November 25, 2016

Joseph Tobin: A great American success story—with a twist

New Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin and Pope Francis enjoy a conversation inside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy L’Osservatore Romano)

New Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin and Pope Francis enjoy a conversation inside St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Nov. 19. (Photo courtesy L’Osservatore Romano)

(Editor’s note: This story was written and posted on The Criterion’s website on Nov. 18, the day before Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin was installed into the College of Cardinals.)

By John Shaughnessy

ROME—This latest journey of Cardinal-designate Joseph W. Tobin to Italy can be viewed as a great American success story—with a twist.

After all, the focus of this story isn’t on power, wealth or fame. Rather, it’s on the foundation of faith, family and humility.

Start with the fact that he was a boy from Detroit who knew the challenges of the streets.

Add in the detail that he is the oldest of 13 children who grew up in a family that lived in one half of a duplex for all of his childhood and his youth.

Include the heartbreaking element that he lost his father—his role model—at a young age.

Yet instead of derailing his future, those realities and challenges helped to form the strong foundation of his life, leading now to a special moment when he will be elevated to one of the most honored positions in the Church.

That’s the Twitter account version of the life of Cardinal-designate Tobin who will be installed as a cardinal by Pope Francis on Nov. 19 at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.

During the ceremony which is called a consistory, Cardinal-designate Tobin will be one of 17 new cardinals to receive his cardinal’s ring and a biretta—a four-cornered red hat—from Pope Francis. The pope will also give each new cardinal a scroll with the “title” to a church or parish in Rome, making him an honorary member of the clergy in Rome.

For Cardinal-designate Tobin, his selection initially led him to be shocked and humbled when Pope Francis announced the list of new cardinals on Oct. 9. At 64, Cardinal-designate Tobin will become the youngest of the 18 American-born cardinals.

His selection as a cardinal has also led more than 200 people—including his 93-year-old mother, a large group of family and friends, and a strong delegation of priests, colleagues and faithful from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis—to travel to Rome to be there for him at this special time.

They will also be there for the first Mass he celebrates as a cardinal. With Pope Francis and other cardinals, he will concelebrate the 10 a.m. Mass on Nov. 20 in St. Peter’s Square, a liturgy that will close the Holy Year of Mercy that began on Dec. 8, 2015.

As he prays during the Mass, Cardinal Tobin will likely think again of his father Joseph who died during a blizzard in 1977 when he suffered a heart attack after helping people stranded in the snowstorm: “He never once sent me to church. He took me with him. When I was kneeling next to him, I wanted to be like him.”

During the weekend, he will also undoubtedly dote on his mother, Marie Tobin, who still had children as young as 5 and 6 when her husband died. Her oldest child knows she has always believed that her husband has been with her through the years, helping her raise their children.

As Cardinal-designate Tobin has noted, “And when people say, ‘Mrs. Tobin, how wonderful!—13 children and they all went to college,’ her response is, ‘How wonderful!—13 children and they all practice their faith.’ ”

Cardinal-designate Tobin has also often humorously mentioned another bonus of growing up in his close-knit Irish family: “We learned to live with diversity because it’s hard to be selfish if you have one bathroom in the house and eight sisters.”

Diversity has been a defining element in his ministry since he was ordained as a Redemptorist priest in 1978. He is fluent in five languages—English, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish—and he has traveled to more than 70 countries.

The former leader of the Redemptorist order also has a heart for immigrants and refugees. And when he is installed as the new archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark on Jan. 6, he will begin to oversee a four-county area of about 1.5 million Catholics where Mass is celebrated in 20 languages each weekend.

He definitely has a heart for the people of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. When he became the spiritual leader of the archdiocese in 2012, he viewed “Hoosier Hospitality” as a tourist slogan. After four years in the archdiocese, he has come to know it as a way of life that has connected him to the 225,000 Catholics—and many other people from different faiths—in the 39-county area.

Because he was reassigned to the Archdiocese of Newark before his installation as a cardinal, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will have no historical claim to him as a cardinal. But there is no denying the emotional and spiritual bond that connects Cardinal-designate Tobin and the faithful of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

On the day after Pope Francis announced him as one of the new cardinals, Cardinal-designate Tobin said, “What four years has done for me is that this wonderful Catholic community spread across 39 counties has gone from ‘the archdiocese’ to ‘my people.’ They have a claim on me, and I have a claim on them.”

The depth of that relationship was apparent when he learned he was being reassigned to the Archdiocese of Newark. His emotions filled a letter that he wrote to the people of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, sharing his shock and sadness. The letter included this passage: “I immediately thought of you, the people of this great Archdiocese whose pastoral care was entrusted to me four years ago. I remembered how you welcomed me, offered your support in so many ways, forgave my mistakes and limitations, and always assured me of your love and the precious backing of your prayer. The thought of leaving you devastated me.”

The thought of his elevation as a cardinal—and then the announcement of his reassignment to Newark—have led people in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to often include the word “bittersweet” in describing their reaction to those two pieces of stunning news. That feeling still lingers at the beginning of the weekend of Nov. 19-20, but the joy and pride for Cardinal-designate Tobin also swells as his date to become a cardinal is now less than a day away.

“I’m very excited he has been named a cardinal,” said Annette “Mickey Lentz, chancellor of the archdiocese. “I feel in his heart he will make us proud, no matter where he is, no matter where we are.”

John and Julie Morand of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis also came to Rome, nearly 3 1/2 years after they joined Cardinal-designate Tobin on an archdiocesan pilgrimage to Italy in the summer of 2012.

“We’re happy for him,” John Morand said. “He’s a holy man. He has a presence about him. When he’s talking to you, he’s focused on you. You can feel that in a good way.”

Carolyn Noone became emotional when she talked about this special weekend that marks the latest chapter in this Catholic-American success story.

“He has become like a family member to all of us, and he’s done good, so we can send him on to become a cardinal,” said Noone, the director of special events for the archdiocese. “We’re so proud of him because he’s one of us. He can leave Indianapolis and go to Newark, but he’ll always be in our hearts.”

It’s the deep emotion that pours out for a cardinal who has built his life on the foundation of faith, family and humility. †

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