Date of Birth
October 8, 1954
Fathers and Dear Confreres:
When, last February, I went with Father Mulligan to see Father Thomas F. Power in his small sick-room in St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco – where he had been for three months following a severe operation – I had hopes that he would soon be returning to St. Patrick’s Seminary and, after convalescence, take up again his highly regarded teaching. Providence has upset our too optimistic view. A telegram on July 7th informed us that God had suddenly recalled his good servant to Himself. With the help of documents kindly sent to me by the Provincial Superior of the United States, I want now to evoke the memory of this Sulpician whose life was characterized by a faithful attachment to his duty of state.
Thomas Francis Power was born on February 22, 1888, in Worcester, Massachusetts, one of the most Catholic cities in the country. Not yet having thought of the priesthood when the time came for him to choose a profession, he turned to a teaching career, took his degrees in Chemistry at Clark University, then taught that science at Pennsylvania State University and at Catholic University in Washington. It was while he was teaching that he heard the call to a higher vocation, the salvation of souls. In 1920, at the age of thirty-two, he applied for admission to St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, where he studied Philosophy and Theology. The work of training the clergy done there by our confreres seemed to him to match the bent of his mind and he sought entrance into the Society of St. Sulpice.
In his last year of Theology, Thomas Power was sent to St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park to finish his studies while teaching Biology. At the end of the school-year, he returned to Maryland to receive ordination to the priesthood at the hands of the great and loyal friend of St. Sulpice, Archbishop Curley of Baltimore. Then he made his Solitude; at the end of which, he was admitted to our Society in 1926. At the reopening of the school-year that September, he was named science teacher at St. Charles College. He was not to stay there for long, and in 1931 the Provincial Superior, Very Reverend John Fenlon, sent him to California to teach Biology. He was to dedicate all his talents there, and there he left his mark.
At St. Patrick’s he played an important role in the intellectual and spiritual development of the generations of seminarians who came there in his last twenty-three years.
What kind of teacher he was one of his students has kindly made known to us recently, recalling his impressions, echoing those of his professors who, like himself, had profited from Father Thomas Power’s teaching.
“His course was built around this notion: to give to the student, particularly to the seminarian, a useful and enduring knowledge of the essential elements of biology.
“The main point of his mode of procedure was his constant appeal to the scientific method. He made it a habit to say in his first class: ‘There is much science contained in books. We are going to try here to learn a little of it by experiment.’ This principle was observed from the beginning, and during the whole year the specimens studied were prepared by the students themselves. There was always a direct connection between laboratory and class. The various matters were examined in the former before being explained in the latter.
“One aspect of Father Power as a teacher is seldom mentioned; however, it is worth emphasizing – the great amount of on-going study undertaken for a perfectly organized course. The preparatory work had already taken up a great deal of time; but far beyond that, Father Power felt it a duty to read the latest books published and the best edited reviews so as to stay up-to-date with the most recent advances. So, when the students saw the light on in the laboratory late at night (and that happened frequently), they knew that Father Power was there, preparing an experiment or peering into his microscope.”
If the influence of our confrere was great on the students with whose training he was involved at least as much as – and perhaps more than – on those whom he had in class, it was still more significant as regards those who had the advantage of being his penitents. The words of the Psalmist could be applied to him: “He makes them to graze in the uprightness of his heart; he leads them with a wise hand.”
It was an evidence of his kindness to be always at the disposal of others, and to go to the limit in loving them effectively. Father Power was ceaselessly at the disposal of his penitents who, at any moment on free days as well as class days, were sure to find him at his desk. His sense of duty, so well expressed in the regularity of his life, made him a servant of God and of his spiritual sons. That constant availability took deep root in a heart ready to give itself to souls to help them, guide them, and encourage them.
His outstanding characteristic as a director is found in the word: Seminary. His method was simple. He did not overburden minds with all sorts of ideas – no doubt useful and more or less important – but he engaged himself in adapting the great principles of the spiritual life to life in the seminary; and to these great principles he demanded an absolute faithfulness.
His example, even more than his words, inexorably led to putting his advice into practice. If he was imbued with a high ideal, nevertheless, he knew how to be patient – in the fullest sense of the word – patience acquired in the early years of his career in the world and developed even more in his priesthood. There again his conduct – in the light of the way things turned out, even the smallest things – especially in the days of his trial by illness, was the best of sermons.
According to one of his penitents: “We can say with sincere gratitude that Father Power, for many years, lit up by his example everything he taught. Whether it was his great love for Holy Scripture or his unwavering adherence to seminary life, he pointed out the path by his actions as well as with his words.”
Endowed with such qualities of heart and mind, he made such a deep impression on everyone that his local superior, Father Thomas Mulligan, speaking in the name of the St. Patrick’s Sulpician community, had this to say:
“All recognized in Father Power an outstanding priest and a true Sulpician. He was regular in the exercises of the seminary life and faithful in all his duties. He was charitable and engaged himself in giving service; in particular, he did not hesitate to give a large share of his time, already so taken up, in making priest-visitors welcome. He practiced the spirit of poverty; and while he hesitated to incur the slightest unnecessary expense, he gave generously to poor seminarians and worthy charities. Frequently and for long periods he was seen in the chapel, and very often his daily walk took him to Corpus Christi Monastery to visit the Blessed Sacrament there.”
You must not think that Father Power’s interest was limited to his scientific specialty and to his seminary life. He had an open mind for all fields of human knowledge, especially spirituality, literature, and current issues. At Menlo Park he was happy to be given the task of instructing converts; and he gave free rein to his lively bent for parish activity in his vacations at Salt Lake City, where his influence extended not only to the laity but to all the priests who came to him and for whom he was a living reminder of the aspiration and ideal of their time in the seminary.
This very full life, dedicated with so much awareness and effort for the good of souls, sooner than you might expect made inroads on a constitution seemingly quite robust.
On last November 12th, Father Power told his superior about some symptoms of illness he was feeling. That same evening he saw the doctor, and the next day he left St. Patrick’s to enter St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco. On November 30th, he underwent an operation from which he slowly recovered, but he was able in March to come back to the seminary. The progress of his convalescence gave hope that he would be strong enough to take on a little teaching at the September reopening of school. He had even expected to pass part of the summer with his friends in Salt Lake. On July 6th he took his noonday meal with the other directors and spent a little time with them in the common-room. With his feeling so full of life and good health, no one would have suspected that the end was so near. Some hours later in fact, Father Power’s body was found on the floor of his room. Our confrere had passed away suddenly, victim of a heart attack. So he continued, even into death, to give us, by the unfathomable will of the Divine Master, a lesson, the very important warning for everyone, more particularly for priests charged with the heavy responsibility of priestly ministry: “You know not the day nor the hour.”
The funeral was celebrated in July 10th at the San Francisco Cathedral with His Grace, Archbishop Mitty presiding and giving the absolution. The burial took place, not in the little cemetery at Menlo Park – where Father Ayrinhac and the first Sulpicians in the West are buried – but in the Cathedral Cemetery in the city.
Please, my dear confreres, remember Father Power before God, and accept, I beg you, the assurance of my fraternal affection in Our Lord.
Pierre Girard, S.S.
Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice