Rev. Thomas F. Martin, O.S.A. (1943 - 2009)

Rev. Thomas F. Martin, O.S.A. entered eternal life on February 20, 2009, following a struggle with cancer.

Thomas Francis Martin was born on December 28, 1943 in Chicago, Illinois to Charles V. and Blanche A. Martin. He was baptized on February 6, 1944 at St. Symphorosa Catholic Church, Chicago. He received the Sacrament of Confirmation on March 31, 1957 at the same church.

Thomas received his elementary education at St. Symphorosa School. He earned a diploma in 1961 from St. Rita High School, Chicago. He was received into the Augustinian Novitiate on September 3, 1961. He professed simple (temporary) vows in the Order of St. Augustine on September 4, 1962 and solemn (permanent) vows on September 4, 1965. He was ordained a priest on December 20, 1969.

In 1966, Thomas earned a B.A. in Philosophy from Tolentine College, Olympia Fields, Illinois. He began theological studies at Tolentine College (1966-1968) and continued them at Catholic Theological Union and DePaul University, both in Chicago(1968-1971), earning an M.A. in Theology from DePaul. He also earned a Master's in Religious Education from Loyola University, Chicago (1975); a Master's in Christian Spirituality from Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska (1982); and a Ph. D. in Patristics from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois (1994).

Father Martin resided at Tolentine College from 1963 to 1969. He was assigned to the Augustinian Monastery at Mendel Catholic High School, Chicago, in 1969. During his first year there, he was a full-time student at Catholic Theological Union. From 1970 to 1978, he was a member of the Mendel faculty, serving as teacher and later as Vice-Principal for Religious Affairs.

In 1978, Father Martin was named Director of Theologians and was assigned to St. John Stone Friary, Chicago.  He was appointed Director of Students in 1981 for the college-level Pre-Novitiate formation program at the Augustinian Midwest Priory at Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania. He was elected to the Province Council in 1981.

He was assigned to Cascia Hall, Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1982. There he was a teacher and Prior of the Augustinian community. He was elected Secretary of the Province in 1983 and resided at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Monastery, Olympia Fields, while serving in that office.

Father Martin was called to the international Augustinian headquarters in Rome in 1984. There he was Subsecretary of the Order and Editor of the magazine OSAinternational. He returned in 1990 to St. John Stone Friary, Chicago, again serving as Director of Theologians.

In 1995, Father Martin was assigned to St. Augustine Friary, Villanova, Pennsylvania, to teach at Villanova University.  He was named Founding Director of the Augustinian Institute at Villanova University in 2005. While continuing as Director of the Institute, he was assigned to reside at St. Thomas of Villanova Friary, Rosemont, Pennsylvania, in 2006.  Villanova University promoted him in 2008 to the status of full professor.

He is the author of Our Restless Heart: The Augustinian Tradition (Orbis, 2003) and numerous articles, especially on themes related to St. Augustine and other Fathers of the Church.

Father Martin was a scholar who never lost his common touch. As a teacher, he had the gift of presenting profound knowledge in a down-to-earth, understandable and interesting manner. He was a true Augustinian, not so much because of his profound scholarship (though that was certainly appreciated), but because he lived the ideals of Augustine. A man of faith, he walked the final weeks of his earthly journey with profound peace and experience of the Lord’s presence.

Father Martin is buried in the Augustinian plot at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Alsip, Illinois.

Memorial gifts may be made to Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel, 5401 S. Cornell Ave., Chicago, IL 60615-5664, or via our Online Giving Page.

