, and a "playground teacher."
The annual success of this program attracted the attention of Cardinal William O'Connell who, in 1920, called "for the establishment of a permanent Vacation House for Sickly Children." In March of the same year, he purchased "an acre of land most desirably located" at Sunset Point, Nantasket, Hull, Massachusetts. The Knights of Columbus subsequently donated a house they owned on nearby Bumpkin Island, which was removed to the property at Sunset Point intended to serve as the program's permanent home.
It was hoped the new house would be ready in June, but delays removing it from Bumpkin Island, setting it in its new location, and connecting it with local utilities meant that Cardinal O'Connell was not able to bless the house until Sunday, Aug. 1, 1920. A crowd of 400 people looked on and were invited to walk through and inspect the building before the first 50 boys arrived the following day. Despite the late start, the annual report of the Catholic Charitable Bureau for 1920 noted 247 boys and girls were able to spend a week at Vacation House.
The home typically provided several hundred children, aged six to 12, one week of vacation each year. Boys and girls alternated weeks, with volunteer seminarians from St. John's Seminary in Brighton supervising the boys, and ladies from the bureau's auxiliary supervising the girls. A nurse was also on property to oversee the wellbeing of each child.
In addition to the fresh air, sunshine, and physical activity, particular attention was paid to the food, which, it was emphasized, was to be nutritious and available in abundance. For example, it was noted that, in 1920, each child gained a minimum of three pounds during their stay, though, "advantages to the children are more evident in other ways than in increased weight. Many of them are refreshed in spirit and refurbished with much needed clothing, besides, the advantage of daily devotion and prayers."
There had been an altar in the original house, which was likewise transferred to Sunset Point, and Father Michael J. Scanlan, director of the Catholic Charitable Bureau at the time, and his assistant, Father George P. O'Connor, were given permission to celebrate Mass there with the children, though they were often joined by other Catholics in Hull.
Over 100 years later, Sunset Point Camp continues to be operated by Catholic Charities Boston, offering weekly overnight and day camp options. For more information we encourage you to visit www.ccab.org/family-youth-services/after-school-summer-programs/sunset-point-camp.
- Thomas Lester is the archivist of the Archdiocese of Boston.