1945 – 2018
Words of Remembrance for Brother Thomas Scanlan, FSC
Mass of Christian Burial
Chapel of De La Salle and his Brothers
February 10, 2018
Words of Welcome given by Brother Dennis Lee, FSC, Provincial/Visitor:
Good morning and welcome to the Chapel of De La Salle and of his Brothers where we gather to remember and to celebrate the life of one of the great De La Salle Brothers, Brother Thomas Scanlan.
How appropriate that we gather in this very space where, so often during his twenty-two years as President, our Tom so proudly presided at many convocations, and even at some graduations, back in the day. And these beautiful windows which surrounded him as a student and as a novice at Barrytown, they now surround us today in the spirit of our Founder.
Thank you for being here this morning. Who could have imagined 10 days ago that we would be here? Even in our sadness, our coming together is testimony to the impact that this one human being has had on life.
We gather as people from the various stages of Tom’s life, grateful for his touch on our lives. Condolences to Tom’s family: his sister Helen and brother-in-law Wilfrid, his niece Pamela and nephews Peter and Vincent and Vincent’s wife, Karen; grand-nephew, Evan and grand-niece Cassandra, as well as his cousins Frank, Peter, Robert and Stephen. Helen, we thank your parents, your brother John (with whom Tom is now reunited), and you, for sharing this remarkable man with our Institute and our world.
Condolences, too, to the local community of Brothers here at Manhattan. And thank you Brothers and Brother Lawrence Goyette, Director, for orchestrating this fond farewell to our Frere. Thank you to Brother Tom’s successor, President Brennan O’Donnell for opening the campus for us these days. Welcome to our concelebrants this morning: Bishop Walsh, Msgr. Stern, and Fr. Franks, as well as Deacon Muller.
Welcome to those of you who came to know Tom through Queen of Peace High School, Bethlehem University, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the various schools where Brother Tom served on Boards, the Lasallians and Brothers of the District of Eastern North America (DENA), and, of course, all who knew him right here on this campus as “Brother Scanlan”.
As we all know, Tom was truly larger than life. His virtual classmate, Pat Horner, will share reflections later, but let us acknowledge that each of us gathered here has our own vivid memories of this remarkable man and Brother. I worked with Tom … more appropriately … under Tom, here at Manhattan for six years. More recently I shared six more years with him, working on behalf of DENA.
Allow me to say that I am not sure I have ever met a more gifted man. Smart??? He was surely book smart (even if he got that one B+ at Catholic University) but also people smart. He read many books but he also read people very well. Integrity?? This is what I admired most about Tom. He never wavered from doing what he believed was the right thing to do, even if it was not the popular thing to do. But through it all, he would listen intently to other points of view. But as I am sure you know, this strong man with deep convictions was never easily swayed.
Tom lived life to the full, even in his all-too-brief golden years: His increasingly extended stays in Florida: occasions with long-time friends, many of whom are here this morning; the latest James Paterson novel, bacon and eggs for breakfast, solving the Word Jumble in the Daily News, and of course, his beloved New York Yankees. He had a hearty laugh, often at himself.
He was a natural at being in charge and in organizing things. Let us hope that he realizes that someone else is in charge up there in heaven!
Tom practiced the virtues of faith and zeal throughout his Brotherly life. He surely believed in the Resurrection. Today we rejoice in the fruits of that belief that Brother Thomas Scanlan, after a richly rewarding life of incredible service to humanity, now shares in the heavenly banquet. With total appreciation for a life well lived, let us enter fully into this liturgy as we now stand and sing our opening song.
Words in Memory of Brother Thomas J. Scanlan, FSC given by Brother Patrick Horner, FSC:
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and a special welcome to Brother Thomas’ family—his sister, Helen, his brother-in-law, Wilfrid and their family, Thomas’ nieces and nephews and grandnieces.
And to all assembled here, Brother Thomas’ confreres, his colleagues, friends from many years and many missions here and abroad.
When Brother Lawrence Goyette, the Director of the Brothers’ Community, first approached me to ask if I would be the “eulogist” for Brother Thomas. I demurred, asking for some time to think about it. But I knew that he would be back. So acquiescing to the inevitable, and being a self-starter as well as a word addict, I went to the Oxford English Dictionary to see what I could glean from the etymology of the word eulogy— eu log—good +word or more familiarly to speak the good, to offer praise. Well, I thought, that’s easy enough, there’s certainly a wealth of things to praise about Thomas’ long and varied career as an excellent teacher, a superb educational administrator at both the secondary school and university level, a first-rate manager of Provincial finances, and in the last few years, an experienced, knowledgeable consultant to the Boards of Trustees of various schools.