Homily given by Fr. William Sullivan, OSA at the Chicago Funeral Mass of Fr. Thomas Martin, OSA - Friday, February 27, 2009 

First Reading: Saint Augustine, The Confessions, Book 9
Second Reading: Romans 8: 31b-35, 37-39
Gospel Reading: John 14:1-6, 18-20, 27

Last Monday, I arrived in Philadelphia. I had come earlier than I had planned because Tom had called me, and he said that I probably shouldn’t wait until I had originally planned to come. At the Philadelphia airport, I met Mike and Sheila Sise, who were friends of both Tom and I for many years. Mike rented a car, and we drove to St. Thomas Rectory where Tom was in residence. When we arrived, Tom wasn’t there. After a short time, he and Bill Donnelly, one of the Augustinians in residence at St. Thomas, returned. Sheila, Mike and I were taken aback at the way Tom looked. His physical appearance had deteriorated a great deal. Fr. Jim Friedel and I had been on vacation with him five weeks earlier, and in that time span, physically, he had failed almost unbelievably. As we met, there was a great deal of hugging and of laughter. Although he was failing physically, the spirit, the lovable personality of the Tom all of us knew was still very much in evidence. 

That night, all of us had dinner together at St. Thomas Rectory…Sheila and Mike, Tom, Bill Donnelly, Rich O’Leary (the pastor of St. Thomas), and myself. We had a wonderful evening. During a lull in the conversation, I asked Tom what readings he had chosen for his funeral Mass. He told us he had not chosen them yet, but he would do so soon. Unfortunately, he was never able to finish this work, so it fell to me to choose the readings. I’d like to tell you how I did so. 

The first reading I chose was not from Sacred Scripture…it was from St. Augustine’s Confessions. Initially, I thought of using Augustine’s narrative of the time he lost a dear friend in death. However this young man died before Augustine’s conversion, and, as he himself recounts, his response really wasn’t something of which he was proud. It was a secular and worldly reaction…yet at his mother Monica’s death, Augustine tells us he mourned for her as the man steeped in Christ that he was. Augustine’s reaction to Monica’s death mirrors what, I think, all of us are feeling tonight – a heart that grieves, yet is filled with hope. 

The second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks for itself. St. Paul speaks with enormous confidence that his relationship with the Father, in Christ, is a source of deep and abiding trust. 

Last Tuesday morning, Tom celebrated his last Mass. Sheila, Mike and I were present. It was very informal. Tom was the principal celebrant. The altar was a coffee table; the missal was a very small book; Tom’s vestment was a simple stole; a small cross stood atop the table. After he had read the Gospel, Tom gave a few brief words, and he asked us if we would like to say anything. Sheila asked, “Tom…are you afraid?” Tom answered very confidently that he really wasn’t. Sheila then commented…“Tom, you’re going to see your mom and dad, Karen (his sister, who died in 1971 of ovarian cancer), Mike’s mom and dad, Bill’s mom and dad, and my mom and dad.” Tom replied, “And I’m going to see Augustine; and there’s a few questions I want to ask him.” We all laughed – at least I think we did. I was having trouble seeing through the tears. 

As I pondered what we had experienced, I looked for something from Augustine that might capture this brief time that Mike, Sheila and I spent with Tom, and the time so many others have spent with him. I came across St. Augustine’s Letter 263: 

                 “There is indeed reason for tears because you no longer see our

                 brother coming and going, busy serving the Church. You no longer

                 hear from him the words he spoke with holy and dutiful affection.

                 When you think on this, your heart is wounded and tears flow. But

                 lift up your heart, and your eyes will become dry. For even though

                 those things which you miss have passed away, in the course of time

                 the love, with which he loved you and still loves you, has not perished.

                 It is kept as a treasure, hidden with Christ in God.” 

The Gospel is taken from John’s Gospel, chapter 14. In John’s Gospel, chapters 13-17 are referred to as the Farewell Discourse. Whereas the Synoptics take only one chapter to recount the Last Supper of Jesus, St. John uses five chapters. Much of it is the legacy Jesus leaves to His disciples. One part is particularly poignant. Jesus tells them He must leave, that He is going to the Father. They do what I’m sure all of us would have done, namely they beg him not to go. Yet, He must go, but He promises them that He is going to prepare a place for them (and for us), and He will come back to take them with Him so that “where I am, you will also be.” To reassure them, He says, “If it were not so, I would not have told you.” He continues, “I remain in each of your hearts, and you in mine…and so, in faith, I remain in you and you in Me.” It seemed He was taking leave of them, however He remained as close to them (and to us) as when He lived and walked among them. Finally, He bids them not to be afraid, but to be at peace. 

