Monday, July 9, 2012

Update on Fr. Tifft

(This homily was given at the Diocesan Priest Convocation last week, obviously it was written for priests, but if you knew Fr. Tifft or would like to be less judgmental and more accepting you may learn from him as well).

Only, we were to be mindful of the poor,
which is the very thing I was eager to do.

Last evening we began by hearing about some of the legends in our Church.  Well, I can think of no man that taught me about the historic Characters of our diocese better than Fr. Tom Tifft.  

He had this ability to have you belly laughing over the personality trait of some historical figure, cringing at some scandal that they caused, and at the same time admiring what was redemptive about their character.  Of course he would often end an outrageous story by saying “if it isn’t true it should be.”  

When describing Bill Jurgens, which was the book that was placed with him in his casket, he said “Jurgens was always going on a diet.  he gave the kitchen his diet plan, the tray would come up, he would eat it, and then he would eat the regular meal.”  He was fiercely competitive of other historians of the diocese saying once of Callahan’s book that it wasn’t “worth the paper it was written on.”  He left us a great legacy in the History of the Diocese Volume I.  

Fr. Tifft taught us of the Great Amadeus Rappe who was a magnificent missionary... He was invited by Percell to come to Ohio, only he was disappointed because he thought he was coming to America to minister to  the Native Americans.  He was a builder, above all, and put our diocese on very solid institutional basis.  When he resigns there are 117 priests (from 21), 160 churches (from 43) and 100,000 Catholics from about 10,000.  however, many found him to be authoritative, vindictive, and even abusive to his priests... Tifft said the only rights they really could count on were the five bales of hay a month for their hoarse and the right to Christian Burial!  In the end Jurgens would describe Rappe as a saint, done in by the Irish priests.  E.M. O’Callahan would say “Rappe is a tyrant may he rot in hell!”  On his deathbed Rappe would say “I have prayed for my friends, I have prayed for my enemies may God Bless them all.”  

Bishop Gilmore, who was a parish priest, begins serving at a number of parishes and becomes the spokesman for catholic schools.  He produces a bible history and a series of readers and has a national reputation as a great preacher.  When he was installed as a bishop he professed that he was “doubtful about his ability but forced by a sense of duty to accept it with much fear and trembling.” Tifft then quipped “this is standard language, all bishops say this.”  Tifft described Gilmoure as having a fiery temperement.  Tom would imitate him explaining that he loved a good fight. “I came from fighting stock... I was always a fighter.”  At times Gilmore could be blunt, direct, and had a great deal fo confidence in his own ability.  He was not a lightweight.  Once, he suspended one of his priests who was abusing his parishioners from the pulpit.  Apparently this preaching method was very strong at the time, you know it was the:  “tell them  about the sin and then accuse them of it.”  (Tifft then quoted Jack Carlin, who denies it and blames it on Joe Labak, saying “You got to give people hell once a month or they won't feel good about themselves.)  There was a great deal of resentment from the priests, one described him saying “Bishop Gilmore is a plague to be endured.”  He forbade priestly fraternities, he would probably roll over in his grave if he saw us all gathered here at Sawmill Creek, and expected his priests to be the fiercely independent loner that he was.  As I was going through my notes I saw a star that said “Tifft’s favorite letter”.  One of the priests,  Francis Goetz, was a hypochondriac and felt duty bound in conscience to write to Gilmore every time he had a headache, or flu, or anything.  Once he had fallen off his horse, felt stiff, and was convinced he was suffering from the initial stages of paralysis!  Gilmore was not a patient man, but surprisingly patient with Goetz, until he finally gets a letter from Goetz that says “I think I’m dying.”  Gilmore replies: “My two years of sickness taught me a good deal not found in books... when the time comes strike or brush aside... your statement that you are going to die this year is of this kind.  Then my friend for heaven sake die!  Die and be done with it!”  In the end, Tifft found that he was sensitive to his priests and loved the line that Gilmore once said: “You see what a strange thing religion is and what very strange characters are in the sanctuary at times, yet the good redeems the bad and the work goes on.”  

Fr. Tifft, over his lifetime had filled his mind with all of these stories and had this very real sense of the good side by side with the bad, he accepted all of these characters as a church of Saints and Sinners.  He also realized that each of us is a mixture of virtue and vice.  He had a line that he would often say at lunch after a funny story about some legendary priest or bishop... “Michael, the characters aren’t all dead... take a look around the room!”  

