Thursday, June 23, 2016

A quiet memorial.

One of the most charming features of the Georgetown University campus is the number of quiet and sometimes hidden memorials that dot the Hilltop. I suspect that most university campuses have their own secret places, known primarily to a small circle of students and alumni, but Georgetown is my alma mater and I write about what I know. One such quiet memorial is this plaque located in a corner of the sacristy at Georgetown's Dahlgren Chapel, a plaque "[g]iven in memory of Rev. Thomas M. King, S.J. by many of his friends." Father Tom King died seven years ago on this date, and one year ago today I offered a Memorial Mass for him at Georgetown. Before I returned to the Hilltop to offer that Mass, I was unaware of this memorial's existence; the plaque's location in the sacristy is discreet enough that I might have missed it if it had not been pointed out to me.

Reflecting on the plaque in the Dahlgren sacristy has me thinking about how we remember people after they've died and how we measure their impact. Father Tom King spent forty years as a professor of theology at Georgetown and had an unparalleled impact on generations of Hoyas, not only as a teacher but also a priest and spiritual father; such was Father King's influence on Georgetown students over the decades that at the turn of the millennium The Hoya declared him Georgetown's Man of the Century. It has been four years since the last group of undergrads who knew Tom personally received their degrees, so his influence is now felt mostly among Georgetown alumni and others who walked the Hilltop in decades past. That influence is likely to linger, though, thanks in large part to the many Hoyas who became priests thanks to Tom and to others whom he inspired to become theologians.

Some may wish that the Georgetown campus featured a more public memorial to Father Tom King, noting that a small plaque in a sacristy is likely to be seen by very few. I would be happy to see a more visible reminder of Tom's presence in campus, but I still like the plaque in the sacristy very much. I think that Tom would have approved of the use of the Anima Christi on the plaque, which speaks to the sense in which he sought to point others to Christ. It also seems right to me to locate a memorial to Tom King in the place where he prepared to offer Mass six nights a week for forty years; Tom was as much at home in the sacristy as he was in the classroom, and it was precisely as a priest that he had the greatest impact on others. Though few may see the plaque in its current spot, I'm sure that those who most need to see it will do so. Ultimately, that is what matters most. AMDG.


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