“Calling to Remembrance…”
On December 14th, in anticipation of her marriage the next afternoon, young Sophie visited several stores along Washington Street selecting items for her ‘trousseau’. Her brother Thomas paid the bills that totaled $275. She left her brother near Summer Street, promising to meet him later at home, and headed for a savings bank to withdraw another $100 from her mother’s account. Her intention was to purchase furniture for her new apartment and have lunch at the Syrian Café on Beach Street before returning home. Sophie withdrew the money, visited a few stores, had lunch and ran some errands. She never returned home. According to the ‘Boston Globe’ headline the next day, young and beautiful 18 year old Sophie had disappeared “under strange and mysterious circumstances".
Sophie and her family emigrated from ‘Syria’ in 1889. They lived on Albany Street and her father was in the dry goods business and was quite successful and well known. Sophie, who was described as being ‘quite accomplished’, was educated at the Quincy School on Tyler Street. Trained in ‘millinery’, she worked at a hat store on Bedford Street and frugally saved her earnings for her wedding day. Joseph, her betrothed, was a cousin and his marriage to Sophie had been agreed upon by the two families since they were children. Described as a ‘steady fellow of excellent reputation’, Joseph was twenty-five and worked as a shoemaker. According to her brother, “Sophie loved her cousin dearly and looked forward to today as the happiest of her life”. Thomas feared that something terrible had happened to his sister and stated that “She never was away from home a night in her life, and never was out evenings even. She was devoted to her home and her parents. She does not know what evil life or associations are”. Detective Daniel W. Sullivan of the 4th Division was put on the case.
With the assistance of patrolmen from the LaGrange Street Station, Detective Sullivan made inquiries among the ‘Syrians’ in Boston hoping to find some information concerning the missing girl. The police were instructed to conduct a thorough investigation and to be vigilant in their search for clues that could lead to Sophie’s whereabouts. The diligent detective retraced Sophie’s steps from the previous day, visiting every store and speaking with every clerk. By the end of the day no trace of the girl was found. Sullivan put out a ‘general alarm’ and wired police departments in several cities asking them to assist with the search. He suspected someone knew that the girl was carrying a large amount of money and decided to rob her. He also feared that drugs may have been used to render her unconscious. He did not believe that Sophie ran away from home and found no evidence that she did not want to marry her cousin. He concluded that getting married to Joseph was ‘the dream of her life’. Detective Sullivan believed ‘something foul has happened’.
Fr. George visited Sophie’s family and found her mother, attended by several women of the community, ‘in a state of alarm, prostrate and confined to her bed’. Together with her father and brother, Fr. George visited the Café where Sophie reportedly had lunch the day before. Located at 73 ½ Beach Street, just around the corner from Fr. George’s residence, the Café was known as the local ‘headquarters’ for the ‘Syrian’ colony. It was operated by Shakny Talyfal and Kallil Nassar whose wife Mahinie was related to Sophie. They discovered that the two women had left the Café together and visited several shops the day before.
Kallil and Mahinie were in New York on business, having traveled there by train the previous evening. Eager to speak with Mahinie and suspicious of her involvement, Thomas spoke with Detective Sullivan. He described his relative as being ‘a beautiful young woman of about twenty five years, of a decidedly adventurous disposition who had appeared before the stage footlights’. He believed that Mahinie had ‘filled his sister’s head with romantic stories of stage life and travel’ and induced her to run away to New York. Sullivan wired the New York police department to join the search. Fr. George contacted a priest in New York asking his assistance.
By ‘persistent inquiry and careful watching’ Detective Sullivan followed up on a series of clues over the next several days. With the assistance of Fr. George and Thomas, Sullivan established that Sophie had left Boston by train in the company of Kallil and Mahinie along with a man named Jacob N. who was also identified as a cousin. They were traced to the ‘Syrian’ colony in New York where they managed to elude the police for a couple of days.
A priest in New York informed Fr. George that he had married Sophie and Jacob on Saturday the 15th. He claimed that, at first, he protested and refused to perform the marriage. He reluctantly relented after the couple threatened to run off to a Protestant minister to be married. The marriage took place at the ‘Syrian’ Church in New York witnessed by several members of the local community. Following their wedding, the newlyweds, aware of the search being conducted, went off to hide in Providence accompanied by Mahinie as her husband returned to Boston.
Detective Sullivan visited Kallil and convinced him of the serious nature of his most recent activities. Sullivan outlined the laws related to abduction and convinced Kallil to contact his wife and bring Jabour and Sophie safely back to Boston. The next morning, one week after her disappearance, Detective Sullivan and Fr. George witnessed Sophie being greeted at South Station by her brother. Thomas and Sophie were described as “clasped in each other’s arms”. Thomas accompanied the newlyweds home where they were received by Sophie’s mother “who had been confined to her bed”. News that “the lost had been found” spread rapidly through the ‘Syrian’ colony and by noon dozens of countrymen were visiting the home on Albany Street. The family was left to “forgive and forget”. The cousin Joseph, who lost his bride, was reported to be ‘in deep grief’ and nearly heartbroken.
In his first few days as pastor to the ‘Syrian’ colony, Fr. George was immersed in the emotional melodrama of an impressionable teenager caught up in the seductive allure of American society.
As a single parent of a teenage daughter he must have been particularly concerned that a young woman like Sophie, from a protective and traditional family, could succumb to such temptations.
The experience, no doubt, served him well in what would go on to be his exemplary ministry to an immigrant ‘colony’ facing unprecedented social and cultural pressures.
His reputation from back home as a ‘kind and gentle priest with a big heart’ was borne out as he ministered to a distraught mother, an anxiety ridden brother and a concerned community that came together around a perceived tragedy. He must have been impressed with the sincerity and diligence of Detective Sullivan and the precinct police officers as they investigated the case. Their genuine concern for the welfare of Sophie and their regard for the community must have stood in sharp contrast to any experience he had with policemen in the old country. Fr. George would quickly win the respect of the local police as a leader and spokesman for the immigrant community. The Sophie caper had introduced him to the local intrigues and intrusions of family and relatives as they sought to perpetuate cultural norms for arranged marriages in an alien society. Fr. George and Thomas remained unconvinced of the wisdom of Sophie’s choice.
Six months later the Boston Globe ran an article entitled “Married Again, Sophie Returned to First Love”. The story relates that, Sophie’s marriage to Jacob was annulled by both the state and the church on the grounds that her parents had not consented to the marriage, that she was under age and that her husband had misrepresented himself as her cousin. Sophie married her first love, Joseph. Reportedly, everyone “seemed satisfied”. We can only assume that they lived happily ever after.