Tom Martin’s legacy is multi-faceted…and it is rich and full. Often in our society, scholarship does not get the respect it deserves. Tom was a scholar of the first order. He showed the face and the personality of scholarship. Like his mentor, St. Augustine, his mind was brilliant, yet he lived in his heart. In all the forty-seven years I’ve been privileged to call him a friend, I have never seen him ignore someone in need, nor be cruel or uncharitable. St. Augustine tells us Augustinians in the Rule, “By this will you know you are advancing in charity, when you put the needs of the community ahead of your own.” Tom was a person of unquestioned availability. At Villanova, there were at least seventy priests from all over the Philadelphia area who concelebrated his funeral Mass, out of respect for him. The University church was filled, both with people from campus and those from other parts of the area whose lives Tom had touched. At the Villanova funeral were a group of parishioners from St. Mary Church in Phoenixville, PA. During my time at Villanova, I was privileged to help at St. Mary’s, as Tom had for the last several years. They are hard-working and uncomplicated people. Although he was an intellectual of the first order, he had a simplicity that came across in homilies…a simplicity, yet with words that were both powerful and penetrating, especially to the people of St. Mary. 

When requested, Tom felt an obligation to put his knowledge, his learning at the service of others. He did it with care, with concern, with a smile. To accomplish this, he has literally gone all over the world. Someone told me once that he had visited every continent except Antarctica. Undoubtedly, had the Lord given him a little more time, he would have gotten there, too. Tom was a deeply spiritual person who placed a great    value on the interior life. When he, Jim Friedel and I vacationed at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, which all of us had done for almost the last twenty years, he was always up “before the crack of dawn” to spend some quiet time with the Lord. The crux of his scholarship and of his study of St. Augustine was inexorably intertwined with his faith…one simply could not exist without the other. 

Tom exemplified Augustine’s ideal of friendship – he lived it. Rich O’Leary and Bill Donnelly were good friends to Tom as his illness became more debilitating. So many of us here tonight were blessed to be his friends. His initial diagnosis was so shocking and his death brought us deep sadness. But all of us are consoled tonight, together with his family, because of his deep and abiding faith. Again, I found a passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions that summarizes and characterizes the relationship so many of us felt with him. I know it defines, with profound clarity, my own friendship with Tom… 

                 “The comfort of friends refreshes me and puts me in good spirits;

                 I let them take my mind prisoner as we talk and make merry together,

                 as we give in to each other with good-humored courtesy, and read pleasant books. I am 
                  delighted with our conversations, whether

                 they happen to be serious or light-hearted. From time to time we disagree, but without rancor, 
and that rare discord gives spice to

                 our customary harmony. We teach and learn from each other; we

                 sadly miss our absent friends, but joyfully welcome them when

                 they come back to us. By our facial expressions, by a word, a glance,

                 and many a gesture, we give evidence of loving hearts, which know themselves to be loved; we
                  fan the flames of our souls from these

                 myriad sparks, and thus we mold all of us together in one.”          Confessions, Book IV, VIII 

As Tom began his proximate process of dying, of returning to the Lord, my thoughts turned to a man who died in much the same way as Tom. He, too, was a person of extraordinary character. His passing was mourned by so many Catholics and non-Catholics alike, all across the United States. His name was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. In the last few weeks of his life, Cardinal Bernardin wrote a book called The Gift of Peace. I’d like to quote a section from that book:  

                 “Many people have asked me to tell them about heaven and the

                 afterlife. I sometimes smile at the request because I do not know

                 any more than they do. Yet, when one young man asked if I looked

                 forward to being united with God and all those who have gone before

                 me, I made a connection to something I said earlier in this book. The

                 first time I traveled with my mother and sister to my parents’ homeland of Tonadico di Primero in
                  northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother’s
                  photo albums,

                 I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said,
                  ‘My God, I know this place. I am home.’ Somehow, I think crossing from this life into life eternal
                  will be

                 similar. I will be home.” 

