Words of Remembrance for Brother Thomas Browne, FSC
Brother John McMahon, FSC
De La Salle Hall, Lincroft, NJ
February 13, 2021
Tom was loud, coarse, direct, opinionated, and independent. That was my initial reaction when I first met Tom about six years ago. He was also hard of hearing! After an accidental fall down a flight of stairs, while proudly showing a young Brother around his ministry, Tom seemed to change, or maybe I just got to know him better as I visited him in rehab. We let each other in. We accepted one another “as is.” I had heard of “Farmer Browne” years before. He had grown up in Detroit. The family had a farm where he had worked summers, I believe. There he had discovered a love for nature and some lifelong farming skills, thus the nickname, I presume. The Tom I got to know had three loves: spirituality, the poor, and his family . . . one and all!
Tom and I initially connected around spirituality. He always wanted to know what one was reading. It taught him something about the other. We read similar stuff. We exchanged books and “talked” the new cosmology. His room was awash in the latest spiritual authors, and the books were underlined extensively. Tom said when he re-looked at them, he couldn’t remember ever having read what he had underlined, but on some level the concepts had registered because he was living many of them, churning them over in his mind, given his forced retirement, his aging, and his infirmity. “What is the meaning of all this suffering? How continue to be positive and life-giving in this new difficulty?” Tom claimed this to be the first time in his life that he physically suffered. I think that the suffering and the new ideas were the “stuff’ of his continuing transformation, the Tom I was privileged to grow with.
Let’s move backwards here…Tom’s second love, “the poor”…Tom’s last ministry was teaching English as a second language in Asbury Park, NJ, to Spanish speaking adults. When he could no longer minister with the poor in other countries, like the West Indies, Kenya, and Nigeria, he chose to do so with new immigrants to our country. He worked for fifteen years in this last ministry. He worked alone. He worked nights. Tom left the community at 6:30 p.m., as the Brothers watched the nightly news, pulling his rolling suitcase of educational materials behind him. He returned after 10:30 p.m. after the Brothers had gone to bed. Tom did this from September to May for fifteen years. He rewrote the text so there would be more examples for the students to read and to write. He spent hours xeroxing these new materials at the Provincial office in Eatontown during the day. I was so happy when Brother Ed Phelan organized a plan to be with Tom in ministry for a couple of evenings to showcase the ministry to as many as wanted to meet Tom’s students.
Tom left that work abruptly when he broke his femur . . . no retirement ceremony. Tom was delighted recently when the pastor finally called him in Detroit to thank him for all he did during those years of service in the parish.
One final plug for “the poor” by Tom . . I called Tom the Friday before he died to give him the results of the DENA election for Visitor, as he had asked me to do. I said, “Tom, Brother Robert Schaefer is the new Visitor.” Tom said, “Who the hell is Robert Schaefer?” I did my best to give a thumbnail sketch, upbeat and positive. Tom’s response was, “But does he love the poor?” (I hope, Bob, you are listening to this as Tom’s last pitch for “the poor”.
Tom’s third love, in the order that I am presenting, but not necessarily in his order of priority, is Tom’s family of origin, his original Detroiters. Meeting you recently over the months of Tom’s rehabilitation gave me another glimpse at Tom, and why he spoke glowingly about you so often, individually. As many of you as possible came to visit him from the now many parts of the country, where you are working in creative and highly professional careers. You are down to earth, loving people who include your uncle in your lives and tell stories of your family and how Tom is so much a part in the hierarchy of your story. I have not met Tom’s living sister, but I feel as if I know you, Marianne. You, nephews, nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces will not forget or allow Tom to be distant from your family, even now. You know Tom lives through you. During his life as a Brother, he mostly spent a month in the summer out in Detroit, after he had gotten ready for the new term. The month was a gift of you, the family, for him, and he for you. I wish I could show you, all here today, a picture of Tom that he sent me after he had been with you this open-ended, one last visit. It was of him in what looked like a captain’s sailor hat, lounging on the deck of a sailboat on Lake Michigan with a blue sky, white fluffy clouds and a piece of land and a lighthouse in the distance. It was a perfect metaphor for the loving life he was leading with you in his final days. It spoke of all the family was doing with him to allow him to feel at home, one with you all. He was not unsympathetic to your challenges and struggles. You were always on his mind and in his prayer. I’m sure Tom is still praying for you now.
If you go to the DENA website, fscdena.org, you will find Tom’s transition page listing all his assignments over the years. As I did this, I learned more about Tom. The first years of his ministry were in parish grammar schools in New York City. Many young Brothers were first assigned to these schools. One learned how to teach in the grammar schools, it seems. I wonder if Tom’s time at St. Thomas, the Apostle in Harlem sowed the seeds for his missionary work? Another insight of mine was that only one year was served in several assignments, either because he had some time off to study or perhaps, the assignment wasn’t working with the poor as he wanted, so he moved on. Tom often said he loved his time at Lincoln Hall working with juvenile offenders. He made lasting friendships there with two brothers, Jack and Luke, who later became priests. I also noticed that he was stationed at St. Raymond’s High School for Boys in the Bronx several times, finally in their Family Outreach Program. For Tom, this was the pinnacle, working with poor kids, as well as with their families. Tom moved from history to social work, to Spanish. How like him that his transition pages do not include his specific degrees. Tom was not into educational degrees and titles. He was totally himself, and during his aging, was thankful to everyone who helped him in any way possible . . . a real softening and proof of his continuing transformation . . . He got it! We are all interconnected and a cell in the Body of Christ! We need one another!
Tom, you are in a “realm” now to continue more effortlessly to be of help to all of us, your family, your brothers, and “your poor.” We ask that same help of you in these challenging times, promising to remember you and to keep your values alive. Keep speaking in our hearts. May we live in the belief that, “No conscious work is ever wasted.” May we continue to work in peace for the “Kingdom!” Amen!
Please Pray for the Repose of the Soul of Brother Thomas Browne, FSC
1933 – 2021
Born Thomas John Browne in Detroit MI on 16 July 1933
Entered the Barrytown NY Novitiate on 17 November 1951
Received the Religious Habit and Name Christian Kevin on 24 January 1952
Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Barrytown NY in 1958
Died in Brighton MI on 26 January 2021
Saturday, 13 February 2021
Mass of Christian Burial – 10.00am
Saint John Paul II Parish
5830 Simon K · Detroit MI 48212
Mount Olivet Cemetery
17100 Van Dyke · Detroit MI 48234
Brother Thomas died suddenly on Monday evening.
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.
Messages of condolence may be sent to:
Molly Hamilton (niece of Brother Thomas)
9828 Finnegan Drive · Brighton MI 48116-6241
May he rest in peace.
The Catholic University of America (scholasticate)
Saint John’s Parish School
New York NY
Saint Thomas the Apostle School
Saint Mary’s School
Saint Raymond’s High School for Boys
De La Salle Collegiate
Christian Brothers Academy (full-time studies)
New York NY
Big Brothers Residence (Resident Director)
Jamaica West Indies
Saint John Bosco Children’s Home
Antigua West Indies
Agriculture Study for Bishop Donald J. Reece
Saint Raymond High School for Boys (2nd semester)
Rongai Secondary School (to 2nd semester 1989)
Saint Raymond High School for Boys (full-time studies)
Mount La Salle College
Saint Raymond High School for Boys (Family Outreach Ctr.)
La Salle School (full-time studies)
San Miguel Community Center
La Salle School (resident)
Spanish language studies
San Miguel Community Center
Colegio La Salle
Saint Patrick Church
Asbury Park NJ
Christian Brothers Academy (resident)
Niece’s residence (resident)