Brother Thomas Joseph Dillman Goes to his maker

Brothers of holy cross Ghana Blog

Brother Thomas Joseph Dillman Goes to his maker

Brother Thomas Joseph Dillman, C.S.C.
August 28, 1927 – November 2, 2021

We come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss,
And we call the luminous interval life.
As soon are we are born the return begins,
At once the setting forth and the coming back;
We die in every moment.
Because of this many have cried out: The goal of life is death!
But as soon as we are born, we begin the struggle
To create, to compose, to turn matter into life;
We are born in every moment.
Because of this many have cried out:
The goal of ephemeral life is immortality!

(The Saviors of God, by Nikos Kazantzakis, (1960, p43)

Bro Thomas Dillman was born on August 28, 1927 in Evansville, IN, USA to Joseph and Minnie Dillman, both of blessed memory. He was educated by the Holy Cross Brothers and graduated from Reitz Memorial High School, Evansville, IN, USA in 1945. He began college studies at Evansville College for a year, and then transferred to the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, to pursue a degree in engineering. After reading Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, he decided to follow a calling to join the Holy Cross Brothers.

He entered the postulancy in January of 1950 and the Novitiate in August of the same year. He professed his first religious vows on August 16, 1951. He was assigned to study at St Edward’s University, Austin, TX, USA and graduated in general engineering in 1952. Bro Thomas made his final profession of vows on August 16, 1954. He was assigned to teach at Archbishop Hoban High School, Akron, Ohio. During that period, he took summer courses to obtain the Indiana State Teaching Certificate in 1955 as well as the undergraduate requirement for teaching Industrial Arts. He would later obtain a Master’s Degree in Industrial Arts from Indiana State College in 1958.

Bro Tom was also assigned to teach at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, IN, USA as well as Holy Cross College, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA.

Bro Thomas Dillman, prides himself as the only one with the shortest stint as a Novice Master in Holy Cross. The aftermath of Vatican II, with all the changes that came upon Religious Congregations, 1968 was a period of experimentation. The Holy Cross Novitiate at Rolling Prairie, Indiana, was temporarily relocated to the Holy Cross Brothers’ Province Center, at Notre Dame, IN, and Bro Tom was appointed the Novice Master. This was prior to the General Chapter of 1968. At the end of the Chapter, Bro Tom was informed that the novices were being sent to join the other novices in the East. That ended Bro Tom’s ministry as a Novice Master. The door was then open for him to explore other ministries.

Thus, in 1969, Bro Thomas was assigned to join the Holy Cross Brothers at St. Patrick’s High School, Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa which was opened in 1962. Bro Tom, eventually became the longest staying member of the community in Liberia. Many of those he met when he first arrived, and others who came to meet him there departed, but he continued to stay on. He taught mathematics and science at the school and took care of the maintenance needs as well. Bro Thomas was indefatigable. He had a great sense of humor and loved to sing. He even learned to play the guitar in his later years.

Do you wonder how he came to be appointed as a Novice Master for the Congregation, short as the time was? Is it surprising that he was touched by Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain? Brother Tom was a very deeply spiritual and a committed religious. His simplicity and dedication were all encompassing. Even while his mother was still alive, Bro Tom will always buy the 45-day roundtrip ticket to the USA, which was much cheaper than the two-month fare. Brother Tom was committed to his religious life and very conscientious about all that he lived for. He was an avid reader and read volumes every day.

After Uncle Tom taught for many years at St. Patrick’s, he decided he needed a change from that environment. He had a passion for the poor, so he opted to assist at an orphanage outside Monrovia. He would go and teach and offer any help that would be needed. He also opted to help the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary Sisters who were running the St Teresa’s Girls’ High School in Monrovia, and teach a few mathematics courses there. When the number of Holy Cross Brothers at St Patrick’s dwindled, he returned to base to augment the staff one more time.

Brother Tom was a handy man. When the war broke out in Liberia in 1990, and it looked as if the School was a target for looting and vandalism, he secured all the valuable equipment, library books, science equipment and the like, in the School tower. He sealed the door way with bricks so it was a solid wall and no one knew what was behind. That is how he left Monrovia, and when life returned to normal, he came back and brought out the equipment so normal school activities could be carried on.

After being in Liberia for nearly 30 years, Uncle Tom was committed to staying on with the people till the bitter end. He was evacuated by the USA Government at the first instance. He came to Ghana and then returned to Liberia. Eventually, he was looted, but not harmed. The Archbishop of Monrovia finally told Bro Tom to move out since it was not possible to ensure his safety. That was when he finally relocated to Ghana in 1997. It is a miracle how he navigated his way among the rebels to reach Ghana.

When he first came to Ghana at the beginning of the war, he helped, Bro William Gates and Bro Joseph Annan to plant the orchard on the District Centre Property. At his seconding coming, he was devastated, but very passionate realizing that the education in Liberia had gone down the drain with the war. There were no text books in the system. Being an excellent Holy Cross Educator, he embarked on a project of writing text books for the schools. He wrote three different Mathematics Text Books for School’s in Liberia – He had no previous working knowledge of computers. Of course, he knew how to type which was a big asset, and with the help of Fr Bob Gilmour, Bro Richard Johnson and a Math software, he was able to accomplish his feat. – the UN adopted those Text Books for the country.

Bro Tom was never afraid to get his hands dirty. While he lived at St. Augustine’s he had a garden and cultivated vegetables and bananas; and would work there regularly. He would always share his produce with the communities around. Uncle Tom was generous with his time and always willing to share his reflections with the young Brothers in formation.

For many years, Uncle Tom was the one who produced the District Newsletter single handedly. He would solicit articles, take pictures and put them together. When I became the Novice Master at Brafoyaw, I spoke about the need for a backboard for Basketball. He never said anything, but before long, he designed the backboard, bought the pipes and other materials that he needed. He came to the shop, welded the pieces together and put it up.

I always had to look for a decent chair for Uncle Tom to sit on so I can give him a haircut. The next time he came for a haircut, he came with a gift. He had designed a stool I could use to give haircuts. That is Bro Thomas Joseph Dillman. A man of the Spirit; a man of the moment and a man of the people.

Earlier on I spoke about Uncle Tom’s love of the poor and how he worked at the orphanage in Liberia. Here in Ghana, Uncle Tom embraced the Congregation priority of option for the poor and the marginalized. Wherever there was the occasion he would have an outreach to them. He had been noted to procure wheel chairs, crutches for the infirm and financial support for those in need. Over the years during his vacation in the United States, Bro Tom would make special appeals to family, friends and parishes in his hometown asking for support for this special ministry.
Brother Thomas will be buried on Friday, November 26, 2021 in Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery, Ghana.

Uncle Tom, God richly bless you for your life!
God richly bless you for the way you have touched our lives!
God richly bless you for all those whose lives you have enriched!
Uncle Tom, Rest in Perfect Peace!

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