So often we pray for the dead. May they rest in peace. Tonight, let all of us be at peace. Tom Martin…our brother, our friend…is home. He is home. 


Funeral Homily for
Thomas F. Martin, O.S.A.

February 23, 2009
St. Thomas of Villanova Church
Villanova University


Job 19:1, 2327a
2 Cor 12: 710
Mt 5: 112a.

“You saved my life O Lord. I shall not die.” This line from King Hezekiah’s hymn of thanksgiving, recorded in Isaiah 38, meant nothing in particular to Tom Martin before Friday, July 18th, 2008. He had just received the results of his yearly check up: stage four colon cancer, metastasized to the lymph nodes and liver. This line from the thanksgiving hymn of Hezekiah, was the response to the reading at Mass that day. Tom wrote this line down on a piece of paper and kept it in his pocket and at his bedside for the next seven months as it served as his anchor of hope and trust.
             Those of us who were with Tom or in contact with him in late summer, know this was really the roughest time for him, when he did most of his thrashing in the inscrutable tangles of Providence. But by the time of the surgery, he had attained a peace with this turn of events, peace that never left him, and indeed grew and grew luminously the more his body weakened.
             In this gospel we have just heard, Jesus teaches. He teaches how to be happy, how to live a life that is both blessed and a blessing for others. This is precisely what Tom did throughout his life but especially in these last seven months. Tom thought he had taken medical leave from teaching. But in fact he did not stop teaching. He simply taught a class had never taught before.
           As Fr. Brian Lowery, prior of the Augustinian community in San Gimignano in Tuscany, put it: “Tom is teaching us all how to die.” Our colleague and friend Paul Danove said last week, on hearing of Tom’s peace in the midst of all this: “The greatest gift we can give someone is how we die.” When I mentioned these things to Tom, he said, “This is not a class I want to teach.”
             But his teaching started right during his recovery from the surgery. As people visited him in the hospital in order to console him, they found themselves deeply moved and consoled. I’m sure a number of you here could speak to this. His friend and colleague Tony Godzieba put it this way: “I believe that all the time with his illness was a grace ‐‐ a rare, special grace of resting in the bosom of God that I have never witnessed before and find extremely difficult to articulate. When he was at Bryn Mawr Hospital at the beginning, I went to see him, and one of the things we talked about was praying the office and his desire to be one with his Augustinian brothers, as far as he was able at that time, by praying with them while they were praying. The whole conversation, in fact, was prayer, even while we joked about trivia. His upbeat attitude, his peaceful acceptance of his condition. Words fail me here, because what I experienced was Tom somehow revealing an aspect of the depths of our rootedness in God, life lived as an ever‐present divine gift, the intensity of the presence of grace that I can only deem sacramental.” Tony went to console Tom but instead received from Tom something that Tom wasn’t especially trying to teach: God’s depths saturating even the surface trivia of life.
             Tom had a simplicity, humor, humility and depth that were all very much of a piece. And an ability to relate to all sorts of people. He could move among confreres, conference goers, or colleagues, who among themselves might not be able to agree on the color of an orange, but who would all want to have a visit with Tom and catch up on things. Where did this simplicity, humor and depth come from? Well it’s actually bound up with the way in which he thrived in the Order of St. Augustine.
             Once Tom and I were talking, and I asked him what helped him put down roots in the Order. Without having to stop to think, he said “It’s all how Augustine talks about divine presence.” And he quoted various texts of Augustine (as only Tom could do—at any given meal!): “You were within me Lord, but I was outside myself.” “You are closer to me than I am to myself.” He said, “I was shocked by my response. It was as though I said to God, ‘How dare you.’ It was St. Paul who opened me up so that I can now say to God’s interior presence, “how gracious of you.” And then Tom mentioned 2 Cor 12, which is why we decided on this for the second reading: Paul speaks of some sort of interior struggle and how he begged the Lord to rid him of this, but the Lord said, “ ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ … Now I am content with weakness, … for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
