December 2, 2016

Parents’ love and example planted seeds of faith for Tobin children

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin poses with his mother, Marie Tobin, on Oct. 9, 2010, after he was ordained an archbishop at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (Criterion file photo)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin poses with his mother, Marie Tobin, on Oct. 9, 2010, after he was ordained an archbishop at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (Criterion file photo)

(Editor’s note: This story is the first of 10 “defining moments” that have shaped Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin throughout his life, and reflected key parts of his ministry in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for the past four years. Look for these “defining moment” stories throughout this special edition.)

By Mike Krokos and John Shaughnessy

The journey that led Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin to become a cardinal begins with two love stories.

Defining Moments logoThe first story involves the love of his parents—Joseph and Marie—for each other.

“As years go on, I become much more aware and much more grateful for the gift of one’s family, beginning with my parents,” said Cardinal Tobin, the oldest of their 13 children. “My mother had five cousins and three aunts who were nuns.

“My dad’s mother immigrated to Boston and came from a rather poor, passionate and rollicking group of shanty Irish.

“You have this wonderfully pious mother—and a father who came out of a really tough background and who was a great football player. They found a love that not only united them, but brought the best out of each of them. And we kids were the benefit of that.”

His second love story reveals the depth of the bond between a father and a son.

Growing up in a family that lived in one half of a duplex in Detroit for all of his childhood and youth, Cardinal Tobin saw up close the way his father treated his mother and cared for his children.

At 19, the future cardinal and his father worked alongside each other as they helped to build a larger house for the family on a small farm in Canada.

“I think the greatest gift my father gave me was an image of manhood,” the cardinal said. “A man in the best sense. A chivalry toward women. A self-sacrificing love for his family. And 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.”

The cardinal’s father worked for General Motors, but he made sure he kept his work and family life separate.

“I said to him [one time], ‘I never see you bring home work.’ He looked at me and said, ‘That’s because I married your mother, I didn’t marry General Motors.’ ”

Of course, the reality of nearly every love story is that there are not only chapters of hope, but heartbreak. The cardinal’s dad died during a blizzard in 1977 when he suffered a heart attack after helping people stranded in the snowstorm.

“My dad died when he was 54, and he left my mother with 13 children, the youngest of whom were 5 and 6,” Cardinal Tobin recalled.

After his father’s death, he went to General Motors to collect his dad’s personal items. While he was familiar with many of the things that his dad kept in a box of belongings, there was one thing he didn’t recognize: a wooden cross that was taped to a calculator.

“Anybody who came into that office saw it. He didn’t show it off, but when they got close to him, they couldn’t help but see it,” Cardinal Tobin noted. “It was a symbol of what his faith meant. It meant that he was seeding, sowing where he lived: with his family, with his wife, with his children, in his community, in his parish and in his workplace.”

His mother has kept a similar focus on faith, Cardinal Tobin said. She always stressed that her husband was with her through the years, helping her raise their 13 children.

The cardinal 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.’ ” †

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