Fr. Tifft had this amazing ability to be totally accepting and present to you.  After he died I realized the question I would miss the most from him was “Michael, how are you doing?”  Because he actually wanted to know about you... he was mindful... he knew my family members by name, my nieces, he asked about my guitar lessons, how things were in the parish... he found out what you were interested in and became genuinely interested himself.  Part of it I imagine, was that he was always looking for another story to tell, he was filling his mind with history in the making.  

I can’t say I’ve ever heard of anyone that disliked him, even guys that have been asked to leave the seminary by him still greatly esteem and appreciate him... at the same time, I can’t think of anyone whom he ever despised... he seemed to accept people as they are, laugh a little and say with no blame or judgement: “Well, that’s so and so...”  I noticed that priests that struggled would often come to him for direction.  It was easy to share your difficulties with him because he was so accepting.  

I realized over the years that he made everyone feel this acceptance.  The way he knew the “Deep Wood” Staff at the seminary is a great example.  He would talk to these guys as if they had no disability... for Kenny it was all about baseball, Deepwood Dave would talk about country music, Big Tom... well just how big he really was!  He knew not only about them, but he knew and accepted them with all of their weakness and disability.  There was always a sense of acceptance... he could have you laughing one moment at your weakness and the next moment affirming your goodness.  

What was the quality about him that allowed him to take and receive the good and bad of everyone?  I can’t help but think of him as I hear the first reading...

After 14 years away Paul returns to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, and he reflects on that moment when Peter saw his giftedness and commissioned him to go out and preach the Gospel...and Paul shares what was stressed:
Only, we were to be mindful of the poor,
which is the very thing I was eager to do.

I think that quality that allowed him to be so accepting and genuinely concerned was “mindfulness.”  

Paul was eager to be mindful of the poor... and I think Tom Tifft had this quality as well.  So, what does it mean to be mindful?  

The Dictionar describes it as: Bearing in mind, aware, inclined to be aware,
<mindful of the needs of others>

I would sense mindfulness literally means:  “to fill your mind with” the person in front of you.  

I had lunch with Dr. Trew and his wife a few weeks after the funeral and we reminisced about this quality.  At the end of the conversation Andrew said to me:  “and now it’s time for you to do that for others.”   Really, could I emulate this quality of mindfulness?  

Could this really be something that I could do like he did?  I suppose like anything virtuous, it can be practiced.  

What if during these days of convocation we shared that same “eager mindfulness?”  What if we genuinely asked each other “Father, how are you doing?”   

We all know what it’s like to have someone talking to you that’s really not interested or maybe even looks past you to see if there’s someone else to talk to.  I can’t imagine any of us like that feeling.  On the other hand we all know what it is like to be with someone who is generally interested in you, eagerly mindful of you.  

We can do this right now, but first our minds must be emptied.  We do so in the Eucharistic Prayer “Deliver us Lord, we pray from all evil, graciously grant peace in our days... that we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress.”   So we’ve got God’s permission.  Place all of your concerns, preoccupations, anxieties on the altar and for the next few days, let God take care of it.  Then with our minds at peace we can genuinely fill our minds, be mindful of each other.   

The great Michael B. Smith once said to me on my first year live in:  The most important thing you can do as a priest is “Be interesting.”  Well Michael B. you have that nailed!  But I think even more than that the most important thing we can do is “Be interested! ... Be mindful!”  Eagerly filling our minds with the priest in front of us, sitting at table next to us, walking down the hall... Be eagerly mindful, find something out about them, it doesn’t even have to be significant, just something to fill your mind with, to give them a place in your mind and a moment of genuine presence.  Take an interest in them and fill your mind with what makes their character.  

So let us be mindful of each other, and realize as Tom Tifft would say, The characters aren’t all dead, take a look around because theres plenty right here in this room.  


"Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them."

This past week we lost a good Shepherd.  The priest that has been in charge of forming priests in the Diocese of Cleveland for over the last 10 years died Monday July 9th 2012 after having received the prayerful support and consolation of the Sacraments. 

