The Little Way Of Tom Sullivan
A tribute from a friend:
I knew Tom too, and have been praying for him daily since I heard he was severely ill (he died of cancer this morning in Houston, in hospice care). Everything Carlo says here is true. I wrote this about Tom last week, on my Substack:
I mentioned to you in a post the other day that my old friend Tom is dying in Houston, where he has lived for the last few years, working as an academic librarian. He has esophageal cancer, and has been moved to hospice to await the end. Tom and I met in the early 1990s, when we both worked at The Washington Times. We stayed in touch over the years. Though we weren’t really close, we were fond of each other. I always admired Tom’s sweet spirit. He was, and is, a generous friend.
When we first met, I was on my way into the Catholic Church. Tom was an enthusiastic member of Communion and Liberation, the international Catholic movement founded by Monsignor Luigi Giussani, a priest of Milan, in the 1950s. He invited me to come be part of the local community in Washington. I went to a couple of events, liked everybody I met, but didn’t feel that its spirituality was quite right for me. I’m not much of a joiner, anyway. It’s strange, because I can see theoretically the need for community, but I have such a difficult time being part of one. This is a character flaw of mine, I concede. Anyway, Tom and I remained friends, and I admired, even envied, the sense of joy and solidarity he had within CL, even though I, for reasons of my own, couldn’t be part of it.
A couple of years after I left Washington for Florida, Tom moved from DC to New York City, and joined up with the CL community there. We renewed our friendship when I moved to New York in 1998. More recently, Tom took a job in Houston, where there is a strong CL community. They received him, and he built a good life with them.
When a mutual CL friend of mine and Tom’s told me some days ago that Tom was dying, he generously put me on an e-mail list of Tom’s friends, so I could receive updates. What a gift that was. I’m half a world away, unable to do anything for Tom but pray, but I am seeing in the almost daily e-mail updates what love is, and what love in community is. Tom turned sixty this week; his parents are dead, and his brothers are on the East Coast. His CL family is, practically speaking, his family. The members of the community who are keeping us updated tell us about how the CL folks are taking turns sitting with him, praying with him, telling him how much they love him, things like that. People from CL back East who know and love Tom have been flying in to say their goodbyes. The Houston CL family has been coordinating it all, so Tom won’t be worn out, and so the travelers will have a place to stay. Tom, we are told, is losing his ability to communicate, but he had joy on his birthday because of all his friends.
When Our Lord calls Tom home — it won’t be long now — he will be surrounded by love, as he has been in this passage. It’s an incredible thing to have seen, even from the outside, from a distance. That man is so cherished by his CL community. He never married, but he did not live alone, and he is not dying alone. What a testimony to the power of Christ’s love, and the charism of Monsignor Giussani’s work. If the only thing you ever know about CL is that through the bonds of community it forged, it gave meaning, love, and life to Tom, and those bonds of love tightened and brightened as Tom’s natural life came to a close. Don’t we all want that? Don’t we all want to be free like that? Tom never made much money, but he dies a rich man indeed.