             Do you see what Tom had worked his way to? He is speaking of one the fundamental thresholds of the spiritual life. Without crossing it our own practice of religion will keep us riveted to merely the surface of life, to our SUV career paths, to our botoxed CVs, to a highly caffeinated cultural distraction. Distraction from precisely what? That this “thorn in the flesh”, this wound, this in ourselves that we would rather not see, is what in fact is embraced in the redemptive Incarnation of God in Christ. And so Tom, in a season of years, ceased resenting in himself what God graciously embraces. In doing this he became one of a cloud of witnesses, part of living tradition of saints and sages who see in their flaws, not their own face, but Christ’s.
             Tom would be very uncomfortable with any talk of spiritual breakthroughs or accomplishments. He was more routinely aware of his own weaknesses and shortcomings‐‐all the crucially right kinds of struggles; more aware of wrestling with himself and resting in God, then wrestling with himself and resting in God. He was much more at home with Walker Percy’s observation in The Thanatos Syndrome, “Life is fits and starts, but mainly fits.” But in the midst of this was an unshakeable trust in God’s loving, indwelling presence no matter what. This is what changed Tom’s reaction to God’s intimate presence from “How dare you” to “How gracious of you.” And when we learn to live with this simplest of truths, how the God we seek is graciously woven into the fabric of our flaws, we live more peaceably with other people’s flaws, and we walk more gently in this jostling world. 
             Tom was completely unaware of something he began to teach in the final weeks of his life: the luminous peace in his face that grew as his body weakened. A number of us noticed this over the last couple of weeks. Another friend and colleague, Tim Horner, tried to see Tom the morning of the day he died. Tom had had a rough night, mercifully the only one in this last phase. One of the nurses in the monastery infirmary had been posted at the door as chief bouncer. But Tim said, “I ducked under the arm of the nurse to get a better view of him, and he smiled as only Tom could and waived. His body looked as close to death as I have seen in my short life, but his eyes were so incredibly bright, even sparkling. But in that moment, I think I saw what we all know of Tom. He was illuminated from within. No matter what happened to Tom’s body, his spirit remained intact, perhaps even made brighter by the immanence of his death. I will never forget the look of eternal life that shown through his failing body.”
             A couple of weeks earlier I had begun to notice what Tim Horner saw last Friday morning. Tom and I were having dinner over at Burns Hall on February 2nd. Tom was very up beat, very much himself as always. But the physical deterioration had really begun to show in his face, frame and voice. Yet at the same time there was this luminous quality about him, as though he were starting to move beyond this life.
            Just over a week later, the doctors told him that he was not a candidate for the experimental chemo and that he had days or weeks. I went over to have dinner with the community in Rosemont, and afterwards Tom and I were talking. I asked him, “What is it like to die?” He said, “It’s exactly same as living. You let go of what’s going, and you stay with what each moment brings. And you just trust in God.” And then he spoke of the peace he felt with the whole situation. God was very present to him, and he spoke of the tremendous gratitude he felt to his community in Rosemont, Bill Donnelly and Rich O’Leary, “who have been wonderful through all this.” How Don Reilly had been as much a Provincial to him as his own Provincial, his gratitude for his spiritual director Fr Ted Antry at Daylesford Abbey. The only wrinkle that would not stay ironed down was worry about his family and how they would take it. But there was no thought about himself. Not the remotest concern or worry. All trust. All gratitude. So this is an important lesson. Apparently dying is a lot like being alive: letting go, living what the moment brings, trusting in God. Self-forgetful gratitude.
