Father Thomas Thole OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Born: June 11, 1932
Professed: July 11, 1952
Ordained: June 7, 1958
Died: February 20, 2016
Thomas Thole was born on June 11, 1932, in Moorhead, Minnesota, the oldest of four children born to Otto Peter and Margaret (Acheson) Thole. Thomas attended Saint Joseph’s Parochial School (1937–1945) and then enrolled at Saint John’s Preparatory School (1945–1949).
After his novitiate year at Saint John’s Abbey, Thomas made his first profession as a Benedictine monk in 1952, and his final solemn profession in 1955. He continued his education at Saint John’s University, graduating with a baccalaureate degree in 1954 with a major in philosophy. Priesthood studies followed, and he was awarded the requisite divinity degree from Saint John’s Seminary in 1958, with ordination that same year.
Father Thomas then matriculated at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he was awarded a Master of Arts degree in sociology in 1960.
Returning to Saint John’s, he was appointed assistant professor in the university’s sociology department, faculty resident in one of the dormitories, and advisor to the Foreign Student Program all in the same year—1960. In 1965 he was admitted to a graduate studies program in the sociology department at Columbia University in New York City where he pursued advanced courses in this academic field until 1967. At Saint John’s he served as Chair of the Sociology Department for academic years 1973-74 and 1975-78.
As a faculty resident in Benet Hall for many years, Father Thomas made many close friends especially among the foreign students, helping them to adjust to the often unfamiliar challenges of university life in the United States. He also provided entertainment often out of his personal budget. During visits to his faculty residence in Ground Benet International, International students were delighted by the intriguing and engaging gadgets populating his living space. One Saint John’s University alumnus praised Father Thomas in these words: “In fulfilling his role as foreign student adviser, he portrays himself not only as a member of the administration but also as a friend of the foreign students. I think this is the main reason why he has done his job so well. He is one of the few people I know who has sincere interest in international education. For a lot of foreign students he is there not only to advise and teach but also to learn.” His distinctive laugh and aromatic pipe were hallmarks of his propinquity even when he was out of visual range.
In addition to serving Saint John’s University as professor and faculty resident, Father Thomas was also an Admissions volunteer in 1987 as well as university archivist from 1994 through 1996. Nineteen ninety four also marked the year when he became founder and maintenance overseer for the World Wide OSB Computer List and Computer Bulletin Board.
Father Thomas was one of the first monks to engage campus computing as an important enterprise that would blossom in the future. Many campus and monastery residents were introduced to the communications possibilities of the incipient cyber world through the pioneering efforts of Father Thomas. Perhaps this is not totally surprising given the fact that he loved both computers and travel, having spent three summers at the Institute of Intercultural Communication at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and having taught courses in intercultural communications through the sociology department over the years.
In addition to his roles as professor, university faculty resident, and student adviser, Father Thomas worked hard to promote several student campus organizations and activities. He was a booster for the International Student Club, and he enthusiastically backed an annual formal international dinner.
While attending a meeting of Saint John’s University and College of Saint Benedict alumni/ae in Hong Kong in 2003, Father Thomas was awarded a Presidential Citation. In his comments, then-president Brother Dietrich Reinhart, OSB, remarked: “He was a treasured friend, family, counselor, advisor and role model to hundreds of students from around the globe. Many graduates attribute their success after graduation to Father Tom’s support and influence during their college years.”
In 1998 Father Thomas took on a pastoral role as chaplain at the Mother of Mercy Nursing Home in Albany, Minnesota, a service he continued until 2010 when he returned to Saint John’s and became a resident in the Abbey’s retirement center, St. Raphael’s Hall. In 2013, he was diagnosed with cancer on the tongue and throat.
Father Thomas died on February 20th, in the retirement center at Saint John’s Abbey. He is survived by his sister, Theresa (Robert) Barrett and his brothers, Fr. Simeon Thole and Br. Otto Thole, both monks of Saint John’s Abbey, nieces Mrs. Kim Reiff, Mrs. Stephanie Combey, nephew Mr. Thomas Barrett and also six grand nephews and one grand niece with the community at Saint John’s Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Eucharist of Christian Burial for Father Thomas on February 26, 2016, in Saint John’s Abbey and University church with interment in Saint John’s Cemetery following the service.
We ask each community member to offer two Masses according to the manner of his participation in the priesthood of Christ. We commend our brother Thomas to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB
and the monks of Saint John's Abbey