Remarks by President John J. DeGioia
Father Thomas King, S.J. Eulogy
June 27, 2009
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. He was with God in the beginning.”
When I think of Tom, those words, words that follow from the opening passages of the Gospel of John, always come to mind. Tom would close his every celebration of the liturgy with these words. And while I have heard these words uttered on countless occasions, whenever I hear them, I am transferred back here, into this chapel, to the years when I would come here on weekday evenings for the Mass that came to be identified with Fr. King. For a number of years, when I was an undergraduate and graduate student, at a time in my life when my bedtime made 11:15 seem like the early part of the day, I would come into this space and become transformed in a mystical moment, where you were certain you were experiencing the presence of God.
Of course, living in the same community for all these years, I have many rich memories of Tom. I arrived in the fall of 1975 a few days before the rest of my class for football practice. Carrying my bags down the corridor of New North, I encountered the somewhat mysterious, somewhat intimidating, figure of our chaplain-in-residence, Fr. Thomas King, SJ. He was the first Jesuit, and the first faculty member, that I met here. Some might say that Tom was slightly miscast as the chaplain living on a floor of 60 eighteen year old males—given the nocturnal habits of the age group…
…But Fr. King had a wonderful spirit and patience, and a sense of humor that was both gentle and wry…and we came to realize that he relished living among us. We came to see that Fr. King was a person of extraordinary integrity, a model of what it means to be a man for others and a man for God. Looking back, it’s hard for me to believe that Tom was much younger, then, than I am now.
In 1981, when I was in graduate school, Tom convened a very significant event, which ended up having an enduring impact on many of us here today. He convened an international conference on “Teilhard and the Unity of Knowledge” that brought together some extraordinary leaders of the academy including Frederick Copleston; Ilya Prigogine; Richard Leakey; Kenneth Boulding; Paolo Soleri; Raymundo Pannikkar; and our own Monika Hellwig. It was my first exposure to the work of Teilhard. But even more, it was the first truly academic conference I ever attended, and it was an example for the institution, as a whole, about the caliber and quality of academic work that this institution can do.
And I remember being here with Tom for Mass at 11:15 on a Tuesday night— September 11, 2001. Students filled the Chapel, and countless more were standing out in the quadrangle. The University coming together, in mourning, trying to cope with both grief and uncertainty. Tom’s presence, as a part of our celebration of the Mass, allowed our students to feel comfort and reassurance at a time when they needed it.
There are so many images and memories, but when I think of Tom I always think of the way that he ended every Mass: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.”
Tom is identified with the 11:15 mass. But in my experience, it was never about Tom; it was always about the promise of coming together in the Eucharist to experience the presence of God. In describing the attributes of a spiritual director, St. Ignatius wrote: “So, he who is giving the Exercises, should not turn, or incline, to one side or the other, but standing in the center, like the pointer of a balance, should leave the Creator to deal immediately with the creature, and the creature with its Creator and Lord.” 1
When I think of Tom, I think of his gift of providing the opportunity in countless ways, but especially every evening at 11:15 pm Mass, for us creatures to deal, immediately, with our Creator and Lord.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God, and the same thing was in the beginning. All things were made by him and without him was made nothing that was made. In Him was the light, and the light was our life, and the light shone in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it. He was in the world, and world was made by Him. And yet the world knew Him not. But as many as did receive Him, He gave them the power to become the children of God.”