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The God Squad: Father Tom on the eight-year anniversary of his death

Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

Q: I love your column and read it every Sunday. I also clip a lot of them and have some in a folder and some on the desk. Today, I sat at the desk in my office at home. I was going through stuff on my desk when I came across an article from March 2006 with you and Father Tom in it. You were discussing why bad things happen to good people. So happy I have this. That evening I turned on the television on the Turner Classic Movies station and suddenly there’s Father Tom in a church-like setting talking to you about nuns as an introduction to “The Bells of St. Mary’s."

Father Tom jokes about you coming over to our side! I so miss your banter and you two being a team together. Maybe that day was a special message for you from him and I’m just the messenger. Seeing him again with you on TV was very special. – From D

A: Thank you, dear D, for your kind words and sweet memories. The TCM folks asked us to record some introductions to various religious movies they had acquired, and Tommy and I had a great time watching and commenting on some of the iconic films in American culture. “The Bells of Saint Mary’s” was the highest grossing film of 1945. It allowed Bing Crosby to reprise his character of Father Chuck O’Malley from Leo McCarey’s first film, “Going My Way.” (1944). Tommy told me that he was always attracted to the easy-going, golf-playing model of the priesthood portrayed by Bing Crosby. He also liked Spencer Tracy’s portrayal of Father Flanagan in the 1938 film, “Boys Town.” He liked the fact that popular movie stars would portray priests who were deeply compassionate and also strong willed and pious. It helped make his choice of a vocation easier for him.

I do not think our culture today portrays the clergy in such a positive way and this is a sadness to me, as it was to Tommy. I know that world was not real, but its hope was real and its faith was strong and that is what I miss along with him.

I told Tommy on air that I was always attracted to a religion that had nuns who looked like Ingrid Bergman, which led Tommy to make the comment you remembered “So, Marc why don’t you just come on over to our side!” I later discovered that although most of the nuns I met were wonderful, pious, sacrificial, saintly women, I never met any nun as hot as Ingrid Bergman. I did, however, meet a few who looked like the nun in “The Blues Brothers.” Tommy did remind me, “You know, Marc, that Ingrid Bergman is an actress and not a nun!” I told him, “I refuse to believe you!”

On this eighth anniversary of Tom Hartman’s death, as every year on this day, I remember him with a love that is both full and emptied.

 

I never told you the highest compliment we ever received. The Dalai Lama was gracious in his praise for our work and others were equally generous; as you have been, dear D, but the compliment I remember most was from a woman who came up to us after one of our many speeches and said, “What you two just did was the greatest speech I have ever heard.” I said, “Thank you so much for your very kind words. Could you tell me what ideas we presented in our speech that most moved you?” She replied, “Oh, I don’t remember anything either of you said.” I was obviously bewildered and asked her, “So what DID you like about our speech?” She said, “I just loved the way he looked at you when you were talking, and I loved the way you looked at him when he was talking.” That was it, I guess. The God Squad was about how we looked at each other. Tommy called it, “Having the loving courage to look across the fence.”

I know that there are many God Squads out there who have formed odd but beautiful friendships, but I miss being able to look across the fence at Tommy. My grief at his passing in this eighth year is just as deep as it was on the day he left this world and entered into the world to come.

Rest in peace, my friend. Rest in peace.

(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at godsquadquestion@aol.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion for Dummies,” co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman. Also, the new God Squad podcast is now available.)

©2024 The God Squad. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


(c) 2024 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

 

 

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