Thousands gathered at the seminary for his wake on Thursday and around 1,500 attended his funeral on Friday morning at St. Gabriel’s in Concord where he had helped on the weekends. 

After the funeral, his casket was lifted and carried down the aisle to thunderous applause, and when he was brought outside to where the hundreds of priests and deacons awaited, spontaneous applause broke out once more.  He was a remarkable priest, an outstanding rector, and a truly holy man. 

As the crowd began to disperse, Fr. David Bline asked me what I would miss the most about Fr. Tifft.   Many grateful moments flooded my mind. 

Fr. Tifft became rector of the seminary in July of 2001, which was the year that I entered.  He was the first “Authority Figure” in my life that I trusted implicitly, knew he had my best interest at heart, loved, felt safe with, admired, and respected.  He never had to command or force me to do anything.  I would do whatever he asked because there was a mutual respect and reverence there.  I was blessed to have him as a rector and I’m sorry for the guys that won’t have the opportunity to be formed by him. 

I’d miss his laugh, his humor, his warmth… His deep devotion to the life of prayer, his affirmation, I’ll miss his storytelling.  I have to admit that I never liked history… was probably one of my most hated subjects… “History is in the past.  Leave it there,” I used to think.  That is until I had Fr. Tifft for a teacher.  He brought History to life… it was like he knew the people, and was there when the events happened.  He told stories and he made it real.  I think what enabled him to do this was that he himself was very “real” and he, over his many years of priesthood, came to see and accept the “realness” of others… that we are all saints and sinners. 

I’ll miss him asking:  “Michael, how are you doing?”  And really wanting to know.  I’ll miss him doing this with my family as well.  He got to know my parents, and siblings, and nieces and nephew.  He knew them by name and took an interest in all. 

It’s amazing that he had the ability to do this with everyone that he met.   I wonder if he did this just so he could share more stories.  He could take the most simple of incidents and reveal the profoundness of what was said, or the great humor and absurdity of a situation. 

After his funeral, when I got back to my parish I made a Holy Hour in the church, alone.  In my left hand I held a picture of Fr. Tifft laying hands on my head in ordination, and in my right hand the Scriptures for this Sunday.  And it was this line that helped me realize what I would miss the most about him.

"Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them."

Fr. Tifft had the ability to be truly present to whoever he was with.  It didn’t matter what the event was or what kind of stress he was under.  Simply by genuinely asking “How are you doing?” he would enter into your heart.  He would give you his full attention, care, concern.  He’d would ask questions and get you to laugh at yourself.  He had this innate ability to love the person in front of him unconditionally.  I noticed this especially with his storytelling. 

Fr. Tifft was able to enter hearts that welcomed him, but was also able to “leave and shake off the dust” when rejected.  This was his due to his gifts of wisdom and understanding.  He had to deal with many difficult people over the years, both in positions above and under him.  He had to correct, discipline, and even reject men from the seminary, and yet I don’t know of any person that he despised or that hated him.  If somebody did or said something mean or manipulative to him, he was able to see beyond it, and just laugh, shrug his shoulders and say: “Well that’s so and so.”  Difficult people and situations never prevented him from being present, unconditionally loving, and attentive. 

Have you been blessed to ever know someone like Fr. Tifft in your life?  Have you ever had that experience, of a person who gives you their full attention and unconditional love and acceptance? 

The bigger question is, “Do we give our attention fully to others?”  Think about it.  Do you really care when you ask people, “How are you doing?” 

When you “enter a house” do you “stay there until you leave?”  Is your attention with the people that God has placed right in front of you?  One of the difficulties with iPods and smartphones and tablets is that we are often not present to those right in front of us. 

Think about this morning.  How did you greet those you first met?  How did you treat your husband or wife or children.  Did you really encounter people as you came into Church today?  Are you attentive to your family members, coworkers, and friends?  Do people get your full attention when you are with them?  Are you truly present? 

Are you able to interact with people and take away what is good and true and holy?  Can you walk away from a difficult situation and “shake the dust from your feet” realizing that we are all “saints in the making?”  Can you choose to laugh at the absurdity of a situation rather than obsessing in anger or lashing out at others in frustration?

That is what I will miss the most about Fr. Tifft… his ability to be present to those that were in his midst and accept people and situations as they are.  I’ll miss his genuine care and concern.  I’ll miss his ability to love and accept myself and others unconditionally.  And miss his ability to “shake the dust from his feet” with a boisterous and hearty laugh.   

