by a staff worker.
Thomas Egan, a staff worker of Madonna House since 1961, passed away on March 3, 2005. In this issue of Restoration, we share some of our memories of Tom.
Tom Egan was a gruff old guy who loved to talk non-stop at 500 words a minute in his inimitable crusty and partially unintelligible New York accent.
Tom was not only mechanically incompetent but amazingly so, lacking in motor skills and manual dexterity to a degree legendary in Madonna House. He smoked all his life, and he loved to sing though he couldn’t carry a tune.
But, of course, who Tom is is much, much more than this.
It’s a common observation at Madonna House that the most frequent sin that we staff workers commit is judging one another.
I’m never more convicted of this than when one of us dies. It’s phenomenal how our eyes get opened within a few days of someone’s death, to see the greatness that was there all the time but was shrouded by their annoying traits.
From the new vantage point of a completed life, these traits suddenly fade out of focus, fall into perspective, and enter into a gently humorous category or even into the category of the very material through which virtue was finely honed.
On March 3rd Tom Egan, a few months shy of 80, was found dead in his room by one of his MH brothers. (We later learned that he had had a massive stroke.)
I hasten to add that “dead” is not quite the right word in Tom’s case. He would have said that he passed through the veil into “glory.”
As Fr. David said in his homily at Tom’s Mass of Christian Burial, Tom for years refused to end our MH grace after meals in the words used by the rest of the community: “May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.”
No, Tom was adamant that he didn’t want to rest in peace. So his husky voice could be heard saying emphatically, “May the souls of the faithful departed live in glory.”
Tom tried to live so as to do just that. When he was on staff at our house in Edmonton, other staff heard him saying aloud every morning upon arising, “I know you’re ready for me, God. I hope I’m ready for you.”
On the day of his death, as several of us gathered around his body, still lying on the floor where he had fallen, I found myself wondering why God had let him die alone, especially without the ministrations of the Church.
Though it is true that many staff hope for a quick, relatively painless death, there are pluses to a slower death, at least when a priest is available, as is the case in our community.
Gift from the Church
The dying person receives what used to be called “Viaticum,” or “Food for the journey”—the Eucharist, Mass at the bedside if feasible, and the Apostolic Blessing, through which, in her loving concern for the dying, the Church offers a plenary indulgence or full remission of the temporal punishment due to sin.
But though I felt sorry that Tom had missed this, other staff reminded me that Tom was ready to go, and that he had received the Eucharist only a few hours before his death.
Tom loved the Church and he lived this enthusiasm. During the bidding prayers at daily Mass, his gruff voice was often heard interceding for various needs of the universal as well as the local Church. He would, for example, pray for the formation of seminarians and for fidelity to Church teaching in institutions of learning.
On the evening of Tom’s burial, all of Madonna House in Combermere gathered for our traditional Memory Night, in which we relieve our grief and seek to see deeper into the person’s life, beyond those annoying imperfections which perhaps we allowed to obstruct our view while he or she was alive.
We share stories, both humorous and serious, about the person thus revealing the various facets of that person.
Tom’s utter lack of mechanical ability was, of course, one facet, and the subject of some of these stories. This limitation was painful for him, particularly in his early years at MH, when he would be the only man at a given field house and would be expected to be able to fix malfunctioning cars, furnaces, and plumbing.
When Tom and I were together at our house in the Yukon, just to give one example, if Tom was cleaning the chimney of our wood-burning cook stove, he would take all morning, and at the end of it, the stove would somehow have gotten off its metal legs and in other ways have to be reassembled.
But when one of us women did it, we would finish by 9 a.m., remove our work gloves, and start cooking lunch.
This kind of humiliating experience was one source of the suffering God asked Tom to endure and come to terms with.
Lest it sound like we mercilessly put him to the test, I must tell how MH was also very sensitive to respecting Tom’s God-given masculine ego, sometimes at considerable expense.
A New Car
Typically MH vehicles are not new, but at our house in the Yukon we had been given a new small car. The woman director always assigned Tom to do the daily pickup of food donations, even though his movements in changing the gearshift were jerky and would cause the car to need repair early in its history.
Tom’s love, though, was his outstanding characteristic. And at our sharing, two of the men staff, Peter Lyrette and Ralph Edelbrock, told stories of Tom as their housefather when they were guests.
In spite of his rough and gruff exterior and even through it, they said, Tom came across as a man who was fatherly in the best sense of the word, correcting them in ways that respected them and that furthered their journey towards maturity.
In fact in 1978 Tom left us a letter to be opened only after his death. In it he said that after he died he would be able to love us much more than he did when he was alive. I’ve taken that as an invitation to confidently ask his intercession.
And my experience tells me that members of our MH family “living in glory” are well worth calling upon.
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