An Evening with the Oblates

An Evening with the Oblates

Please join us for our inaugural event, An Evening with the Oblates. This gala formally known as Black Tie for White Collars, will be held at the DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, DE and will feature dinner prepared by acclaimed chef, TV and radio personality, Fr. Leo Patalinghug, followed by dancing with the Midnight Hour band. All proceeds from the night go to advance the mission of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.


“Come to me...”

“Come to me...”

“Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your hearts will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

These three brief Gospel verses capture the essence of our Oblate vocation which is to live Jesus and to bring him to our world today through the learned doctrine and inviting spirit of St. Francis de Sales. These verses are in the DNA of all who embrace Salesian spirituality. I would like to say a little something about the key elements of these verses.

Homecoming by Coming Home to Yourself and to God

Homecoming by Coming Home to Yourself and to God

We celebrated Homecoming 2019 on our campus last Saturday, a celebration which really began on Wednesday night with a King of Wings eating contest. It was fun to watch, the teams got very creative. Alumnae/i returned for Tailgating and the Homecoming Game, televised on ESPN3 (which we won, thanks be to God). Others joined us for Mass and a Reunion Dinner later in the day.

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. William J. Hultberg, Jr., OSFS
September 13, 2019

GOSPEL: Matthew 25:31-46

To Fr. Bill’s immediate Family: Joseph and Larry Hultberg, Joseph and Art Blansfield, Debbie Gill, John Ryan, Jan and Chip Dycio and Kim Taylor. We – The Oblates, your friends and relatives present in this assembly -- along with all who called or texted by phone or attended in person this morning’s and last night’s viewings, -- WE offer you this day our deepest sympathy and pledge our sincere prayers and heart-felt love as you mourn the death of Fr. Bill.

To Fr. Bill’s extended Family: All the Friends of Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob here this morning – and most especially his colleagues, friends and alumni from Caron Treatment Centers – you honor us by your presence here today. We thank you for loving and supporting Fr. Bill in his ministry on that “Magic Mountain” in Wernersville and we are forever grateful to all of you for being the light of his life!

Last, but by no means least: To all members of the United States Military present, both active duty and retired. We offer you our love, our thanks for you service and our appreciation for your esteem and high regard for one of your own -- Lt. Col. William J. Hultberg.

Whether you travelled here by SUV this morning from a row house in Reading, Pennsylvania or carpooled from your AA clubhouse in Northeast Philly.

Whether you read the obituary as an Alumnus of Bishop Ireton High School or heard the news through the grapevine at your regular NA homegroup in Robesonia or Sinking Springs.

Whether you got a phone call from an old acquaintance from Bishop Duffy High School in Niagara Falls or received the news by email from an old Army buddy.

Whether you had to bum a ride here today with your 12 Step sponsor because you are newly sober or whether you are about to graduate from that awesome program at the Lyman House.

Whether you worked with Fr. Bill for double digit years at Caron Treatment Centers or sat with him in Wilmington these last three years at the Early Risers Meeting.

Whether Fr. Bill taught you at Northeast Catholic in Philadelphia, or you got to know him through those wonderful HIV Positive Recovery Retreats he led these many years.

Today, this day, here in this beautiful Church of the Immaculate Conception in bustling downtown Elkton, -- You are all dignitaries. You are our welcome guests. For God has touched you through the life of Fr. Bill Hultberg. ...and I greet you as family and friends.

Perhaps, you are wondering: WHO AM I?

God gave me the gift of living in three separate Oblate Communities with Fr. Bill. Let me introduce myself in the way that some employees knew me from my days of subbing at Chapel Service for Fr. Bill and Rev. Jack up at Caron: I am Fr. Mike, one of Fr. Bill’s Drunk Monks!

I too am a most grateful guest this morning as we gather around the Lord’s Table and offer Mass for the repose of Fr. William Hultberg, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

The Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, himself a recovering alcoholic with over 30 years of sobriety, began a recent talk with the following quote: All wisdom is plagiarism. Only stupidity is original. I’d like to acknowledge this morning, that most of my homily for Fr. Bill’s funeral, has been unabashedly stolen from some of the “spiritual giants” who Father Hultberg found to be inspirational in his life. And taking the cue of our patron, Francis de Sales, I have simply rearranged the flowers of the bouquet in the earnest hope that it is found pleasing in the eyes of God.