May God bless us all with the ability - to be present, to enter into each others homes with unconditional love, and, when we need to, in all humility “shake the dust from our feet,” realizing that over the long history of our church God has had the patience and ability to accept and work with all of us, Saints and Sinners alike.   

Reflections from Vespers: 

It was May of 1990 when Fr. Tifft added to the lexicon of St. Mary Seminary. As many of you know, Fr. Tifft never ate chicken. He had so much of it as a child, he figured he had enough to last him a lifetime—until one day when chicken-fingers were served at a Faculty Social. It was Friday, and a number of us told him we really didn’t know what they were, but we thought that they might be fish-sticks since it was Friday. I squeezed some lemon on mine, and commented about how good it was. Fr. Tifft took a couple of the supposed fish-sticks, and remarked about how good they were. We all laughed (they were definitely chicken fingers). Fr. Weber couldn’t contain himself as we told Tom that he had eaten (and liked) chicken. From then on, Fr. Tifft referred to the chicken as “food of undetermined origin”—a pretty good description of much of what we ate at the seminary on Ansel Road. - Fr. Jerry Bednar 

Fr. Tifft's Talk on the Eucharist from 2005

Fr. Tifft's Talk on the History of the Diocese: 

Fr. Tifft's talk on the 160th anniversary of St. Mary Seminary:


The Arrangements for Fr. Tifft’s funeral are as follows:

The wake is scheduled for Thursday at the Seminary beginning at 3pm with Vespers and will continue in the Aula until 8pm.  (The Center for Pastoral Leadership - 28700 Euclid Ave. Wickliffe, OH 44092)

The Funeral Mass is scheduled for Friday at 11 am at St. Gabriel Parish in Concord where Fr. Tifft served as a weekend assistant for many years.  (9925 Johnnycake Ridge Road, Mentor, OH 44060 (440) 352-8282)

See the official obituary:

Prayers for the dead from the Rite: 

Almighty  and eternal God,
hear our prayers for your son Tom
whom you have called from this life to yourself.

Grant him light, happiness, and peace.
Let him pass in safety through the gates of death,
and live forever with all your saints
in the light you promised to Abraham
and to all his descendants in faith.

Guard him from all harm
and on that great day of resurrection and reward
raise him up with all your saints.
Pardon his sins
and give him eternal life in your kingdom.

We ask this through Christ our Lord
R. Amen.


update, Monday, July 9th 2012: It is with deep sadness that we inform you that Fr. Tom Tifft died this morning at 1:53AM, recieving prayerful consolation of the sacraments and surrounded by members of the seminary faculty.  



Around 9pm on Sunday Evening Fr. Tifft has been disconnected from all life support around 9pm and his breathing is getting very shallow... please pray for him in these final hours.

When the moment of death seems near, some of the following prayers may be said:


Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you,
go forth, faithful Christian.
May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God,
with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph,
and all the angels and saints.

  Here's the Rite for Commendation of the dying - it's absolutely beautiful

Romans 8:35 Who can separate us from the love of Christ?

Romans 14:8 Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.

2 Corinthians 5:1 We have an everlasting home in heaven.

1 Thessalonians 4:17 We shall be with the Lord for ever.

1 John 3:2 We shall see God as he really is

1 John 3:14 We have passed from death to life because we love one another

Psalm 25:1 To you, Lord, I lift up my soul

Psalm 27:1 The Lord is my light and my salvation

Psalm 27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Psalm 42:3 My soul thirsts for the living God

Psalm 23:4 Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me

Matthew 25:34 Come, blessed of my Father, says the Lord Jesus, and take possession of the kingdom prepared for you.

Luke 23:43 The Lord Jesus says, today you will be with me in paradise.

John 14:2 In my Father’s home, there are many dwelling places, says the Lord Jesus.

John 14:2-3 The Lord Jesus says, I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again to take you to myself.

John 17:24 I desire that where I am, they also may be with me, says the Lord Jesus.

John 6:40 Everyone who believes in the Son has eternal life.

Psalm 31:5a Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.

Holy Mary, pray for me.

