Tom, Who Is Loved
Witnesses from Tom Sullivan's final days
Editor's Note: Our friend Tom Sullivan died May 10, 2021 in Houston, Texas. Below are a few excerpts from the many witnesses his friends have shared from his final days. A booklet with the full texts is being compiled. Submissions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 10, 2021 - Chris - email
To all in the tri-state CL communities:
With heavy heart, I inform you that this morning, Tom Sullivan died in a hospice facility in Houston, Texas, after a relatively brief, but dramatic battle with esophageal cancer.
Tom grew up in the Washington D.C. area, where he met the movement in the early years of his journalistic career. In 1997, he was asked to come to New York to help promote the books of Father Giussani, which were beginning to enter the US market. After working for CL, he continued in New York, working for the American Bible Society, and various financial institutions in their research departments. Four or five years ago, he landed a job as a business librarian at Texas A&M University where he worked until his death.
Among his most striking characteristics was his ability to be so beloved in every place that he lived. He was generous and interested in your interests (“Chris, here’s a book I thought might interest you on early choral music”; “Lorna, I bought these books on the construction of bridges for you, remembering that you had worked on a bridge”). The interests and knowledge were vast, the energy levels frightening, the humor often biting! But faithfulness and interest in you were present and always clear.
News of these last few weeks from Houston was full of heroic attention for him from the community in Houston, from friends and family visiting him for the last time from Washington, Denver, and New Jersey, and from people lined up waiting for their turn for a round-the-clock vigil in his room at the hospice facility. Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option) wrote a stunning blogpost about him.
Let us ask, in the words of Father Giussani, that “the hand of Our Lady introduce us into the Mystery, because this is the meaning of our days (and of Tom’s days), of time that passes." May her gaze guide us on our journey (which he is blazing before us), may her example teach us, may her figure be the plan of our purpose.” So that through God’s grace and pity, we may experience what Tom has (and what many others have seen in him). That this epithet be under our photo as was his. That we be honored to have followed one who was clearly seen first and foremost as “Tom, who is loved”.
May 10, 2021 - Carlo - Twitter
May 10, 1021 - Mary - Facebook
. . . I had always hoped we would all end up together at the “CL Old Folks Home” (by the way, I hope someone is working on this…? I am sure our Italian friends are on it, so we should follow suit!). Tom and I would argue over the answers to the New York Times Crossword puzzle and talk over each other as we overshared about our new favorite book. Alas, that is not to be. I loved Tom and I will miss him. Our paths diverged when I came home to Upstate New York and he moved to Texas, but as is the case with a true friendship, I always felt his presence in my life. He was one of those people that I knew, knew absolutely, positively, if I needed him, he would be there for me in whatever way he could. I have been wracking my brain to figure out the last time I saw Tom. Was it at John's son’s Communion? Back in 2016? No, it had to be more recently-hopefully, perhaps last year, or the year before, at New York Encounter? Probably, as I said, Tom was always THERE! I do have the last email I got from Tom, in January of 2019. As Tom often did, he was passing on the review of something that made him think of me, “Bruce (Springsteen) on Broadway”! He said in his email: “I’m flourishing professionally here at Texas A&M. It’s a bit lonely – the closest CL community is in Houston, 90 miles away”.
May 10, 2021 - Rossana - email
Dear friends and family of Tom,
I wanted to let you know that Rick and I were at his bedside this morning when he passed at 9:40 am. In Tom's characteristic fashion he was very present to us, but at the exact moment of death, we were distracted in conversation about our twenty-year-old sons and their possibility of going to the CLU vacation. Tom did not demand our attention. He simply stopped breathing. I turned my head and knew immediately he was gone. His simplicity and, as Mary in her beautiful eulogy put it, self-deference prevailed until the end. Rick went back home to get some rest since he had stayed awake with Tom keeping vigil through the night and I stayed with Tom. Shortly after, Serena called and proposed we pray an Angelus so I put my phone on speaker and we prayed it with me standing next to him. For many years Tom prayed the Angelus over the phone with John at noon every day. Then a few minutes later Dorothy from Waco, Texas, where Tom spent his last Thanksgiving day, arrived and the two of us prayed a Rosary with Tom's body present. Dorothy had been praying the Rosary via Zoom with Tom, Natalie, and others every week. Nino, Michel, Natalie, and her mom Carole also came to say their goodbyes. It was all so simple and so true.
May 7, 2021 – Mark / FaceBook
Friends of Tom, he's quite stubborn. He may know Sara and Rick are on their way. Fever is being managed but a very high heat rate. I've received two calls this morning from his friends to say goodbye. Yesterday a friend sent a recorded song. We are operating on the assumption that his sense of hearing is functioning. (Years ago, when dad was in a coma, I sang to him and I could see on the monitors his heart rate slowing at each song). We keep it simple: a few words of greeting and a prayer of choice. Feel free to send me a WhatsApp voice message or call, or phone call. 301-471-7731. I'll be back in the room around 9 am to my departure at 12 for the airport. That's Tom's room with the morning sunlight filling it.
May 4, 2021 - Rod Dreher - Blogpost
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.
One of Tom's last texts to Sara
"Thank you for being a true friend, and for reminding me of the One who is the root of our friendship."