Some of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the book by Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer. It was published about forty years ago and has become something of a classic in the field of pastoral ministry. To illustrate his concept of ministry, Nouwen related an old legend from the Talmud which is the source from which the Code of Jewish Law is derived.

In the legend, Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet while he was standing at the entrance of a cave. He asked Elijah,

“When will the Messiah come?” Elijah replied:
“Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?”
“Sitting in the gates of the city”
“How shall I know him?”
“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time
and then bind them back again. But HE -- HE unbinds one at a time and then binds it up again, -- saying
to himself.
“Perhaps I shall be needed: If so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.”

This, Father Nouwen said, is how healing works. It takes place when the wounded offer themselves to the wounded. It is a concept most of us have heard about at one time or another. But how frequently do we live out its power? This morning, I’d like to draw our attention to that awesome power and how it can, how it did and how it does transform lives.

This is not a new idea. It dates back at least to the origins of the Book of Numbers a few thousand years ago. In that record, the Children of Israel were camped out among poisonous snakes. They were suffering a lot of snake bites and looking to Moses for a cure. Through divine intervention, Moses offers this logically contradictory form of healing: He puts the image of a snake up on pole and has anyone who is bitten gaze upon it and find healing. It’s the principle of finding the cure in “the hair of the dog that bit you”, so to speak.

Somewhere buried in this legend is a bit of time-honored brilliance about suffering and healing. It is this: Healing is found not so much through exposure to that which is healthy, as through a controlled sharing in the disease itself. We all know this to be true, and we know how just about everything from polio to chicken pox is controlled by the same principle. Modern medicine has proven the wisdom of this ancient intuition.

This same ancient wisdom lies at the heart of the identity, ministry and message of Jesus Christ. Recall Chapter 3 of John’s Gospel. Jesus said: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him, even if he die, may have eternal life.”

In other words, Jesus shared in our human condition; he experienced suffering and knew what it was like to be utterly abandoned – totally alone. His death was not, as some might suggest, merely an act performed for our benefit by a God who is incapable of suffering. His passion and death were a genuine participation in the same kind of miserable, frightening, sorrow-filled snake-bitten reality that is ours. And in a remarkable way that can take a lifetime for any of us to begin to comprehend, “by his wounds, are we healed”. Healing happens through the sharing in the human experience, one wounded person to another. Sound familiar?

This is profoundly true for each of us who sit in this Church this morning. I doubt that there is anyone here who has not been wounded and who does not carry some of the scars of those wounds. I doubt that there is not a man or woman present who has not known deep loss and sadness, and who cannot still touch the depths of that loss from time to time. Our God knows that. The co-founders of AA --Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith knew that, and Fr. Bill knew that truth very, very well.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my brother Oblate Fr. Mike Murray, our assistant provincial and director of province administration for his well- researched obituary for Fr. Hultberg. After naming all of Fr. Bill’s surviving family members, he included “the countless other people whose lives were forever changed for having experienced this man who could accurately be described as a “Wounded Healer”.

Like his Savior, Fr. Bill was a man of many wounds and scars. And yet, it was through his faith in God (his Higher Power) and a daily program of recovery based on a spiritual way of life, that he found healing. He was a grateful recipient of that divine wisdom which took possession of his life. It staunchly reminded Bill daily that in order to keep the gift of healing, he had to generously and zealously give it away.

Fr. Bill as Wounded Healer was many things to many people, yet above all, he was ever an Oblate and always the Teacher. He taught lessons of life and I’d like to talk about him in the context of one of his favorite prayers, a prayer he kept in a compartment of his wallet. It was cited in countless talks he gave and read in regular 12 step meetings he attended. It was the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.”

He lived this prayer throughout the whole of his life…..

1934… Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Born into a very sick family torn apart by alcoholism, 3-year-old Billy Hultberg is placed in numerous foster homes before the perfect match is found with loving people in Hockessin, Delaware. In his adult life, he would regularly proclaim at Caron’s Chapel Service on Sunday mornings – “Here – in recovery, we bring families back together”. And like the disciples on the road to Emmaus when they recognized that it was Jesus who had been walking with them on the road --the people exclaimed: We not our hearts burning within us? Didn’t he teach us. Didn’t he show us the way?

