Tuesday, May 21, 2019, 1pm
Tom Lumpkin Receives The Bishop Gumbleton / Elephant Award.
"A priest, activist, spiritual advisor, rebel, pastor, peacekeeper, servant. . . all of these words describe Fr. Tom Lumpkin. One could also add artist, cook, writer, mystic and many other labels," wrote my late friend and social justice activist.
The custom in the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1960 was to send two graduates of the Sacred Heart seminary on to Rome to study. However, Cardinal Dearden, who was newly appointed, recommended that two more be sent to Louvain (Leuven), Belgium. Tom was chosen for this honor and that relocation began the most influential period of his life.
Tom did not speak French, which was the official language of the area, but necessity soon made him fluent enough to handle his classes. Unlike the students in Rome, those in Louvain were free to travel during vacation times and for three months in the summer. "This opportunity opened his eyes to the 'world' and he saw sights that have stayed with him to this day. He saw many of the great cities of Europe. Some were still recovering from the effects of World War II, and he saw poverty on a scale he never imagined."
In addition to extensive travel, Tom spent several weeks living with "worker priests" in France. "This experience profoundly affected him and deepened his concern for the poor. He became more aware of the world around him, and began to think critically, asking questions and looking for solutions. He moved from knowing information about Christ to knowing Christ as a person during this period."
His parents attended his ordination in Louvain in 1964; his first Mass in the USA was in Baltimore, MD; and his first celebration of Mass in the Archdiocese of Detroit took place at St. Mary's of Redford. Although Tom's assignments included: Our Lady Queen of All Saints Parish, St. Louise Parish and St. Brigid's Parish, he had a desire to work and live with those in poverty. This led him to the Catholic Worker. After visiting several Catholic Worker houses from Chicago to Los Angeles, he returned to Detroit. He and friends bought the house on Trumbull, fixed it up and in August 1977, Fr. Tom began his residence at Day House. Soon thereafter, he became active at the Manna Meal Soup Kitchen at the nearby St. Peter's Episcopal Church; he continues to serve at this location today.
Throughout his life Tom has focused on dedication to peace and social justice issues; he traveled to Selma and joined hundreds of others at rallies that led up to the March from Selma to Montgomery; he worked for voting rights, civil rights, peace (an end to the Vietnam war).
Prior to many Detroit parish closings in 1989, Tom served on a Task Force that made recommendations to the Archdiocese about the Catholic Church in the City: "The viability of a parish should not be determined by its wealth", and suggested ways to keep parishes open.
However, as we know, the AOD decided to close 30 parishes, including St. Ignatius of Antioch, that summer. Many members of St. Ignatius felt strongly about remaining a community and soon began to gather for Mass at Nativity Church; and then at a storefront on Conner and Chelsea in 1990. Fr. Tom was one of four priests who celebrated Mass for them, and he offered to go with them if they found their own place to gather. The group continues to meet, now at the Samaritan Center in Detroit. Tom is the pastor.
Fr. Tom's activism for peace and justice issues has led to several arrests, and he has served jail time. His life is strongly influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton and Daniel Berrigan.
Tom was elected president of the Elephants in the Living Room in 2004, and he has served in that office from that time.
Tom turned 80 in February; he says he is retiring. His definition of retirement is not shared by many. He doesn't know the meaning of slowing down. He will only give up his Day House responsibilities. His schedule will continue to be overwhelming to most of us in this third stage of life. He will continue his work at the soup kitchen, in jail ministry, house churches, and various boards he serves on in our Detroit community.
Blessings on our Fr. Tom Lumpkin, who has been one of Detroit's finest, a beacon of faith, hope and love. It is an honor to have had Fr. Tom in our lives.
(Provided by Carol Jachim and Mary Black)