Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tribute to Fr. Tommy (Thomas) Kuruvilla

Fr. Thomas Kuruvilla: Nov 6, 1948 – Jan 14, 2006

Friend, Community Organizer and Pastoral Animator

“Generous to a fault…. generous with his money, his time, talent and energy” that’s how people described him. “Generous in my physical proportions,” Tommy would jokingly describe himself, and added “but that’s only to protect my warm heart.” No one, not even his parishioners who disagreed with him, would deny that Tommy was very tenderhearted, a quality he acquired from his mother, along with her excellent culinary skills. From his father, a doctor, a man who was forever brimming with ideas, Tommy absorbed a penchant for trying out new, innovative ideas and his entire life can be encapsulated as striving to put into practice creative ideas, make them down-to-earth and implement them with compassion. Thus a happy combination of two qualities – the tenderness of his mother coupled with a restlessness to try out creative ideas - that was the blend that described Tommy’s personality.

There was however a third (almost Trinitarian) quality which distinguished Tommy’s spirituality and made him a little different from the ordinary and that was his energetic spirit of commitment. Commitment was his mainstay and his riding crop. Tommy was a late vocation. As a young man, he worked as an accountant in several corporations and last of all in Caritas India, where he evaluated many of their projects in rural areas. It is from those early days that his vigorous spirit of commitment emerged and throughout his seminary days he burned with a passion and desire to work in the missions and rural areas.

No wonder that immediately after his ordination he volunteered to work with the Warlis of Talasari. Traveling around the ‘padas’ of Talasari , one constantly heard the endearing words “Tommy Father” which echoed only a tiny fraction of the vast affection and esteem with which the Warlis held him, young and old, men and women, Christian or non Christian. The extensive projects he initiated at Varkhanda: the rubber plantations, the farming experiments, canal irrigation, etc are witness to his indefatigable zeal for the welfare of the Warlis.

After several years in Talasari, Tommy was appointed parish priest in Dombivli. There he constructed a new and larger Church, a monument to his love for the parishioners of Dombivli. However, it is not just a building, but an “entire community” that has been fashioned around the church. One has to visit Infant Jesus parish and participate in the liturgy and its various social activities to experience the warmth, the hospitality and the vibrancy of the parish community. That was probably one of the first communities in the diocese of Bombay where tithing was initiated, not just for the building of the church, but for projects of community service. As one gazes at the beautiful church building and the ‘Sahaya’ Community Centre, one may not so easily fathom the hardships that were painstakingly endured during those early years – when Tommy and his associates endured extreme sacrifices to get the church and community up and going – years of living without running water or a prope!
r toilet, without kitchen or cook, bitten by mosquitoes, insects and protected by stray dogs.

More recently, Tommy was engaged in several other diocesan projects. In charge of diocesan estates and properties, his goal was to realize full and transparent accountability for all parishes, help sort out and “rectify” their legal and property issues.

Being the community person that he was, Tommy threw himself into building small Christian communities, both at St Michael’s and at Amboli, where he was currently parish priest. He strove might and main to get the movement to fan out “from the center to the periphery” of the parish boundaries. His latest and most recent dream was to build a “Center for Holistic Healing” that would combine spirituality with alternative and non-invasive methods of healing. Unfortunately this was a plan that was still be to be realized when fate dealt him an unkind blow and snuffed out his life when he had still so much to give to society.

Tommy was a good friend, loyal and true. He would give his heart and soul for friendship and fellowship. He was prepared to cook, clean, wash, drive, organize, and make all the arrangements so that people could come together for friendship and camaraderie. It is for this reason that he spent time developing the clergy home in Matheran so that members of the presbyterate could come together, relax and unwind.

A couple of years ago, when one of our priests was thrown into jail on “false charges”, Tommy was among the first to run to the police and get him out on bail, at the same time procuring a lawyer to defend him.

Tommy had great concern for people who were ill. If he was aware that anyone was sick or had to be operated upon, he would be the first to spend the night at the hospital, giving medication, bringing soup, taking on the roles of ward boy, nurse and doctor all rolled into one.

This obituary is not written with the intention to canonize Tommy. No doubt he did have his faults. He had a style of confrontation that pulled no punches. He believed in calling a spade a spade and telling it like it was. He was not afraid to confront anyone, whether bishop or layperson, king or beggar, politician or peasant. But beneath his brusque confrontative style, there burned within him a passion and fire to build up God’s kingdom on earth, an enterprise that he devoted most of his life to. Our tribute to him would be to simply continue that goal of his with the same three qualities that he exhibited: Commitment, Creativity and Compassion.

Frs. Salu Rodrigues, Allwyn D’Silva, Eddie D’Souza and John D’Mello

Source: Archdiocese of Bombay - News

Previous Posts:
  • Father Tommy Passes Away
  • Two Priests Meet With Accident, One Still in Coma
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