June, 1961 and 1962…. Final Vows as an Oblate and Ordination to the Priesthood . Lord, Make me an instrument of your peace. Fr. Bill’s first assignments as a priest were to teach and coach at North Catholic in Philadelphia and then Bishop Duffy High School in Niagara Falls, NY. During this time, Fr. Bill also served as a reserve chaplain in the U.S. Navy. Blessed Louis Brisson, the co-founder of the Oblates wrote: The Oblates are called to enter society such as it is, and this by every means possible. We have a responsibility that we must carry out passionately well. The teacher must prepare his classes passionately well; the priest must apply himself passionately well to the functions of his ministry. Let the Oblate enter the world feet first and without reservations.” Teachers and coaches and all who mentor the young, Didn’t he teach us. Didn’t he show us the way?

1968 to 1971: Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Father served active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the first Marine Division, Vietnam and at Naval Air Station, Lemoore, CA. He was awarded the Bronze star with V for valor for his service in Vietnam, resigned his commission with the Navy and returned to teaching at Bishop Ireton high School in Alexandria, VA. Again, Fr. Brisson the Oblate founder writes: The Oblates should not be teachers or preachers ONLY. They must work under every circumstance and in every condition. Members of the US Armed Forces, active and retired – Didn’t he teach us? Didn’t he show us the way?

July 1973: Fr. Hultberg finds it steadily difficult to adjust to life after the war. He fortifies his nerves with alcohol and prescribed tranquilizers which eventually fail him. On July 4th, standing in the parking lot of Chit Chat Farms (now Caron Treatment Center) in Wernersville, Pa Fr. Bill asks himself this question: “How the heck did I get to this point?” Fr. Bill takes the first steps in admitting and accepting his alcoholism and addiction by entering treatment. Addicts and alcoholics everywhere – Didn’t he teach us? Didn’t he show us the way.

1976: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Fr. Bill was recalled to active duty with the U. S. Army to work in their substance abuse program at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, TX. He completed his active military service in 1983 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel – a member of the General Staff, 97th US Army Reserve Unit stationed at Fort Mead, MD and received four Meritorious Service Award Medals for outstanding work in developing drug and alcohol prevention programs. He completed his military career as an Active Reservist in 1991, completing thirty-five years in the armed forces. Rehab Administrators and Substance Abuse Counselors, Mental Health Professionals, Rehab Staff Members – Didn’t he teach us? Didn’t he show us the way?

1984: Lord, make me a channel of your peace. Fr. Bill begins his ministry at the Caron Foundation as an addiction counselor. From 1987 to 2003, he served as Director of Pastoral Care. In 1995 to 2016, he was also appointed Assistant to the President of Caron. In 2013, not long after his election, Pope Francis wrote: “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugar! You have to heal his wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up. My Oblate brothers, my brother priests, Pastoral care chaplains everywhere….Didn’t he teach us. Didn’t he show us the way.

In May of 2016, Father Bill retired to “part-time” ministry every other weekend at Caron and took up residence at the Salesianum Oblate Community in Wilmington, DE. He practiced what he taught all those many years of treatment work and became a regular visitor to 12 step meetings throughout the area. My friends in 12 Step Recovery everywhere, didn’t he teach us? Didn’t he show us the way?

Late winter 2018. Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. One cold and frigid morning while dashing to get to his car and drive to his early morning 12 Step Meeting, Fr. Bill slipped on a patch of ice near his residence and hit his head in the fall. After multiple tests, it became alarmingly apparent that he had suffered significant brain damage due to that fall. On and on the weeks went with little progress. And day in and day out, Fr. Bill’s family members and friends kept watch by his bed in hope for some change.

His condition, and his memory slowly improved but never to the level where he could continue his former ministry and its demanding schedule. Fr. Hultberg struggled with the acceptance of his diminishment. Yet, with the help of his family, friends and his new religious community at Childs (the Oblate Retirement House) he found a way around his lack of mobility. He became the host with the most as hundreds began to visit him. He learned to receive support and care from those to whom he had first ministered. The Circle of Love was complete. Didn’t he teach us? Didn’t he show us the way?

Fr. Bill, we thank you for bringing us together today in Jesus’ name.

Since I was in Florida at my new assignment when his condition worsened, please permit me once last chat with the Drunk Monk.

Fr. Bill…….
It’s time for the Meeting. But before you go, all your friends wanted me to tell you this before you went in – We love you. We’re praying for you. Our earnest prayer in this Mass is simply this: May you be with God. May you be in the presence of the Living God and may you hear our Lord Jesus Christ say these simple words to you: WELL DONE, O GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT. COME, INHERIT THE PLACE I HAVE PREPARED FOR YOU FROM THE BEGINNING OF ALL TIME….

