by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: Would you please share with us your early Catholic formation.
Father Tom: I grew up on the Southside of Chicago in St. Adrian Parish where I was baptized, received all my Sacraments, graduated from the school and celebrated my first Mass on June 12, 1994. The Church was center to my family’s life. My brother and I were altar boys, my sisters sang in the choir. The IBVM Sisters taught us and were a huge influence. The diocesan clergy were very good to us too. Dr. Knight: Please tell us the significance of your high school years in formation.
Father Tom: I thought of priesthood since second grade when I played Mass. I went to Quigley Seminary South summer camp before 8th grade began and I thought I would go there. My brother nine years older went there. The camp was gin except for the math and science classes which I hated. I said I’m not going there. Went to St. Rita of Cascia High School - the local boys’ high school. I was instantaneously attracted to the school. This was the beginning of my real discernment but didn’t realize it. It is an Augustinian school and I loved it. Got to know the 23 friars there and really was drawn to them.
Sophomore year told my guidance counselor I was thinking of priesthood. He was a layman who got me in touch with the Chaplain. Went to a discernment weekend my junior year to the pre-novitiate program at Villanova University outside Philadelphia. I fell in love with it and made up my mind them I wanted to join. I joined right after my senior year of high school. Have been in ever since. These Hs days were significant because I was starting to put together things. In grammar school, the diocesan priests taught me about priesthood and the Sisters of Loretto taught me about religious life. I was attracted to both. When I met the Augustinians, I realized I could do both. Forever grateful to the diocesan priest and Sisters. Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?
Father Tom: I have been called by Christ as we all have been through our baptism. We are all called then to a certain vocation. I was called to priesthood and then was attracted to the character and charism of the Augustinians as a way of living out my priesthood. Augustine’s restless journey is key to showing me my restless journey. His preeminence of the communal life is what drew me. I was also very attracted to their educational apostolate - here comes in Dr. Quinn-Knight!!! Dr. Knight: You spent formation finding out your abilities and gifts through discernment. How was your discernment helpful to you personally?
Father Tom: Discernment I’m my mind is listening with your heart to the people and experiences around you. My time at St. Rita was key to my discernment. I liked what I saw - good and bad. The Augustinians were real people. I admired the work they did in the school. I became close to many of them.
I kept saying I’ll give it a year. I was also interested in going to embalming school to become a funeral director. But you needed a year a college before enrolling in the 12 month program. I’ll give Villanova and the Augustinians a try, if it doesn’t work, I’ll go to Worsham Embalming School. I still have the application. I never sent it in! Follow your heart!!! Enter the restlessness where God speaks to our hearts! Dr. Knight: Do you think/feel that your life is somewhat a mosaic of your different gifts?
Father Tom: Yes and I didn’t even know what the gifts were. I am a good administrator because I surround myself with good people who I build a team with. Let people’s gifts come out and form a beautiful team. I tell people I teach but not in the classroom. I found out this was not my gift. I realized quickly that my gift of teaching was in chaplaincy, campus ministry, retreats and preaching. I am a huge fan of the ministry of presence. (In his ministry of presence, Tom, realizes that each person is a gift from God and treats them in that wonderfully inclusive way. Note from assistant editor) Dr. Knight: What do you want the readers to understand after reading this interview about being an Augustinian? About living in community?
Father Tom: An Augustinian is someone who is himself/herself. We are not cookie cutter. I like to say we are the meat and potatoes of the mendicant tradition. We are restless which moves us forward. We strive to be our best in our different pastoral and teaching ministries. We truly enjoy being with one another. We are very similar to regular families. We have arguments but they don’t divide us. We work together and we are very welcoming and really want to connect to the people we serve. We basically simply like each other. As Augustine says in the first line of the Rule, “the purpose of our coming together is to be of one heart and mind on the way to God.” Community life is beautiful but challenging. You may live with a person who you would never associate with outside of religious life. But he is your brother looking for the same goal in life - union with God. As vocation director, I tell young me if you are looking for the “perfect” Order, it’s not us. Then when you find the “perfect” Order, run and run fast. We are all broken but redeemed on the journey to God. Dr. Knight: What are some of the challenges of the future Church?
Father Tom: The challenges are many after COVID especially. We need to evangelize and let people know the Church is alive, vibrant and relative to their lives. We have many what I call culturally Catholic people. They believe, will come to the Church when they need the Church but don’t find it relevant in third daily lives. We need to evangelize and show them the Church and faith is real. I started a few years ago to invite people especially at funerals to come back home. No judgment but simply a welcome. I have had so many thank me and say they will give it a try again. We are up against mega churches that are very lively and entertaining. Our parishes must be engaging too centered on the Eucharist. As a Papal Missionary of Mercy, appointed by Pope Francis, I am called to evangelize and preach God’s endless love and mercy. I am also called to evangelize all Catholics to do the same. We have our work cut out for us but it is not impossible but a challenge and invitation. The restless journey of Augustine is a great model for us all. Dr. Knight: What are some of the joys you’ve experienced as a Augustinian follower of Christ?
Father Tom: By far the ability to enter into people’s lives at their happiest and saddest moments. When I wear my Augustinian habit, it’s not just me they are encountering but 1600 years of men and women who have striven to live out the Augustinians ideal of building community and entering the restlessness of life in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Also the Community has allowed me to pursue so many ministries - some that I never expected. Dr. Knight: As an Augustinian, what are some of the duties that you perform/pray?
Father Tom: I have a very eclectic ministry. I am Vocation Director of the Province in my 13th year. I love it. I get to walk with young men who are searching and discerning and show them what I love - our life and ministries. Check out our website - Beafriar.org
I am also the Director of the St. Rita Shrine in Chicago. I love this ministry because everyone who comes wants to come. No one has to come. People who come are searching, praying and restless. I’ve been involved with this ministry for 22 years. I love it! I’m also the Prior of our PreNovitiate Community located in the former convent at St. Rita of Cascia Parish at the St. Clare of Montevallo Chapel site in Chicago. We are at 55th and Talman, just east of midway Airport. I love being able to live with, pray with and get to know our newest members. We have five prenovices this year in our Midwest Province. And finally I was appointed by Pope Francis as a Papal Missionary of Mercy in 2018. I live this out as a preacher of youth retreats, parish missions and Priest and Religious retreat leader. I was only able to do five parish missions this past year of Covid but am happy to say I’m back in full swing with 20 parish missions this coming school year. FrtomMcCarthy.com is my preaching website.
Most of all I’m called to be an authentic witness of Christ with my brothers living out our religious vows following our Holy Father Augustine by entering the restlessness of life. God bless you Eileen. Thank you too.