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Rest in peace, Father Tom; you earned it

Monsignor Tom McDonnell passed away on Sunday. Even though he had been dealing with lung cancer for several years, he did not allow his illness to define his life. Instead, he continued to practice the priestly vocation he believed God had given him, and his was an extraordinary ministry.

Born and raised in Mattapan, where he worked as an usher at the Oriental, Fr. Tom was ordained in Rome in 1960, and held advanced degrees in liturgy and dogmatic theology from the Vatican’s Pontifical Gregorian University. He was a voracious reader and a reflective thinker, yet he never strayed from the working-class neighborhood roots that nurtured him as a kid growing up in St. Angela’s parish. He did spend five years as a professor at St. John’s Seminary, but left the academy to work in parish life.

In recent years, I was fortunate to become his friend, and we published dozens of his spiritual reflections on these pages. Just a week ago Monday, he called with this news: “Ed, This is Father Tom. My article is in to the Dorchester Reporter; and second, I was awarded third place in this year’s Catholic Press Association’s awards. I just wanted to let you know the good news.”

The award-winning column appeared during Lent in the Reporter as well as in The Pilot, and the judges commented: “McDonnell extracts just two words from the Scriptures -- ‘I thirst’ -- and uses them as a springboard for a surprising number of theological reflections.”

Father Tom will lie in state at St. Monica’s Church, South Boston. A funeral Mass will be said there Saturday at 11.

For now, his friends can perhaps find comfort in the simple prayer of John Henry Cardinal Newman:

”May He support us all the day long, ‘til the shades lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in His mercy, may He grant us a safe lodging, and holy rest, and peace at last.”

For Fr. Tom, his work indeed is done, and he did it so very, very well.