For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat.

I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.

I was lonely, afraid and abandoned, and you came to sit with me.

I was sick and you helped to heal me.

I was naked and you clothed me.

For whatever you did, to the least of my brothers and sisters, You did to ME!

Fr. Bill, …Chaplain, …. Padre …….Your tour of duty here is over. You’re home. You’re home!

May God be blessed in life, the legacy and the ministry of Fr. Bill Hultberg and may we all LIVE JESUS ONE DAY AT A TIME. AMEN

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. John F. Kenny, OSFS
August 14, 2019

Our Lady of Light Chapel, Childs, Maryland
Celebrant: Fr. Lou Fiorelli, OSFS
Homilist: Fr. Bill McCandless, OSFS

The Book of Lamentations can seem so depressing and deprived of hope. This is certainly understandable when one considers it was written after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Why would we choose to read from such a book in a funeral mass to celebrate our brother John passing from this life to his eternal glory?

I think it is an important reading because it is a true reflection of what the Israelites were feeling and a true reflection of what we all sometimes experience in this life. It’s reality, and it is not always easy to face. This was the case for John, especially in these past few years when his health was failing.

The last heart-to-heart conversation I had with John was two days before he died. I was walking down the corridor as he sat on his scooter at the door to his room. He looked distressed. I said, “Are you ok, John?” He responded, “I’m mad at Jesus” and he began to cry. What a heartbreaking expression of lamentation.

John was upset because he was feeling so weak, he was losing his eyesight and was just tired; physically, emotionally and spiritually. He was mad at Jesus, not because he was looking to be cured of these afflictions, but because he wanted Jesus to come take him home. He thought maybe Jesus didn’t want him.

I don’t tell you these things to make you sad or to feel sorry for John. As a matter of fact, I’m sure he would not have liked me to share these things at all. As anyone who knew him could tell you, John was a bit of a macho-man and not given to sentimentality. Maybe this was a result of his years of military training. However, I wanted to share these things with you because they are real, and we all feel this way from time-to-time. If that was all there was to life, then it would be sad, and we would all be lost in lamentations.

There is more to John’s story, and to the story of every Christian who truly believes in the teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s why, although we began the readings with Lamentations, we end with the Gospel of St. John. It is in this Gospel reading we heard today, and the other teachings of Christ, that we find our hopes and joys that lift us up even in the face of situations that seem hopeless.

Jesus does not want us to despair, be worried or full of anxiety. He tells us, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.” As most of us know, John did suffer from anxiety and he found great comfort in this Gospel passage. I know this because we had a lengthy conversation about this message of Christ sometime last year and we revisited it a few times since. It’s a message that is appropriate for us to hear yet again.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there where not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?” And here, just as important for us to know, “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you will know the way.”

John intimately knew this Gospel and truly believed it. It was this faith that kept John going and, as St. Timothy said in the second reading, John’s belief that, “If we die with him, we also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.”

This word “endure” is purposely used by Timothy, and its not the only time he used it. The word “endure” was also used by St. Paul in the Letters to the Hebrews, the Thessalonians, the Colossians, and Corinthians 1 & 2. Endure was used in the Letters of St. James, St. Peter, the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, as well as other passages.

John endured a lot, and let’s face it, we endured a lot from John. Father Vince Smith shared with me that his dear niece Beth, who was so faithful to her uncle, referred to John a her “quirky uncle.” Yes, yes indeed. John certainly had his human side. Sometimes this human side even spilled over into his living of the Salesian Oblate charism which is built of what we call DI-CAR-VI (directory, charity and visitation). It was particularly the third part. John was known to have more visitations with his superiors and provincials then any other Oblate. Legend has it that these visitations were filled with many spirited exchanges of ideas.

Father John was only human, as are we all. Sometimes this humanness gets in the way of our faith and spiritual beliefs. Yes, these things not only happen to priests and religious, they have also been known to happen to saints.

Two days ago, we celebrated the Feast of St. Jane de Chantal. At the celebration, our resident Salesian scholar, Father Neil Kilty, reminded us that, “throughout her life, St. Jane was never free of the sense that she was deserted and abandoned by God.” This was typical of other saints, like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Although Father John may not have been a saint, he sometimes shared this same spiritual affliction. To be fair, I think we all do at some moments in our lives. That is why the ending of today’s Gospel is so important. We see St. Thomas, “doubting Thomas,” once again questioning Jesus.