Feeling more comfortable with my task, I told Brother Lawrence that I would be the “eulogist,” but, to my chagrin, he told me that the Province preferred a different title, “Words of Remembrance.” Having just agreed to speak, I could hardly say withdraw, but I did felt caught off guard at this new directive. Fortunately, I also began to read the numerous expressions of sadness, but much more the laudatory expressions of gratitude and respect from so many people for all of the very accomplishments of Brother Thomas that I have just outlined. It dawned on me (someone with a more theological bent might say that Providence intervened) that no matter what I would have said or how, Thomas’ achievements spoke for themselves and others had already enumerated them as well or better than I. Then I realized that I had a way out, sorry, an alternative approach. Taking my cue from the title “Words of Remembrance,” I would simply outline some of my favorite memories from my very long friendship with Thomas. And as I began to reminisce, many of the memories that flooded back to me presented another aspect of Thomas’ personality and character, one that seldom appears in the tributes that have poured in. That element of his character, fortuitously, is summed up in the name Thomas was given when he entered the Christian Brothers. (In those days, receiving new names was symbolic of one’s entrance into a new, consecrated life.) Thomas received the name “Clement Benedict.” He chose to use “Clement” as his name for a number of years, that is, until the Brothers were allowed, if they so desired, to return to their family names. So, many of Thomas’ friends from Queen of Peace (e.g. the Romano’s) have always known him as “Clem.” Now the word “clement,” as the dictionary tells us, means kind, mild, merciful, a range of meanings which I will extend to include “playful,” an aspect of Thomas’ character that was not so evident in his professional capacities, but clearly emerged in his personal relationships. So, I hope that this brief excursion down “memory lane” will demonstrate the defining features of Thomas’ character, and especially that “clement” dimension.
My earliest memory of Tom comes from our days as “junior novices,” that is youngsters of high school age who had indicated an interest in the life and vocation of a Christian Brother. We met in 1960, he a junior and I a sophomore at St. Joseph’s in Barrytown, the junior novitiate. What springs to mind particularly was Hallowe’en, a traditional games day in which the upper classmen put the younger ones through a series of pranks and “scary adventures”. Following that there was a suitable Hallowe’en horror movie. At the climax of the movie, Tom, sitting right behind me, poked his finger into my back. I, no fan of horror movies to begin with, jumped four feet, while he sat there chuckling gleefully. So much for the ever serious Thomas.
A second vivid memory also comes from those school days: On a Regents’ exam day, we were all assembled in the same room, but taking different tests; for Tom it was intermediate algebra and trigonometry. About forty minutes into the three-hour exam, Tom got up from his desk, walked up to the Proctor’s desk, dropped some torn-up scrap paper in the waste basket, took some more scrap paper and returned to his desk. After the exam, we found out that he had finished the demanding first part in barely forty minutes, recorded his answers, threw away his scrap paper, did the exam a second time and compared answers before entering them on the exam paper. I realize that hardly the “clement” Tom, but it has always epitomized for me his total mastery of numbers and his meticulous approach to problem-solving. Over the ensuing years, whenever we would disagree about some issue (and we did that quite often), I would say to him: “If this is about numbers, I concede; no one, certainly not me, is going to challenge you on numbers.”
Several years later, during our undergraduate days at Catholic University, Tom and several others Brothers were Physics majors. Catholic University, with its emphasis on graduate education for clergy and religious seeking advanced degrees, had a highly regarded, but challenging, physics program in which upper-division undergraduates often took courses designed primarily as pre-requisites for those starting a master’s degree. After an exam in one of those courses, the Brothers in it would have what the rest of us came to call “a gripe and whine session” in which they would figure just how poorly they had done and hope that the “prof” would “curve” the grades generously. A week or so later, they would get the post-mortem and most had done fairly well, given the curve. However, Tom’s classmates already knew and others soon came to realize that Tom didn‘t need the curve. In fact, we soon learned that he was not a favorite of the graduate students who referred to him with the disparaging epithet “curve breaker.”
