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Monday, April 12, 2010

A Letter to the Reverend Thomas Tallarida, University of Notre Dame

A Letter to the Reverend Thomas Tallarida, University of Notre Dame

Easter, 2010

Dear Fr. Tom,

“Being present and being there…for a lifetime”

This is a long overdue letter to thank-you for the profound impact you have had on my life over the 49 years you have ministered to me (and to my family) as a priest, an educator, a career counselor, a marriage counselor, and friend.

While I met you in my freshman year at Notre Dame High School (NDHS) in Niles, Illinois, I became a student of yours in junior honors American History. You were tough, demanding, and intimidating. And you became one of those teachers all students say changed their life. In the classroom, you taught us to view history not as a series of facts but as a series of convergences that led to historical change. You also stressed the need to stay knowledgeable about current events, pushing us to dig deeply for underlying convergences, drivers, and trends shaping the future. I thrived as you taught us to become critical and independent thinkers and left your class permanently changed. This was just the first of many impacts you would have on my life.

The next big impact that would be formative came later in junior year when you as my career counselor urged me to move outside my comfort zone and to run for Student Body President, an idea that never crossed my mind. You really believed in me as a student leader and did not want me to miss this growth opportunity. I was reluctant as past winners were star athletes and I was not…and it was known that this campaign already had two star athletes vying for the top job.

I followed your suggestion and ran. The campaign, like your history class, became another key formative experience. You gave me what proved to be critical advice on public speaking as I was about to give my “election” speech to the student body. I learned the value of being authentic, concise, and funny while delivering what you called the “meat and potatoes.” My talk lasted less than three minutes (compared to 20 minutes for each of the other candidates) and I received a standing ovation. You knew at that moment that I had won the election…which I did the next day with 76% of the vote. As a result of your gentle “push,” I learned about the responsibilities of leadership and the importance of clear and authentic communications.

Your special place in my life continued after high school – visits to the family home complete with Mass when I returned from the University of Notre Dame (UND); the special friendship you provided my fiance’ who had come from a non-Catholic background; your making it possible for us to be the first ever to be married in the NDHS chapel and the celebration of the wedding; my visits to UND after you transferred there to become the campus chaplain and a rector; visits while you studied at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley; our annual trip to Golden Gate fields to see the horse races (only $2 bets); many private Masses celebrated by you at UND including several in and under the Basilica; visits to the Grotto; meals at Corby Hall with you and other priests discussing the University, politics, the Mid-East, and God; family meals with your brother Frank and his family in Novato, CA; numerous meals with my family including brothers Phil, Jim, and John who also went to NDHS; our many long walks at Point Reyes; our nights in San Francisco to see Mama Mia and the San Francisco Symphony; and your 50th Jubilee at Notre Dame.

And there was the valley of darkness – your being there as the mother of my children chose another path leaving me at the age of 38 a divorced single parent. You visited, called frequently, prayed for us and with me, and did what you could with Fr. Virgil Cordano (Mission Santa Barbar) to encourage her to get some counseling. After two years of trying to repair the family, you provided very sound and critical advice on how to move forward. You then helped me focus on the welfare of my children and gave permission for me to grieve. As you said often, I learned a great deal about humanity during this period, particularly my own humanity, and what it meant to die in Christ. Your words were a source of great comfort.

Darkness ended when Patty, introduced to me by a doctor I was working with, came into my life in 1990, one month after my first visit to Medjugorje. You quickly welcomed her into your life and befriended Patty’s mom, Ida, and Ben. Their Italian heritage may have had something to do with the immediate bonding!

You were also there for me after my near fatal motorcycle accident in 2003. You were at the hospital soon after I was transferred out of the ICU.

One greatest shared achievement was going Medjugorje with a group out of Chicago organized by a friend of my sisters one month after 9/11. You were able to travel as the group’s Chaplain, thanks to my sister. We spent ten great days together - walking the vineyards and streets of Medjugorje; climbing Apparition Hill, and Mt. Krizevac (Cross Mountain); Mass; the evening Rosary; fasting; and lectures.

And then there was Laurie and her four-year old, Mark. Mark had had health problems since birth and Laurie had brought him to Medjugorje with the hope of a healing since he was due to have his 13th surgery upon his return to Chicago. You may remember that Laurie, early in the visit, decided to surrender to whatever God wanted and not continue her quest for a healing.

Even with Laurie’s total surrender, we decided it would be good if we could get Mark to visit with Vicka and we succeeded. She prayed over him. One month after our return Laurie called to say she had just been to Chicago’s Northwestern Medical Center, that Mark’s spine had healed and he no longer needed back surgery. His healing has become one of the documented healings of Medjugorje.

Another keen memory for me of Medjugorje was you passion to hear confessions. You spent time everyday preparing at 3pm to hear confessions at 4pm. You had a childlike excitement and told me that the miracle of Medjugorje was in the confessional. You told me that you really felt like the priest wanted to be and felt you were fulfilling your priestly function at Medjugorje, particularly when hearing confessions.
Our Lady has been intricately woven into the fabric of our journey – Notre Dame High School, the University of Notre Dame, and Medjugorje. She has been guiding me, strengthening and renewing our bond, and impacting my life and the lives of I love. She has been present every step of the way, and has been there to help me grow in Christ….just as you have been.
Thanks for being present to me and those I love, and for being there for me when I needed that spiritual push.
Thank-you, Fr. Tom, and may God’s love continue to shine on and through you,

Thomas M. Loarie
Danville, CA
Easter, 2010

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