Friday, September 25, 2009

Remembering Father Tom King.

Late last evening, many current and former Georgetown students gathered at Dahlgren Chapel to honor the memory of Father Thomas Mulvihill King, the Georgetown Jesuit justly regarded by many as the veritable soul of the Hilltop. I would like to have attended the Memorial Mass, but apostolic commitments at SJU kept me away: I teach two back-to-back sections of Moral Philosophy on Friday mornings, and I knew that I wouldn't have had the energy to face a classroom full of students at nine o' clock today if I had made the six-hour roundtrip journey to Washington the night before.

In lieu of an on-the-spot report on last night's liturgy, I'd like to share a piece from yesterday's Georgetown Voice written by Father Ryan Maher, another Hoya who found his vocation as a Jesuit in part through the good example and witness of Father Tom King. I was particularly moved by Father Maher's recollections of a meeting he had with Father King during office hours while he was an undergraduate, partly because these words remind me of similar encounters that I had with Father King when I was a student on the Hilltop:
I will always remember a conversation I had with Father King one afternoon in his office in the Theology Department. I had stopped by during office hours, ostensibly to ask some questions about the material we were covering in class. In reality, I was actively entertaining the possibility of entering the Jesuits after graduation, and I wanted to hear a little of Father King's story, to hear how he understood his life as a Jesuit scholar.

I asked him why he had focused so much of his career on the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - a Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher and theologian whose work had for a long time been considered suspect by the Vatican. I asked Father King if it made him nervous to be associated with someone who had for a while been silenced by the Church because of his work.

First, he gave me a long discourse on the nature of time. I have to admit that a lot of it went over my head and I wasn't always sure what it had to do with my question, but he was wound up and once that happened, you just had to listen and wait. So I did. As I recall, his point was that change usually takes time, sometimes a very long time, and patience is a virtue both for scholars and for people of faith. That made sense to me.

Then he said something that was for a me a moment of grace, a signal moment in the gradual emergence of my own vocation. He laid out for me his understanding that in the Church, as in any organization, someone has to be willing to be ahead of the curve, even though that can be an uncomfortable and even treacherous place to be. If no one is willing to do that, he said, then progress will stall, growth will be stunted. That would be bad for the Church. Someone has to be willing to lean into the future, to take the risks associated with asking "What if?" That's why the Church has Jesuits, he said. That too made sense to me.

I left his office that day with a feeling that I had been taken seriously and treated with kindness and respect by a remarkable man of passionate faith and intellect. I also left thinking that maybe I should and could be a Jesuit after all. In his wonderfully quirky way, Father Tom King had nudged me and my life in the right direction. Turns out it was a typical day in the life of a far from typical man. Georgetown will miss him dearly. Requiescat in pace.
May his memory be eternal. AMDG.


At 9/26/2009 9:42 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

I met Fr. King but once, at a conference on Teilhard de Chardin's work where I was giving a paper - but he left a wonderful impression.

I will be staying here while a friend is ordained in Rome next month for similar reasons - even though I could make it there and back in time, I would be of little use to my students on the Monday. I can pray here.

At 9/26/2009 6:39 PM, Blogger Gannet Girl said...

Well, I seem to have reflected on an entry in your blog yet again. Thanks so much for this post.

At 9/26/2009 8:20 PM, Blogger Joe said...


Yes, I remember you commenting on the conference before... as far as missing the Memorial Mass, I'm at least grateful that I was able to attend Tom's funeral, which most of the people at last night's Mass missed. Even so, in the last few months I have found that Tom feels much less absent to me when I'm with others who knew him and remember him as fondly as I do.

At 9/26/2009 8:24 PM, Blogger Joe said...


You're very welcome - I'm glad to have provided material for reflection. Thanks to your earlier comments I've begun reading your blogs with some regularity - I always appreciate reading your words there, and I also appreciate your comments here. Peace,

Joe K sj

At 8/15/2010 9:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful blog.

It brings to me a sense of wistfulness, I regret to write saudade, for a path I trod until I was bumped into by a force majeure.

At 8/26/2010 1:46 PM, Blogger Joe said...


Belated thanks for the comment - saudade is nothing to regret. Você fala português?


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