I found out the other week that one of my many mentors throughout school has passed away. Father Thomas Martin O.S.A. was one of my college professors, who in my senior year, severely (in a positive way) changed my appreciation of the Catholic church.
I chose to go to Villanova because of their strong academic and athletics program. I knew I wanted to cheer in college, and I knew that I wanted to be successful academically. It was important for me that the school I choose have both a strong academic program and also a strong sports program to pursue both of my interests. The one downside I saw to Villanova was that it was Catholic. I, my friends, am quite Jewish. I was apprehensive to say the least. I was afraid of the religious classes I had to take.
My first religious class (1050 Christian Fundamentals) was that nightmare. The teacher was a closed minded Franciscan Nun. She was nice and all, but did not care about my views because I dissented too much. Despite my hand being almost constantly raised, I was almost never called on. I felt dejected and rejected from the class and the school.
My second religious class was of an optional nature, I could study any religion. I chose a southeast asian religion class where I thought I’d learn about Buddhism. I was wrong, while the class covered Buddhism, it mostly covered Hindu. I learnt a ton and enjoyed the class despite my initial disappointment about Buddhism instruction.
Finally my senior year rolled around and I had to take my last religious requirement. Again, it was required to be Catholic. I decided to take a class on Christian Spirituality. The teacher, Father Thomas Martin. I’m not going to dissuade with you images of me being the most prestigious student in the class. It was second semester senior year and I was already counting my way out. I spent much of the class browsing the internet on my laptop in the back corner next to Allan Ray (one of the star basketball players).
Despite my lack of academic interest in the class, the teacher caught my attention. He was very vibrant and energetic, and above all more open minded than any priest I had known before. He seemed to care about the fact that my religion was different and wanted to learn about it. He was quick, intellectually, and very considerate. I don’t remember how long it took, but after a short while I got into a habit of walking with Father Martin from class to his office. We had many interesting conversations, sometimes about the class topic or something I caught that was interesting, or sometimes just about my religion and his. He always talked to me with respect and kindness.
The most memorable of these conversations might be something that would get him in trouble. I once asked him about what happens to people who don’t believe in Jesus as the messiah, after death. I have my own deluded notion of Judaism. I believe that my responsibility is to be a good person here. I don’t believe in Jesus, and I don’t believe I should be concerned with the afterlife. If it exists, that is great, if it doesn’t then I’ll be remembered for how I am here. This is in stark opposition to anything Christian I have heard. According what I had heard at the time, if I died, I was going condemned because I didn’t believe in Jesus.
I posed the question of what would happen to me to this priest and I asked him for his honest opinion. I could take it, but I was curious. He turned to me and told me that he felt G-d would take care of all those who are good people, I might not believe in all the aspects of his G-d, but if I’m a good person that should be enough. I guess a part of me has always wanted to believe in the magical nature of the afterlife.
I felt like he had stepped outside of the realm of his role to come to down as a person and converse with me. He was awesome and will be truly missed. I had tried to connect with last October, but was unable to find time in our schedules. I didn’t know it was the last time I’d ever be able to shake his hand. I’ll miss him and remember his kindness forever.
Here is a collection of some other links:
- Fr. Thomas Martin, O.S.A.
- Fr. Tom Martin, OSA, Augustinian Scholar
- Father Thomas F. Martin, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Dies at 66
- Rev. Thomas F. Martin, O.S.A. (1943 – 2009) – Interesting note, that it turns out that Thomas Martin went to Tolentine College, and I had my class with him in building called Tolentine at Villanova
- His Personal Villanova Page