I will omit Tom’s breath-taking pace for his Ph.D. at Columbia: three years to complete course-work and dissertation. Why so fast? Because for Tom the degree was a necessary credential, but hardly the goal of the effort. He had already won the attention of Brother John Martin, the Provincial, and Brother Gregory Nugent, a President of Manhattan, who would mentor him for his future positions and Tom was eager to get to that work.
After his degree and a stint as the Director of Finance for the Province, Tom was selected to be the Vice-Chancellor and Chief Administrator of Bethlehem University. His many friends and colleagues from those years, both Brothers and Palestinians, testify not just to his success, but to the bonds established in those difficult, but rewarding circumstances. For those who may downplay Tom’s diplomatic skills and sense of humor, I offer one anecdote: on one occasion, a group of visitors to campus were meeting in the Brothers’ residence when suddenly, but not surprisingly, gunshots were fired. It quickly became clear that something had prompted Israeli soldiers to enter the university grounds with guns blazing. Everyone in the residence, including Tom, sought cover. Then one of the guests asked Tom if he wasn’t going to step forth, find out what was happening and bring it to an end. To which, Tom replied succinctly that he would wait until the shooting stopped.
Within a few months of being chosen President of Manhattan, and despite the many challenges and difficulties that that presented, Tom made what I would call one of the best of his “clement” decisions. Brother James Collins, an intelligent, energetic, and talented young Brother had served in the African missions early in his career; he returned from there and was in the midst of pursuing a Ph.D. while also teaching at Manhattan. He then was appointed to a supervisory position with Catholic Relief Services back in Kenya. As so often happens to so many of us, once Jim was back involved in mission work, he fell behind in his dissertation and hadn’t completed it by the time he returned from Kenya. It was Thomas who conceived of the idea of appointing Jim to a position in Alumni Relations in which Jim excelled until his untimely death several years later. While Thomas’ decision can certainly be understood as an astute administrative choice making good use of talented personnel, I have always regarded it as equally a compassionate solution by a person who deeply understood the competing, and sometimes conflicting, demands on devoted people who try to give their all to everything they do.
As one would expect, Thomas himself was adept at multi-tasking, but I’m not thinking of professional matters. Instead, I refer to Thomas’ deep devotion to his family, especially his mother Anna. Once he had returned to New York and his mother was growing older, Thomas arranged for her to live in the Shervier residence, an assisted living facility here in Riverdale. And Thomas, no matter his obligations and busy schedule, was amazingly faithful to her needs: regular and frequent visits, dinner excursions and longer trips while she was able. The same was true when his younger brother John became seriously ill. Thomas was always available for whatever he needed.
That devotion and loyalty extended to his other family, the Brothers. He had a particularly close friendship with a classmate of his, Brother James Romond. Jim had begun his career as a teacher and then principal of Good Shepherd Elementary School in Inwood. Tom and Jim had always been good friends, but that friendship grew when both of them served as members of the Province’s Council. They would often make plans for dinner, etc. after Council meetings. When Jim accepted a new challenge as the principal of La Salle Institute, a high school and one away from the city in upstate Troy, Tom was a staunch supporter. As it turned out, Jim was exceptionally good in his new mission, soon becoming an esteemed educator in the Capital District. All that was suddenly preempted when Jim was diagnosed with cancer. Throughout Jim’s ordeal, there was no closer friend than Tom as illustrated by two brief anecdotes: late in Jim’s illness. Even after a long day of college meetings (at which we learned that the most difficult time in Tom’s presidency, the effort to unionize faculty had been rejected by a faculty vote), all that concerned Tom was making sure that he (and he asked me to join him) was able to drive down to Jersey to visit Jim for dinner.
When Jim died shortly thereafter, Tom gave the address at his funeral. It was the best talk I ever heard him give: a wrenching, personal reflection on his own efforts to reconcile the loss of his friend, who was so vibrant and doing such great work for students, with his faith in the loving God, whose ways are so often mysterious. It was Tom at his best, even if that aspect of his character so often remained submerged in his administrative efforts.
