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COLUMN: Generation Gap: Father Tom

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By THOMAS SIMPSON
Guest Columnist

Editor’s Note: The Perry County News is publishing a series of interviews conducted by eighth-graders in Joyce Stath’s English class at Tell City Junior-Senior High School.

The interviews are of people one or two generations older than students.

Today’s column is by Thomas Simpson, who profiles the life of the Rev. Thomas Richstatter OFM.

Who would have thought that being born into a Roman Catholic family in Kansas Oct. 14, 1939, would lead to a life in a religious order, traveling all over the world, writing books and making movies?

And, who would have thought that this would result in living on Ninth Street in Tell City, Indiana? That is exactly what Father Thomas Richstatter OFM did with his life.

At the age of 3, the future Father Tom moved from St. Mary’s, Kansas, to Wichita, Kansas. This is his earliest memory. He did not play sports or physical games as a child. This is most likely because he had polio when he was in the first grade.

However, Father Tom was an excellent student. He said to me, “I only ever got one ‘B’ in my life!”

This, in turn, led to a lifelong love of learning.

When he went to high school, he went to live in a boarding school. During this time, he began to have more of an appreciation for music and journalism. He was in an accordion band that went to play at national competitions. He was also editor for the school paper at this time.

After graduating from high school, Father Tom went to college. Little did he know at the time that he would spend the first 40 years of his life going to school.

He earned many different degrees from many different places. His education was mainly based around the study of theology. His degrees include a Ph.D., a masters of divinity, a bachelor of arts and a master’s degree. These are just a fraction of all the degrees that he has earned in his lifetime.

Some of the colleges and universities he attended are Notre Dame, the Catholic University of Paris and St. Leonard College in Dayton, Ohio.

Father Tom can fluently speak French, Spanish and German and he has studied the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic and Syriac languages. Father Tom said college was hard, but he loved learning.

When he was only in the third grade, Father Tom knew he wanted to become a priest. He is a priest in the Franciscan brotherhood. The initials behind his name stand for Order of Friars Minor.

While he says Mass and leads marriages and funerals, he is mostly a professor, teaching classes to those who want to become priests. He has taught many years at St. Meinrad’s School of Theology, and currently teaches online classes as well. He teaches two online classes per semester to people working toward their masters degrees in theology.

Another exciting aspect of Father Tom’s career has been the opportunity to write many books and produce videos pertaining to the Catholic faith.

He has published more than 100 books and articles, including a book for junior-high students to use for their religious education.

Father Tom has particularly enjoyed producing videos that are helpful to people entering the Catholic faith or participating in some other aspect of the religion.

He said his happiest memories are those of his Christmas with the Dressman family, who are his closest friends. He has spent many holidays and vacations with them.

Since he never had any kids of his own, he has enjoyed seeing the Dressman children growing up to become adults.

Father Tom said people have many more choices now than when he was growing up. For example, if he wanted to purchase a vehicle, it was either a Ford or no car at all.

Now, when one wants to purchase a car, there are numerous choices. When Father Tom was young, there were three television channels from which to choose; now we have hundreds of channels.

On Father Tom’s “adventures,” he traveled the world. On most of these, he was usually the only American in his group.

Despite that fact, he was still treated as a normal person. The only real judgment he received was when America bombed Vietnam. His comrades acted like it was him who was raining explosives on the innocent citizens of Vietnam. He even got caught up in Israel during a wartime.

Father Tom said that the most exciting thing that happened in his lifetime was the second Vatican meeting. This completely changed his life because he no longer had to say mass in a different language.

Another exciting thing that happened in his lifetime was winning a nationwide contest. The contest was to write a Catholic article. Out of everybody in America that had an article entered, he was voted No. 1. As of Nov. 30, 2011, the article had sold 2,229,190 copies.

Father Tom is currently one of the preachers at St. Paul’s church. I learned that he is more than just a priest. He is an intelligent, worldly author who has impacted both students and parishioners.

I think that it would be amazing for the younger generation to converse with the older generation because it opens up a world of understanding.

There is much to be learned from those who have gone before us.