            The Thursday morning before he died I was in his room, now in the monastery infirmary. I was taken aback by the bright peace in his face, in his countenance. I said, “Tom, you look beautiful.” He said, “Why thank you.” Don’t get me wrong. He was a jaundiced, bloated wreck. But the luminous peace was notably stronger than when I’d seen him 48 hours previous. We talked about practical things that would need seeing to, and then I asked, “Tom what is your prayer like now?” He said, “Well I can’t really concentrate to say many prayers,” and gestured to his breviary. He was searching for words, and said, “I am and God is. It’s awareness of His presence. God just gives.”
             This luminous peace and state of prayer in the face of death is not at all unknown. A lot of hospice workers see this, and many Early Christian writers speak of this, calling it the light of our baptism or the light of eternity manifesting itself. But it is one thing to snore through writings of the Church Fathers on this topic. It is quite another to see it with your own eyes under the arm of the nurse blocking the door, to see this gentle, luminous peace emanating from a wasting, bloating frame, a peace that seems untouched by it all, that seems to be growing more alive. Surely what some of us glimpsed is what Hezekiah meant when he spoke of that life that is saved, that will not die, which Tom kept in his pocket.
             The hospice doctor had told Tom that he would gradually slip into a coma and quietly die. Tom said, “Oh good, it’ll be like Woody Allen—‘I don’t mind dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.’ ” This is just what happened the afternoon and evening of last Friday. As Tom lay unconscious, his sister Diane read him a passage from Augustine’s Confessions. It was the reading Augustine Day by Day a couple of days before. “I entered my inmost self with you, Lord, as my guide….I entered in and saw with the eye of my soul, the unchangeable Light….Those who know the truth know this Light, and those who know it know eternity; it is love that knows it” (Confessions 7,10). Death was bringing Tom into this inmost self indwelled by God’s own Light, from which he could reach out to us.
             So what do we learn from what Tom has been teaching for a semester and a half? Through the death and resurrection of Christ, there a simplifying unity of living and dying. The spiritual skills are the same. If you want to live in peace with God and others, make prayer your anchor. Live in the knowledge that simple human kindness trumps fear, anxiety, and competitiveness. 
             Tom’s teaching us how to live in such a way that we die well was his Sermon on the Mount of his cancer, something he would rather not have taught just now. Teacher that he was, however, he has set the essay topic for the exam. And leave it to the Augustinians to find out ahead of time what the exam question is. Just last night, Tom’s prior, Fr. Bill Donnelly, found out where Tom had hidden it.
             Tom wore a ring. The ring was removed before his body was given to the undertakers. Fr. Donnelly noticed what must surely be the essay topic: Written on inside of this ring, it reads: “Love one another as I have loved you.” John’s Gospel says it as simply as it can be put. Now who of us will pass? 
           Tom’s body in death was simply beautiful. Joyful, restful, repose, surrounded by his family and his Augustinian brothers. A repose that his spiritual father St. Augustine spoke of often but perhaps no place more movingly than in the final lines of the City of God: “Ibi vacabimus et videbimus, videbimus et amabimus, amabimus et laudabimus.” “There, [in the eternal sabbath of heaven] we shall rest and we shall see, we shall see and we shall love, we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what will be in that end that is without end! For what is our end but to reach that kingdom which has no end” (City of God, XXII, 30).
           Tom Martin, our brother, confrere, colleague, a Nebridius, an Alypius, a mentor, a friend, and in all matters concerning how to live in such a way that we die in peace, peace that both gives and receives, peace that becomes more alive as we enter death, he is our teacher and our fellow pilgrim. This is our brother, Tom Martin.


Rev. Martin S. Laird, O.S.A.
February 23, 2009