I close with two other brief, but, to me, revealing anecdotes about Tom. The first occurred one evening when Tom dropped in on me after I had moved into Overlook, a residence hall on campus. At first, since it was early fall, I thought he had come to see how I was coping. But no, he had come to talk about quite an amazing possibility that had come out of the blue. At the time Rudy Guiliani, an alumnus of both Bishop Loughlin High School and Manhattan College, was the mayor and he and Thomas had become rather friendly. On some recent occasion as Tom told it, Rudy had been talking about the perennial difficulties that the public schools in New York were facing and sort of thinking aloud about what it would be like if someone like Tom with his considerable experience in education and his dedication to the intellectual development and welfare of students could be found to take the position of Chancellor of the public school system. I certainly don’t know the intent of the Mayor’s musing. But I do know the impact it had had on Tom. He was already thinking about the challenge the position would offer, about the impact he might have in such a position. I remember vividly, he kept repeating: “Just think, Pat, thousands and thousands of kids who could be helped to grow, to get an education and a good start in life.” As it turned out, nothing materialized, but it spoke volumes to me about Tom’s deep dedication to the Lasallian mission, an aspect of his vocation that his professional roles didn’t always bring out.
And finally was his choice to live in the residence halls on campus. Of course, he was hardly the first Brother to do so, but I think I am correct in saying he was the first President to do so during his term in that office. But what I find most interesting is his motive. Yes, his schedule was so different that accommodating it to that in the Brothers’ Community was nearly impossible, and, of course, it’s true that a low profile avoided any of the tensions that difficult campus decisions might have produced. But, I think I’m right in saying that Tom wanted to live in the residence halls because it provided his best opportunity to be in direct contact with students. That was the one unavoidable casualty of his administrative career: as a Brother, he “missed being with the kids”; in the residence hall, at least to some degree, he did not have to be Brother President, but simply Brother Thomas.
And that, I think, is how he would want us to remember him: a whip-smart youngster from a loving family out of Sacred Heart Parish in Highbridge, the Bronx, just up the hill from his beloved Yankee Stadium, who grew into a distinguished and celebrated educator at home and abroad all the while simply following a life-long dream of being a Christian Brother to his students.
Allow me to conclude by citing a line in Latin from the Roman poet Catullus (which may well have made Tom’s eyes roll): “Atque in perpetuum, Frater, ave atque vale.” The English paraphrase: “Brother, Hail and Farewell” until we all rejoice with the Lord.”
Please pray for the repose of the soul of Brother Thomas Scanlan, FSC
Born Thomas Joseph Scanlan in New York, NY, on March 5, 1945
Entered the Barrytown, NY, Juniorate on September 8, 1958, and, Novitiate on June 25, 1962
Received the Religious Habit and Name, Brother Clement Benedict, on September 1, 1962
Pronounced Perpetual Vows in New Jersey, 1970
Died at Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank, NJ, on February 4, 2018
Friday, February 9, 2018
Viewing from 3:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Chapel of De La Salle and his Brothers
4513 Manhattan College Parkway
Riverdale, NY 10471-4099
Saturday, February 10, 2018
Viewing from 9:30 am – 10:30 am
Mass of Christian Burial at 11:00 am
Chapel of De La Salle and his Brothers
Luncheon to follow in Smith Auditorium
Monday, February 12, 2018
Burial at Gate of Heaven Cemetery at 10:00 am
10 West Stevens Avenue
Hawthorne, NY 10532
The District of North America remembers Brother Thomas with memorial liturgies according to the tradition of the Institute. Through their prayers, communities and individuals entrust Brother to God’s loving care.
Brother Thomas passed away during the afternoon as he was recovering from complications as a result of cardiac surgery in early January. May he rest in peace.
- Remembrance of Br. Thomas from the Manhattan College website >
- Remembrance of Br. Thomas from the Bethlehem University website >
- Remembrance video of Br. Thomas from La Salle Academy, New York >
- Video highlighting Br. Thomas as a recipient of the ACCU Hesburgh Award >
New York, NY
St. Bernard’s Day Juniorate
Barrytown, NY Junior Novitiate
Barrytown, NY Novitiate
Troy, NY Scholasticate
Washington, D.C. Scholasticate
North Arlington, NJ
Queen of Peace High School: teacher
North Arlington, NJ
Queen of Peace High School: vice-principal
North Arlington, NJ
Queen of Peace High School: principal
New York, NY
Columbia University: study
La Salle Provincialate: director of finance and education
Bethlehem University: vice chancellor
Santa Fe, NM
Sangre de Cristo Center for Christian Studies
Manhattan College: president
District of Eastern North America: auxiliary visitor
District of Eastern North America: boards representative (part time)