When Jesus said, “Where I am you also may be. Where I am going, you will know the way.” Thomas responded, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” This fear and doubt are common for us humans, which Christ knew well. He doesn’t try to explain his message with some intellectual discourse. Instead he simply says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” It’s like Jesus is saying, “relax and don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of everything. Just believe and follow me.”

This was the culmination of the final conversation I had with John in front of his room two days before he died. I didn’t have to say much, only listen as John came to his own conclusions. Beginning with being mad at Jesus and why, to working all the way around the circle to saying, “but I know Jesus loves me and I’m going into my room right now and pray that he will forgive me and that tell him I know he is with me. I’m going to pray that he will take me home.”

The power of prayer is a funny thing. Sometimes the Lord answers in his own time and for his own reasons, which are often a mystery to us. But last week, Jesus aligned God’s time with John’s time. Twenty-two hours after that conversation, I was with John in his room administering the last rites of anointing. Twenty minutes later, Jesus took John to where he was, and so fulfilled the promise he makes to all good people of faith. “Where I am, you also shall be.”

We commend our brother John to the Lord. We rejoice in the certain hope, as we hear in the prayers of this liturgy, that John’s life is changed, not ended. We Oblates will continue to not only pray for John, but to pray for his family which was united with ours when John professed his religious vows. We thank his nieces and nephews that are present with us today. I’m certain your uncle John is so happy to know you are here. Please assure those who couldn’t make it today of our continue prayers and support.

May God be praised!

Mass of Christian Burial: Homily

Rev. Thomas J. Gillespie, OSFS
July 31, 2019

About a year into my time with Father Tom at Saint Ann Parish in Naples, I received a letter in the mail from the Bishop of Venice, a letter in which he asked all Pastors to consider offering varied and additional time for Confessions. This came from a general pastoral concern that some people just could never, especially because of work schedules, make it to the traditional times. I went to both Father Tom and to Father Steve Shott who ministered there with me and asked them to consider the possibility of offering Confessions Wednesday afternoons. People could take part of their lunch hour or stop into the parish office while running errands downtown to see the priest who was assigned that day. I thought we might just give it a try and Father Tom and Father Steve were enthusiastically on board. I think much to our surprise, it was an instant hit. People really took advantage of this opportunity. We had many stop in and we were delighted that our parish could fill a need for those in the area. While this was universally popular, I say without exaggeration (and Father Steve can verify this) that when Father Tom had the Confessions the line was out the door. We had to find extra chairs and bring them to the lobby. For many of the penitents, when Steve or I offered to hear their Confession, they made it plain. They were waiting for Father Tom. Because of this, I came to call him the Curé of Naples and I would get a laugh from him on that one. And that was a great laugh.

I was always so moved by this response to Tom. I don’t think that he was any more lenient or went softer with penances. I think, in the end, the reasons why people were drawn to Tom were his clarity and his authenticity. He had an incredibly strong but simple faith. When I say simple, I don’t mean, of course, lacking understanding. Quite the opposite. It was simple in the sense that it was clear and it was to be lived today. He knew that his Redeemer lives. The children at Saint Ann School heard every time he preached that God truly loved them. It was not merely the standard children’s homily. It was what he believed. It was how he lived. He conveyed it in every interaction, that as Saint Paul says in our Second Reading, nothing whatsoever can separate us from the love of God. I saw people come to Tom time and time again broken and through him they found that the Lord would make them whole again.

He embodied this love not only when people came to Confession or to talk out a family problem. He showed it in his presiding and preaching. And it was seen when the few dollars he had went to the large family in Naples with many children or were sent off to his former missionary area in Africa or given to the homeless man who came around on his bicycle. It was in the way, he reached out in true care during the hundreds of visits he made to the hospital. I received this email on Monday: “My name is Andrew. I’m from South Africa. I heard Fr. Gillespie passed away. He was like a father to me and he helped a lot of people here where I stay. He helped the poor and obtained clothing for a lot of children, especially school children. Fr. Gillespie was a good man. I saw him as a Saint. Please pray for his soul. We will continue to pray for him here. I met Fr. Gillespie as a boy in Nababeep here in South Africa and he changed my life. I’m very proud and grateful that I met a man of God of his stature. He was always humble, prayerful and a good listener.”

