Wednesday, June 24, 2009

RIP Father Thomas King

I just heard that Georgetown's Fr. Thomas King died tonight. Though he was 80, it was apparently unexpected. I was thinking that I'd have to include in this post the line, "Though I never took a class with him. . ." but I realize that that's inaccurate. Fr. King was actually one of my very first introductions to Georgetown. His Problem of God class was one of the classes I sat in on during an admitted students' weekend, before I knew whether I would be attending. I had no idea at the time that he was such a Georgetown institution, and, not yet having had the benefit of attending his Masses, did not know how softly he could speak. I was sitting in the back of the classroom, and picked up on very little of what he said. In later years, though my
"spot" in Dahlgren Chapel was generally the right side as you enter the church, several rows from the back, I always knew to make a point of sitting nearer the front at the 11:15 Mass. Father King always said something important, and didn't generally say it very loudly.

I just went and got out a CD of documents that I had copied off of my computer my Junior year at Georgetown. They're all that survived my hard drive's crash, and I'm glad now that I had them. There's one file on there, a Word document titled "Things that tell you how to live," that I started after one of Father King's homilies, given May 8, 2005. He had preached about a Jesuit who had lost his legs in the First World War, and soon thereafter received a letter from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, on whom Fr. King was an expert. My reflection, that night
after Mass, follows:

“...and he was a joyous man.”

~Fr. King on a Jesuit in the ‘70s who’d had his legs blownoff in WWI. He’d received a letter from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin the day after losing his legs, in which he was told (and I paraphrase), “Let the greatest comfort to you be the knowledge that the Lord, in His Infinite Wisdom and Power, now prefers that you be so. Your most profound hopes and dreams, therefore, are not thwarted, but even enlarged.” Have hope in something greater than your dreams and aspirations. Have hope in the possibility of a life in God.

-Wake up every morning, and be joyous. You have your legs – you have everything he lacked, you should have at least as much joy. Be joyous in the knowledge that there is a day ahead of you, in which anything can happen, and be joyous in the knowledge that God gave you that day. Greet the world with the wonder, hope, and expectations of a young child, whose dreams have not yet been limited by circumstance and the world.

It was the first homily in my memory that ever really hit me. I don't know that it changed my life - though maybe it should have - but it changed my evening, and I felt compelled to reflect on it. Sometimes I forget that Christianity is a joyous religion. My Georgetown career was the time when I went from going to church on Sundays because I probably should to being a Catholic because I believed, and Mass with Georgetown Jesuits, Father King included, was part of what got me there.

I wasn't a regular at the 11:15 Mass, though when I went to a week-day Mass, it was always that one (which was a far cry from the 12:10 Mass, the other daily Mass). On weekends, I split my attendance between the 10pm and the 11:15. Father King preached the first homily I ever remember hearing that mentioned abortion, birth control, pre-marital sex, and homosexuality. Priests still talk about those things?! The freshman me had no idea. His candle-lit weekday Mass was where I learned to pray the Sanctus in Latin.

At the moment, what stands out most in my mind, however, is the endearing habit he had, when he happened upon his own name in an announcement he was reading, of exclaiming with apparent surprise, "Oh! That's me!"

RIP Father King


  1. Haha nice reflection on the really remarkable person that Fr. King was. He definitely has touched many students (including myself) who had the privilege of hearing him speak, at Mass, class, or wherever.

  2. Fr. King was the most disarming and enchanting person I have ever met. He truly captured the imagination and attention of his listeners and filled us all with a depper sense of mystery and wonder about the context of our own lives. Thank you Fr. King for awakening our spirits from the confusion of this world.