By Gordon Nary
Gordon: When did you and your family join Our Lady of Mount Carmel?
Tom: Susan and I were both raised Catholic, but lapsed. Like many, we redeveloped interest when we decided to have a child. At first, we attended Saint Clement's, in Lincoln Park. We switched to Mount Carmel because the practical diversity in the school appealed to us. We used to enjoy walking past as school started listening to snippets of so many languages. Strangely, it wasn’t until I moved from New York to Chicago, and met parents and students when teaching in Mount Carmel’s’ religious education program, that I first heard French spoken live by a real person. (I guess I thought it something akin to Latin.) Now both my wife and our son, Adam, speak the language, and I’ve been to Paris.
Gordon: What do you find most rewarding as an OLMC parishioner?
Tom: Faith, faith and faith. Here’s an entire community encouraging faith. There’s no better place to feel the rewarding warmth of God’s grace than in church with others open to the idea of faith. It’s a tough cynical world and it’s wonderful having a place to go where it’s about believing in something beautiful we can’t – and shouldn’t -- empirically prove. That, and Susan’s a teacher in the school, and I never tire of little kids running up to her shouting “Ms. Gredell! Ms. Gredell!” My single most rewarding moment was probably the first time Adam and I were the two assigned readers at the 9:30 family Mass. That was special.
Gordon: Could you provide our readers with an overview of your participation in the OLMC Parish Transformation Committee?
Tom: I came late to the project and had to catch up. So I was a little wary to jump in suggesting changes. However, I’m not exactly shy, so that didn’t last. I ended up meeting people I probably should have known better, and enjoying their discourse and wonderful perspectives. Unfortunately, my job is project oriented, so I’m wary about committing to long term projects. But I hope my participation and willingness to discuss points encouraged others with perhaps more to offer.
Gordon: In your opinion, what aspects of the OLMC Parish Transformation Plan will have the greatest potential in attracting new parishioners?
Tom: Perhaps simple things like encouraging the ushers to stand in the vestibule before Mass and greet people with a smile, and a welcoming “good morning” while handing them a bulletin. Nothing attracts people more than showing, rather than just saying, we’re a welcoming community. There’s truth in what Cory Booker said: “Don’t speak to me about your religion; first show it to me in how you treat other people.”
Gordon: You have been a leading Chicago attorney for more than twenty years. What aspects of your profession do you enjoy the most?
Tom: As a commercial litigator, I have to admit it’s hard for me to justify my existence on earth through how I make a living. For that, I’d look to our teachers and social workers. Still, I enjoy advocating cleanly – which is not always easy in such a results driven competitive profession. Having said that, I have to admit that the competition is the very thing I enjoy most. I take almost perverse pleasure in representing the small guy by going up against very expensive silk stocking law firms.
Gordon: What was the most difficult case that you have every won?
Tom: Like most lawyers, I can tell personally satisfying war stories. But in terms of “difficulty,” I don’t think most people would want to hear my boring details. For inspiring real life examples of Catholic lawyering, you’ll probably want to speak with Deacon Richard Johnson. I don’t want to embarrass someone so humble, but he’s such a good man and role model -- he’s the only person I know who leaves me tongue tied simply by being around him. Such grace.
Gordon: There have been some who claim that the United States is the most litigious society in the world. Do you concur? If so, what can be done to reduce frivolous suits?
Tom: Keep in mind why that is. We’re blessedly wealthy, open, welcoming, and vibrant. We at least want to provide a place where everyone should be seen equally in the eyes of the law, including those who have no other means. We try to provide a place to demand accountability from the wealthy and powerful and – frankly – it’s a great deal better in our increasingly diverse society to settle our differences in court than violently out of court. As for frivolous suits, the rules against baseless cases already exist and don’t – and shouldn’t – be tweaked. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that judges are trained (yes, there are judges schools) to disfavor holding lawyers accountable in order to encourage creative zealous advocates. While their hearts are in the right place, if judges applied the rules as written, then we shouldn’t have a problem.
Gordon: We have seen a growing exodus of members from all religions in the past years. In your opinion, what are some of the reasons for the increasing loss of faith by so many Christians?
Tom: My view, which I suspect is conventional, is that, as the family unit splinters and grows apart, older generations are simply not willing and able to pass on the benefits of ties to a religious community. We move more and more from town to town, away from our family, and away from our roots. My guess is that millennials will leave in droves. But I also guess that the same millennials thirst for purity and belonging for the same reasons – we’ve become too secular. I’m a history geek, and it seems to me that secular and religious attitudes swing from one side to the other over the course of generations. Our founding fathers were pretty far gone secularists (the stories you never hear!), but were followed by great awakenings as younger generations longed for something cleaner. Secularism has been so dominant for the past two generations that some wonder whether we’re in for a whale of a conservative backlash in the next few generations. Is it any wonder that some young people, with all the blessings of Western freedom, are nonetheless drawn to the wrongful siren call of purity in radical Islam?
Gordon: Do you have any recommendations on what the City of Chicago can do to reduce gang violence?
Tom: How about a realistically funded priority education system? Finland has the generally acknowledged most successful education system in the world (look it up). In 2014, it spent roughly 1.5% of its annual GDP on defense and security – and it shares a border and war with Russia (in living memory), while remaining nonaligned. Because of Ukraine, the Finns plan to significantly increase defense spending, perhaps up to 2% of GDP at most. Meanwhile, in the US, we spend more than twice as much on military and security (more than $550 billion) than the number two nation (China), equaling, in 2014, roughly 3.5% of our annual GDP, or more than twice as much as Finland. Now it looks possible Chicago will have to lay off teachers in the middle of the school year because we have no money – while, as a nation, we’re in the middle of significantly increasing our financial military and defense contributions to Baltic area nations. Maybe we would have a smaller gang problem if we gave higher priority to our own urban poor and spent less money on Finland.
Gordon: Do you and your family have any favorite restaurants the Lakeview neighborhood. If as, could you name them?