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Passing of Rev. Msgr. Thomas Hartman, St. Pius '63

Monday, February 22, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Tim McCleary
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Passing of Rev. Msgr. Thomas Hartman, St. Pius '63




Published by the Long Island Press - 2/17/2016

Msgr. Thomas Hartman, the Roman Catholic priest from Long Island nationally known as half of the God Squad, a popular television show about religion, died following a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 69.

Father Tom, as he was known, became a household name with Rabbi Marc Gellman following the success of the TV show they co-hosted for 20 years on Telecare, the faith-based cable network that Hartman ran for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The show led to a nationally-syndicated newspaper column, as well as regular TV and radio appearances on shows with larger audiences than their own, such as Good Morning America. After his diagnosis, Hartman stepped back from the spotlight and founded a charity that donated millions to find a cure for Parkinson’s.

“Our friendship produced many words, but it never needed words,” Gellman wrote in his Newsday column Wednesday eulogizing Hartman. “Tommy taught me that smiles are more important than words, and I do not need words now to remember that transformative wisdom.”

Hartman grew up in East Williston before entering the Hempstead seminary when he was in the ninth grade after passing up his dream of becoming a baseball player and instead joining the clergy like his uncle, aunts and cousins before him. He was ordained in 1971 and eight years later graduated with a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkley.

Hartman was also a parish priest at St. Vincent de Paul in Elmont and a chaplain for the Nassau County Police Department. Hartman joined forces with Gellman, the Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, after the two met while discussion religion on News12 Long Island. The next day, they formed the God Squad, in which the straight-laced Hartman and quick-witted Gellman discussed morality and religion.

The duo eventually became LI’s best-known clergymen, making appearances on national cable news networks. They were even animated for an HBO children’s special based on their book of the same name, How Do You Spell God? But if they ever struggled to balance their fame and their duties, it never showed.

”I’m definitely the straight man,” Hartman told The New York Times during the height of their fame in the ‘90s. ”Marc is much funnier than I and more vocal. I’m quieter. I want Marc to be the star. To some degree I’ve had more fame. Initially he had to gain it. So it was bigger in his mind. And in many ways he’s more talented than I.”

In 2003, Hartman broke the news of his diagnoses in his newspaper column, which had only launched a year prior. He had kept it secret for four years by that point. Gellman still writes the column for Tribune Media Services, but visited Hartman weekly at the nursing home where Father Tom lived until his passing.

Hartman’s charity donations led to the formation of the Thomas Hartman Foundation for Parkinson Research in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior at Stony Brook University. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.


Newsday, Opinion: Msgr. Tom Hartman, a life devoted to God and service 
Updated February 17, 2016 5:24 PM By James M. McNamara

Msgr. James M. McNamara, at the request of the Hartman family, will deliver the homily at the Mass of Transferral, a liturgy that takes place the night before a priest’s funeral mass. It will be held at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, 2/18/2016, at St. Aidan’s Church in Williston Park. 

Each of us is a mystery embedded in the creative love of God. To appreciate a person we have but a glimpse here and there, a story to tell, a memory to recall. 

Our history

“Maybe 10 percent of you will become priests.” Those words resounded in the hearts of 110 freshmen on the first day at St. Pius X High School Seminary in the fall of 1959. Msgr. Tom Hartman, who died late Tuesday, and I were among them. 

Despite our youth (I was 14; he was 13) and inexperience, we wanted to be priests. We were ordained together on May 29, 1971 by Bishop Walter Kellenberg. Tom was assigned to St. James Church in Seaford, and I went to St. Martin of Tours in Amityville. We were living the dream that began a dozen years before. To understand Tom, you need to see him through the lens of his vocation. He believed God was calling him to use his considerable gifts and talents to serve others as a priest. This was especially evident in his kindness — always available to people.

Serving those in need

In 1996, nurses became very concerned for women who were dying of AIDS. They were the dying poor of the day. These women had an abundance of compassion but a dearth of resources. They wanted to build a home so people would not die alone and unloved. I offered them land at Our Lady of Grace Roman Catholic Church in West Babylon, where I was pastor. Then I asked myself: Who might have the heart, the resources and the connections to make this dream a reality? Tom, of course. He was well known for raising money for worthy causes. Over dinner, I asked Tom to get involved and raise the money needed to both build and operate the facility. And thus Christa House-The Jerry Hartman Residence was born and served the dying poor for a decade. Jerry Hartman was Tom’s brother who died of this dreadful disease several years before.

Journey through prayer 

St. Ignatius of Loyola developed a retreat called The Spiritual Exercises. One would spend 30 days on retreat in prayer and meditation. Since people could not take 30 days away, he developed this retreat to be done amid daily life. One meets with a director several times a week to move through the experience of the spiritual exercises. In the Jubilee Year 2000, Tom asked me whether I would accompany him on this journey. What a privileged experience this was. Despite a busy schedule running Telecare and performing baptisms, marriages and funerals all over Long Island, Tom committed himself to an hour of prayer a day and to meeting with me several times a week. He would come at 6:30 a.m., park by the garage and enter near Christa House through the sliding doors that led to my living room. No one ever knew he was doing this. It went on for about six months. 

Privilege of faith

Tom was full of energy and enthusiasm. That he should be ravaged by Parkinson’s disease remains a great sadness to me. At first, it seemed so subtle and then it became more visible. Slowly, and eventually, his beautiful spirit became imprisoned by the effects of this illness. In recent years, he had lived the crucifixion of Christ that some find a scandal and others an obstacle but that we, who have the privilege of faith, see as the way to life on high with a God who is purely love. In one of the meditations of St. Ignatius, he prays a prayer of acceptance: “Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To You, O Lord, I return it. All is Yours, dispose of it wholly according to Your will. Give me Your love and Your grace, for this is sufficient for me.” Poignant times It had been painful to visit Tom in recent years and try to reach beyond the barrier of the body to communicate with the beautiful soul within. Perhaps Tom’s greatest witness has been in these poignant times. He gave all to Christ: his memory, his understanding, all he had and possessed, and now Jesus has given him a great gift — the gift of resurrection, of life on high amid pure love. May he rest in peace. 

Rev. James M. McNamara is pastor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church in Point Lookout and episcopal vicar of the Central Vicariate of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. 


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