Tom did these good works without any fanfare, with no particular need to be in charge or to be recognized, always ready for any good work. That’s where I think the core of who Tom was as a Christian minister, as a priest came through. He never let himself get in the way of the work that God wanted to do through him.

I selected the Gospel today because I thought of the countless times that Tom took another by the hand and promised them that they would be in Paradise with God, a promise that we pray and know is fulfilled for him as well, a promise made through His baptism, affirmed by the blessings that Tom received and he accepted in the way he said Yes throughout his entire life. But Tom was also like the repentant thief himself, the first to call himself imperfect and to acknowledge himself as a sinner. He relied on the promise and today, he would want you and I to do the same.

This past Sunday’s Gospel was all about persistence in prayer. I can’t think of another person I knew who was that persistent. Those who heard Tom preach knew he would often implore us to “Pray! Pray! Pray!” so much so that parishioners in Naples made up a post card with his picture with that mantra printed underneath. He understood that it is in prayer that we remain near and aware of a God who is always near to us, who always answers our prayers and yes, who always loves us, that we don’t make God closer through prayer. He is always close to us but we must choose in our prayer to remain close to Him. That Tom did. That Tom modeled for all who knew him.

I want to acknowledge his sisters, his sister-in-law, his nieces and nephews. We are sorry for your loss- We know that you lost a giant in your family, a pillar. We pray with you today and extend our love and support. However, we know something of this. We truly lost a member of our family too, a pillar for us, not because of the leadership positions he held but because he got what it means to be an Oblate of Saint Francis de Sales; he was a model for so many of us. Mother Mary Chappuis, told us that it would take 30 years to be a good Oblate. When I was a new Oblate I thought “Good, I have some time.” Well I am coming up on 20 years and I am not sure I will have this all figured out in 10 more. But Tom had it figured out. He would be upset with me if I made it sound like he was perfect. But what made him a good Oblate was that he loved God, knew he needed God and that he was no better than his neighbor who needed God too. He brought comfort and joy in his approachability and his true concern. Some present here and throughout our province and some Oblates in South Africa had the blessing of having Tom as their Novice Director or the head of some other part of their formation. And these men universally, they acclaim his as wonderful. It is because they saw his authenticity, his true care for them and it became a model for how to live their Oblate life. Novice Directors and Formators are chosen not ultimately for what they preach in words but in how they model the life we are called to live.

Most of us here have known Tom for many years. He was my high school guidance counselor! And then when I was sent as a young priest to Naples, Florida and made a Pastor, he was there to be a cheerleader, mentor and guide, to help me keep perspective. When I would get worked up as a parishioner came up after Mass to complain about something he would tell me not to become discouraged but to simply look at the person and say: “Thank you for that information” and would remind me that we should neither give nor take offense at another’s words. The last time I had a visit with him, he got up out of his chair and for a person struggling to stand, It was a leap with true joy. He exclaimed: “Michael Vannicola! I am so happy to see you!” You all know the tone; you know that love. It’s how I know he will greet us all when we make our way home.

Tom, like us all, had crosses in his life. One of them was anxiety. And each time he faced it, it was his prayer that brought him back. He was a model for me not because he was perfect. He was a model for me because he was real and he was true in his trying. And his trying produced beautiful results, a trying that blessed the Church with a wonderful priest and religious. And for a person who suffered from anxiety at parts in his life, his quest for holiness brought him peace. When I last spoke with him, he was joyfully awaiting the promise of Heaven he had always anticipated and hoped for.

I can’t go on much longer because I know if I could have asked Tom for guidance or direction for this homily, he would say two words: “Be brief.” If anyone, including myself, made Grace Before Meals too long, he would just start eating before it was over, excited to enjoy his meal while still praying along.

For his liking, I have probably already gone on too long. So I remind you of what he would always say: God loves you. It’s the plain words that Jesus said to the repentant thief, the words that promise paradise and promise it today. They were words that Tom would say with confidence, the Confidence of our first reading, “I know that my vindicator lives” and Tom showed us that we would feel that love and live it out if we were willing to “Pray! Pray! Pray!”, for this good and holy man showed us above all that if we wanted peace in this life and the next, bringing ourselves close to God was the only way for that to be.

Rest well, dear brother and friend. Rest well, dear Father Tom.

May God Be Praised.