August 18, 2018

Rev. Dr. Victor Scalise Jr., looks over photos with parishioners Andrea and Carl Gauntlett of Tyngsboro at his retirement reception. Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- Calvary Baptist Church was where Rev. Victor Scalise Jr. grew up, and built the foundation for his life and calling.

It was where he sat, rapt by the sermons his father, Rev. Victor Scalise Sr., the church’s former pastor of 35 years, thundered from the pulpit. It was where he married his late first wife, Mary Love, and where he said good-bye to his father upon his death, he recalled as tears came to his eyes.

On Sunday, it was where Scalise Jr., now 86 and retiring from his 60-year preaching ministry, delivered his final sermon, “God’s Wake-up Call.”

“I’m grateful that God in his infinite wisdom worked it out that way,” he said.

Now living in Seattle, Washington, Scalise Jr. and his second wife, Carolyn, spend their summers in Maine. During that time, he guest preaches at churches around New England, and said, “God knew” Calvary had to be his last stop.

He was happy to see many of the friends he’d known from his time in Lowell, including his former Eagle Scout mentor, George Simonian, of Chelmsford, and longtime friend Bill Franks, of Tyngsboro.

Church Moderator Faye Roberts, of Lowell, said his parents would be proud to know he returned to Lowell for his last sermon.

“It’s heartwarming to think that he hasn’t forgotten where he came from,” she said.

Scalise Jr. said his father’s great faith and intellect and his mother Adelina’s unconditional love made them “the greatest of parents.”

Scalise Sr. hoped his son would be a philosopher like him, but Scalise Jr. cared more about baseball than books -- besides the Bible, of course. (Scalise Jr.’s son, Doug, who is pastor of Brewster Baptist Church, is a bit of his dad and grandfather, though his father says he has “outshined me in every way possible.”)

After attending Mount Hermon School and Colby College, Scalise Jr. was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. He served for three years, two at Yokota Air Base in Japan. There, he was in charge of aerial photography, but what engaged him most was teaching American history, public speaking and speed reading. Through those courses, he fostered exchanges with Japanese students at Waseda University and International Christian University, “so that our American servicemen would get a firsthand feel for the new Japan that was emerging,” he said.

Scalise Jr. said he also witnessed debauchery, gambling, drinking and prostitution that made him long for his Baptist upbringing.

“I said, ‘Life is not meant to be led this way,’ and I really felt a strong call to the Christian ministry,” he said.

When he returned home, he attended Andover Newton Theological School and earned his doctor of ministry.

He began preaching in 1958 at the Stratford Street Baptist Church in West Roxbury, followed by 17 years in Brookline, where he helped develop a United Parish that brought together Congregational, Methodist and Baptist churches.

Scalise Jr. served 12 years as president of the New England Institute of Applied Funeral Arts and Sciences and helped found the National Center for Death Education, moving the mode of funeral service to caring for the living and helping them cope with loss.

His most rewarding ministry was serving 40 years as a volunteer chaplain at Boston Children’s Hospital. He recalled one late night in the early 1960s he met with a couple that lost their baby.

“The woman said to me, “I hate God,‘” he said. “At that time, I had a child that age and one a little older. I looked at her and I said, “If it was my child, I’d feel the same way.’ She threw her arms around me and began to cry, and we just hugged each other.”

Being a good minister is about listening and meeting the needs of the person in front of you, he said.

Scalise Jr. said, “God’s wake-up call” is one of the major theological themes in the Bible, and allowed him to use classic and familiar stories to connect with the congregation.

His sermon covered a number of ways he feels God is calling people to move and act: from selfishness to selflessness, from complacency to compassion, from fighting to forgiveness, from individual and collective hopelessness to hope in Jesus Christ, and from a conventional to a Christ-centered faith.

Andrea Gauntlett, of Tyngsboro, was chair of the board of deacons at First United Baptist Church in Lowell when Scalise Jr. was interim pastor there in 2006 and they quickly became friends. Since then, Gauntlett said she’s gone to see him guest preach at least once a summer, sometimes driving as far as Rhode Island.

“He’s amazing,” she said. ” He’s a storyteller and he’s a wise person.”

Frank Crowther, of Shrewsbury, said he and his five brothers grew up in Lowell listening to Scalise Sr.’s sermons, but he never met Scalise Jr. until Sunday.

“The wake-up call can apply to so many different areas of your life,” Crowther said, “I could hear a lot of his dad in him.”

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