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Religion for me is a very personal thing, and I don’t talk about it much on this blog. However, a couple of weeks ago, a truly great man was born into eternity. Next to my father; Msgr Tom was probably the most inspirational man I’ve ever known. He passed a couple of weeks ago, within a day of his friend, another popular priest in Hampton Roads area. The Virginia Pilot had a great piece about him and his friend, Msgr William Pitt. You may read his obituary also, which gives good background on him.
I am honored to have have him as a friend and confidant.
I first really interacted with (then) “Father Tom” when I was assigned to write a paper for a religious class I was taking for college. When I asked him if I could use the library at the church, he smiled and said of course. As I performed my research, he would come in, ask how I was doing and we would usually end up in a theological conversation. He allowed me to come to my own conclusions, to slowly put the pieces together in my head. Over time, we discussed many things, including differences between the various religions. I cannot recall him ever saying one is better than another, he simply asked me questions. I do remember discussing some of the commonalities between the various religions; and all of them have a common thread – they provide a common (more or less) set of guidelines to live life by. We discussed the core beliefs, and he taught me that everyone is looking for something – and rarely are people looking for the same exact thing. The core beliefs don’t change, nor do they go away. The rest of the church is, in my words: fluff, put in place for our benefit.
After my paper was done, he continued to answer my questions. After many weeks spent in conversation, I asked him if I could go through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program. He then asked me; if you believe the core beliefs, then then you can and should. And so I did. I’ve never looked back. I’m far from being a “good” Catholic, but Fr. Tom was OK with me, and that’s good enough for me. There is a quote from one of his friends, the Rev. Thomas Quinlan, that sums up my view pretty well; “When you come to the Catholic church and dip your finger in the holy water, don’t throw your brains out at the same time.” That strikes a cord with me, a good cord. I don’t think the church wants lemmings, it wants people who will live the faith. I’m trying, and I like to think Fr. Tom is proud of me.
A Mass presided over by Fr. Tom was anything but boring – he had a great voice. He never (to my knowledge) had a written homily, it was spoken and relevant. He had a way in injecting the weekly readings into a medium I could understand, and take meaning from. I see the lineage between Fr. Tom and another young priest (we’ll call him Fr. Fred) who now presides over Mass at this Church; and he displays many of the same characteristics. I enjoy his homilies a lot also – I think he will bloom into an awesome priest.
Over the years, we moved on to another parish; but whenever I saw Fr. Tom he knew my name and asked about my family; we would talk and laugh. The past few years he was in the same assisted living as my auntie; initially when I saw him we would talk; but later he would not recognize me anymore; but he always greeted me with a big handshake and a jolly response. I would hear him singing from time to time…and that always put a smile on my face; even if he no longer knew me.
His obituary states that his life was a journey, church was a pilgrim community, and ministry was companionship along the way. He has now entered a new phase of his journey – I wish you all the best, and I look forward to seeing you down the road.
Do you remember Fr. Tom? Feel free to share your memories.