November 30, 2012

Siblings say big brother is great role model and mentor

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin plays a song on a piano for members of his family on Oct. 10, 2010, at a Redemptorist house in Rome during a celebration of his ordination as an archbishop, which took place the previous day. Listening to him play are, from left, his mother, Marie Tobin; sister, Ann Tobin Levigne; sister, Margo Tobin; sister, Kathy Vandelinder; and sister, Pat Steinhauer. (Submitted photo)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin plays a song on a piano for members of his family on Oct. 10, 2010, at a Redemptorist house in Rome during a celebration of his ordination as an archbishop, which took place the previous day. Listening to him play are, from left, his mother, Marie Tobin; sister, Ann Tobin Levigne; sister, Margo Tobin; sister, Kathy Vandelinder; and sister, Pat Steinhauer. (Submitted photo)

By Mary Ann Garber

Big brothers are supposed to be good role models, and this big brother has also been a spiritual inspiration.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, the oldest of 13 children, is a great mentor and friend, four of his siblings said recently in phone interviews.

Joe has always done his best to help his parents, Joseph and Marie Tobin, as well as his eight sisters and four brothers, they said, even though he has lived away from home since he said “yes” to God’s call to religious life and the priesthood as a teenager.

His ministry as a Redemptorist priest took him to nearly 75 countries throughout the world, and he lived in Rome for 21 years while serving his congregation and, most recently, Pope Benedict XVI with a Vatican appointment.

Yet, despite the geographic distance and passage of years, Archbishop Tobin and his family remain close-knit and he visits them in the Detroit metropolitan area as often as his busy schedule permits a trip home.

About 70 members of the Tobin family will travel to Indianapolis for his installation Mass on Dec. 3 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral.

‘Treat people with respect’

“It will be great to have him back on this continent,” Jim Tobin said after learning that his oldest brother was named archbishop of Indianapolis on Oct. 18 by the Holy Father.

Jim, the fifth sibling, and his family are members of Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich.

“We’re a close family,” Jim said. “When Joe has been in North America for business, he has tried to navigate through home [their mother’s house at Stoney Pointe in Ontario, Canada] either on the way to or from a meeting as he has traveled back and forth over the years.”

His new ministry as the spiritual leader of Catholics in central and southern Indiana also will enable him to enjoy watching the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” play football more often.

“With Notre Dame playing at 8 o’clock at night three times this year, he was up at 1 o’clock in the morning trying to find the game on the Internet,” Jim said. “Now he will be able to watch Notre Dame football games in real time.

“All kidding aside, having Joe in the Midwest is going to be great,” Jim said. “He’s got 28 nieces and nephews, … and now everybody will have an opportunity to see him more often.”

As a big brother, Joe would “make sure I knew my place in the pecking order,” Jim said, “but was always there to help.”

And as a role model, Jim said, Joe taught his siblings to “treat people the way you would want to be treated, treat people with respect and treat people fairly.”

Now as an archbishop, Joe “absolutely wants to make a difference,” Jim said. “He’s not afraid to dig in [and work hard], … and he’s a down-to-earth person.”

‘A true blessing for all of us’

Attorney Margo Tobin, the third sibling, who is a member of St. Paul Parish in Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., with her husband, said she was thrilled to learn the news about her oldest brother’s appointment to Indianapolis.

“The overwhelming thought is that he is going to be closer to home,” she said, “and that’s a true blessing for all of us.”

From an early age, Margo said, it was apparent that Joe wanted to be a priest.

As children, she said, “we would play Mass. Joe at a very young age would be saying the Mass. … I think [the priesthood] is something he knew that he wanted from a very youthful age. … The connection with the Redemptorists, with the Church, with the faith went a long way back with Joe and with all of us.

“I think Joe would be the first to say that we were truly blessed with our parents,” Margo said. “My father was as wonderful and warm and faith-filled as my mom is.”

Their father’s tragic and sudden death at age 54 during the Blizzard of ‘77 dramatically changed their lives in an instant, she said, but also strengthened their family’s already close bonds of love and faith.

“It was a huge loss, but that didn’t keep us from moving forward,” Margo said. “As a matter of fact, I’m sure it’s Dad’s prayers and watchful eye that got us through many things [after his death], and has given Mom the strength that she still has today.”

Family members “were happy to see what a warm, wonderful welcome Joe had in Indianapolis” in October when they watched his press conference online, she said. “He was overwhelmed by the welcome, and is excited about the promise of [ministry in] the archdiocese.”

Margo’s prayer for her oldest brother as he begins his new ministry on Dec. 3 is “to continue to be strong in his faith and his devotion now to his new people.

“I can’t say [enough about] how proud I am of him,” she said. “I know that the people of [the Archdiocese of] Indianapolis won’t be disappointed.”

‘An amazing disciple’

“Joe’s vocation has been such a blessing for our family,” said Ann Tobin-Levigne, the sixth sibling, who is an attorney in Grosse Pointe, Mich., and member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Gross Pointe Woods, Mich., with her family.

“We always went to church together as a family,” Ann said. “… For our parents, it was faith and then family, and everything else came after that. Participating in each step of Joe’s calling has been just wonderful for each of us.”

Tobin family vacations always centered around where Joe was in formation for the priesthood with the Redemptorist congregation, she said. “ The experiences of being with the Redemptorist family was so enhancing and enriching to the foundation that our parents instilled in us.”

As a big brother and priest, Ann said, “Joe’s advice to us has always been to ‘pray on it.’ There are so many options regardless of what the subject matter is unless you quiet yourself and quiet your mind to listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say to you.

“He has always been very willing to be obedient to the will of God, … and whatever direction that has taken him,” she said. “He has certainly been a role model for the rest of us … to have an openness to the Holy Spirit and be willing to say ‘yes.’ ”

Her oldest brother is “very diplomatic,” Ann said. “He’s very nonjudgmental. … He might say, ‘Well, if you look at it from this angle you might arrive at a different conclusion.’ ”

When the Tobin family moved to Canada in 1972, she said, their parents placed a wooden cross on the wall with pegs to hold dozens of rosaries.

“My friends would be amazed to see that cross,” Ann said. “To me, it was so natural. It was such a part of our everyday fabric because on most days, … after dinner and before homework started, we would all go in the living room and get down on our knees and say the rosary.”

Throughout his life and ministry, Ann said, “Joe has had such a gift of peacefulness in his spirituality that he is able to reach many lives. … Joe is an amazing disciple.”

Both brother and godfather

“Joe is also my godfather,” John Tobin of Woodbury, Minn., said about his oldest brother.

He and his family are members of Guardian Angels Parish in Oakdale, Minn., and will travel from Minneapolis to Indianapolis to participate in Archbishop Tobin’s installation Mass.

“I am the 10th of 13 children,” John said. “Our mother and father told us, ‘You were all given unique talents, and it’s your responsibility to make the best of those talents regardless of whatever you want to do in the world.’ They were always focusing us and challenging us to be better.”

John’s earliest memories of his oldest brother were that “he was focused on the calling of the priesthood,” and away from home much of the time for his priestly formation at Redemptorist seminaries in Wisconsin and New York.

“You would learn more from Joe from his actions than words,” John said, “treating people the right way, finding common ground and working toward solutions.” †

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