Saint Joseph, pray for me.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph: assist me in my last agony.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for him/her

Holy angels of God, pray for him/her

Abraham, our father in faith, pray for him/her
David, leader of God's people, pray for him/her
All holy patriarchs and prophets, pray for him/her

Saint John the Baptist, pray for him/her
Saint Joseph, pray for him/her

Saint Peter and Saint Paul, pray for him/her
Saint Andrew, pray for him/her
Saint John, pray for him/her
Saint Mary Magdalene, pray for him/her

Saint Stephen, pray for him/her
Saint Ignatius, pray for him/her
Saint Lawrence, pray for him/her

Saint Perpetua and Saint Felicity, pray for him/her
Saint Agnes, pray for him/her

Saint Gregory, pray for him/her
Saint Augustine, pray for him/her
Saint Athanasius, pray for him/her
Saint Basil, pray for him/her

Saint Martin, pray for him/her
Saint Benedict, pray for him/her
Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, pray for him/her
Saint Francis Xavier, pray for him/her
Saint John Vianney, pray for him/her

Saint Catherine, pray for him/her
Saint Teresa, pray for him/her

Other saints may be included here

All holy men and women, pray for him/her

Lord, be merciful, Lord, save your people.

From all evil, Lord, save your people.
From every sin, Lord, save your people.
From Satan's power, Lord, save your people.
At the moment of death, Lord, save your people.
From everlasting death, Lord, save your people.
On the day of judgment, Lord, save your people.

By your coming as man, Lord, save your people.
By your suffering and cross, Lord, save your people.
By your death and rising to new life, Lord, save your people.
By your return in glory to the Father, Lord, save your people.
By your gift of the Holy Spirit, Lord, save your people.
By your coming again in glory, Lord, save your people.

Be merciful to us sinners, Lord, save your people.

Bring N. to eternal life, first promised to him/her in baptism, Lord, hear our prayer.
Raise N. on the last day, for he/she has eaten the Bread of Life, Lord, hear our prayer.
Let N. share in your glory, for he/she has shared in your suffering and death, Lord, hear our prayer.

Jesus, Son of the Living God, Lord, hear our prayer.

Christ, hear us.
Christ, hear us.

Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer.

Update: Saturday July 7, 2012 

I was able to spend a moment alone with Fr. Tifft this morning.  He has had very dear friends at his side this entire time.  As well as so many of our priests and bishops visiting him.  It was great just to have a minute with him to tell him how much I love him.  "Fr. Tifft you have been such a wonderful rector.  I am so blessed that I had you as a rector in the time in my life when I needed it most.  You were one of the first authority figures in my life that I truly trusted implicitly, loved, and wanted to listen too.  Thank you for helping me become a priest, for my time in formation, and for your warmth and kindness as rector and now brother priest.  You have been so good for me and I thank God for you."  I then gave him as much of a hug as I could, kissed his cheek, and blessed his forehead.  I feel very much at peace now that I could say those words and see him one last time.


Friday July 6th, 2012

Prayers please for Fr. Tifft, rector of Saint Mary Seminary, he is a wonderful priest and is in critical condition... I went to see him today and prayed with him and he looked pretty good but everyone seems to indicate that it is pretty dire circumstances. Pray that God's will be done in this Holy priest.

Today I spent the day in prayer "Desert Day" and stopped to pray at Fr. Tifft's grave. The earth has settled and the grass is growing... Seems like he's been gone forever, but it was only this past summer. I offered mass for him as well. Blessed to have him as my rector.


  1. Our deepest and heartfelt sympathy to the loving family of Father Tifft and to the Community of St. Mary's and Borremeo Seminary on his sudden passing.
    A wonderful priest, scholar, diplomat and friend has now achieved his highest honor yet...a seat in Heaven with God.

    Thank you Father Tifft for your compassionate understanding and kindness to our family.

    You will always be remembered.

    The Knill Family

  2. Thank you, Father Michael. Your beautiful words about my Uncle Tom have brought me great comfort. He was indeed a wonderful person ... truly one of a kind. There is not a day that goes by that I don't miss him and think about him. He is a great example to all of us on how to be a faithful servant to God. Bless you for setting up this blog in my uncle's memory. Lauri, niece and Goddaughter to Father Thomas Tifft

    1. I dedicated my book to him and would love to send me a copy can you email me your contact information?


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