Brother THomas Caldwell 1927-2020

Word of Remembrance for Brother Thomas Caldwell, FSC

Brothers Craig Franz, FSC, Charles Mrozinski, FSC, and Leo Smith, FSC contributed to this reflection.

“Let us now praise great men, and our fathers that begat us.”
Ecclesiasticus 44:1

As the 19-year-old lad entered the De La Salle College Scholasticate in Washington DC, Joseph Francis Caldwell could hardly have imagined the wondrous breadth he would experience as a Christian Brother. He received the habit of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and the religious name Brother Eliseus Thomas on September 7, 1945. His travels over the years would take him from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Canton and Jersey City, Adamstown and Audubon, to Danbury and Lincroft. As his Aspirancy Coordinator car traveled extensively across the Atlantic states, he would encounter not hundreds of places, but rather hundreds of people.

Tom’s life was not a series of successes or accomplishments, but rather a journey with others. With care, concern and sometimes with pain, Tom walked with individuals on their faith journey, yet he never saw the final product unfold completely since each person is always in the process of becoming. Tom was in touch with his own “faith story” and he was willing to share his “faith story” with others. His interest was less in the places he found himself and much more in the people he would encounter along the way. (So engaged was he with the life of others that many of us would repeatedly – and unsuccessfully – admonish him not to continually pick up hitchhikers.) Tom slipped so welcomingly into the lives of others that he quickly became their trusted mentor with whom confessions could be heard and life reordered in the wisdom of his worldly response. Tom understood the gritty realities of life’s demanding challenges, and he welcomed the opportunity to accompany others along their perilous and difficult paths of life. Tom had faith in others, especially in those times when all external indicators pointed in the opposite direction. For him, they were the grace of God inviting him into a fuller understanding of the human condition; for those he accompanied, Tom was the grace of God in difficult circumstances. Without realizing it, Tom made a difference in the lives of others just by his simple and authentic presence; he was both Christian and Brother.

For Tom, it was always people that mattered most. He met people through administering schools, or at board meetings, through Aspirancy programs, in EMMAUS retreats, during little-league baseball games, or behind prison bars. Latino, white, black, gay, straight, transgender, female, male, homeless, rich, young, old, handicapped, mentally challenged, talented, bipolar, down-and-out: Tom loved them all. With an arm around their shoulder, a heart which resonated their feelings, and kindness overflowing with compassion, Tom’s innate understanding of the universe’s patterns enabled others to be peaceful amid their uncertain, chaotic, and challenging lives. He encouraged others not to be the person(s) they admired, but to be themselves. Tom believed there is a richness in our lives because of the many communities we belonged to: Brothers, family, students, individuals we casually encounter each day, etc.

Perhaps it was his own peccadillos which made Tom so engagingly embraceable. His temperament to occasionally curse. His short fuse with long meetings. His unhealthy love for greasy cuisine in cheap American diners. His occasional desire to conquer the unbeatable casino slots. His playful penchant for practical jokes. His contagious laughter. Tom was a delightful mix of all that makes us both fully human and wonderfully unique.

Tom easily communicated with others because he always spoke from the heart, and so he always touched the hearts of the individuals with whom he was speaking. He lived, day-in and day-out, our Brothers’ charism because he was always about the good of the person and always touching hearts, sometimes seriously and sometimes humorously.

A prayerful man, Tom saw the mystery of the incarnate in the flare of a gifted artist’s brush on canvas, the passion of the divine in the always-emerging beauty of nature, and divinity’s presence in the laughter of children. Rather than abandoning the hierarchical church, which was far too static amid life’s otherwise dynamically fluid and messy reality, Tom would faithfully wrestle with an evolving spirituality. For Tom, Church was not just an institution, but a community where all should grow in wisdom and in justice. He voraciously read theologians who appreciated that life’s experiences do not always fit neatly into institutionally-tidy systematic boxes. Tom brought others to love God and one another.

And through it all, Tom was a wellspring of affirmation. He fathered in each of us an acceptance of who we are, encouragement for what we could become, hope for how things might be better, compassion for those less fortunate, understanding for those alienated, and a profoundly deep appreciation for the ephemeral, treasured gift of life. He ALWAYS communicated with others where they were. Tom felt that to move on the level of feelings from the reality of our experiences to that of faith can at time be terrifying and bewildering. But it is in this move that we make contact with our Source and find our place among others in a way that we stand in that place with purpose and dignity. He felt that we could, hopefully, come to share common goals: to live full productive lives which leave positive, constructive memories in the hearts of those we touch; to invest here all that we are and hope to be.

Please Pray for the repose of the soul of Brother Thomas Caldwell, FSC

1927 -2020

Born Joseph Francis Caldwell in Altoona PA on 5 May 1927

Entered the Ammendale MD Novitiate on 2 March 1945

Received the Religious Habit and Name Eliseus Thomas on 7 September 1945

Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Ammendale MD on 29 August 1952

Died at De La Salle Hall in Lincroft NJ on 14 September 2020


A private interment will take place at De La Salle Cemetery – Beltsville MD

A Memorial Mass will be celebrated on a date yet to be determined.

Brother Thomas died peacefully Monday morning.

The District of Eastern North America remembers Brother Thomas with memorial liturgies according to the tradition of the Institute.
Through their prayers, communities and individuals entrust Brother Thomas to God’s loving care.

May he rest in peace.


Washington DC
De La Salle College (scholasticate)

Philadelphia PA
La Salle College High School

Pittsburgh PA
Central Catholic High School

Canton OH
Central District Catholic High School

Philadelphia PA
West Catholic High School for Boys

Jersey City NJ
Hudson Catholic High School

Philadelphia PA
West Catholic High School for Boys

Santa Fe NM
Sangre de Cristo Center (1st semester – renewal)

Philadelphia PA
District Administration (Aspirancy Director)

Pittsburgh PA
District Administration (Aspirancy Director)

Audubon PA
Saint Gabriel’s Hall

Adamstown MD
District Administration (Provincial/Visitor)

Audubon PA
Saint Gabriel’s Hall

Danbury CT
Federal Correction Institution (chaplain)

Audubon PA
Saint Gabriel’s Hall (resident)

Lincroft NJ
De La Salle Hall (resident)