by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When Archbishop James P. Keleher was tapped to lead the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, he knew he needed able men to help him.
After some investigation, he put two names at the top of his list.
“When I told my predecessor Archbishop [Ignatius J.] Strecker who I was going to ask,” said the archbishop, “his reaction was, ‘Oh, they’ll never say yes.’”
Shortly after his installation on Sept. 8, 1993, Archbishop Keleher and several priests went on retreat.
“I asked [two] to walk with me during a break,” said Archbishop Emeritus Keleher. “On our little walk I asked them both if they would consider one becoming vicar general, and the other becoming vicar general for priests.”
“Those were the two things I really needed,” said the archbishop. “I knew these two men were extraordinarily good priests.”
The two agreed, and on Sept. 22, 1993, Father Thomas Tank was appointed vicar general for pastoral ministries and Father Charles McGlinn was appointed vicar general for priest personnel. Father Tank was also made chancellor in 1995.
They asked for only two things in return.
First, they wanted to continue as pastors. The second — a promise the archbishop did not keep — was that they not be made monsignors.
“When I was ending my time as a major archbishop, I decided I’d do it because of all that they’d done,” he said. “They were so helpful.”
Brothers from the beginning
Archbishop Keleher may not have known it at the time, but the two men he selected were not just colleagues but great friends.
Father McGlinn, who grew up in Leavenworth, and Father Tank, who grew up near Roeland Park, met as newly minted seminarians at St. Thomas Seminary (now St. John Vianney) in Denver.
“We met on the first day of school in September 1959,” said Father Tank. “We started as freshmen.”
Father Tank’s first impression of Father McGlinn was that he was very thin, had a great smile, was very friendly and was “a fine young man.”
Father McGlinn recalls Father Tank from those days as very smart, very articulate in class, service-oriented, warm, likable and a natural leader.
“He always went to the top,” said Father McGlinn.
In their small class of 30 or so, they got to know each other pretty well. Their different interests led them to move in different social circles, but they together participated in student- founded and student-led study groups.
After the seminary, both men were ordained by Archbishop Edward J. Hunkeler at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Kansas City, Kansas, on May 27, 1967.
The architect and the gadfly
After they were ordained together, Father Tank and Father McGlinn were sent to different parishes for their first assignments. For the most part, they ended up at different places for the next 50 years.
There were a few times, however, when they ended up either living or working in close proximity — and their friendship is stronger for it.
For about six months in 1969, they were both associate pastors at the cathedral, during which the young priests learned a bit more about each other.
“Father Charles has a huge heart for people,” said Father Tank. “He was very strong on social justice and civil rights. It was also the Vietnam era. He was very strong about speaking out for the underdog and seeking assistance for the poor.”
They also both served on the Wyandotte County draft board to ensure that the young men were treated fairly.
When Archbishop Strecker initiated a far-reaching study of archdiocesan needs derived from small group discussions called “Call to Share — Prayer and Study,” both men were involved.
“That’s where I learned to appreciate [Father Tank’s] ability to research things, his ability to figure things out and his commitment to a specific course of action,” said Father McGlinn.
It was also during this time that Fathers Tank and McGlinn developed a “method” of working together — Father Tank was the architect of ideas, and Father McGlinn, the gadfly who would critique.
They were like a hammer and anvil banging together to make things useful and strong.
“My role was to tear down, to criticize, to sharpen [ideas] and take off the sharp edges,” said Father McGlinn. “But I appreciated [Father Tank’s] genius in coming up with solutions, and figuring out directions and goals.
“But in all that we were friends,” he continued. “I think working together on these different things cemented our friendship.”
Father Tank agreed that these frank exchanges did not put a strain in their relationship — to the contrary, their mutual respect and affection grew for each other.
And, after all, neither of them had the final say.
“[We] just naturally see issues from different perspectives,” said Father Tank. “He tends to be an idealist and I tend to be a realist. Both perspectives are important to a discussion on significant issues. We could easily discuss almost any topic from a variety of points of view.”
It was this back-and-forth that made them so useful to him, said Archbishop Keleher.
“They are wonderful in this regard — they didn’t agree on many things,” said Archbishop Keleher. “I would have them at our big meetings and I was sure the two of them would argue on one point or another. And by the time it was over, I knew what I should do.
“It was wonderful, because they had different points of view — all of them good — and I could pick out the one I thought was best.”
Much to share
Despite being very different people, Msgr. Tank and Msgr. McGlinn have some important things in common.
First of all, they both love the priesthood and being pastors, said Msgr. Tank. And even though they pushed against each other during meetings, they were really after the same thing — what was best for the church, said Msgr. McGlinn.
Second, they would share ideas and tips. Monsignor Tank helped Msgr. McGlinn bring Christ Renews His Parish to Curé of Ars, Leawood.
Third, not only were they ordained together, but they continued to celebrate their ordinations together, said Msgr. Tank.
“Over the years we’ve vacationed together,” said Msgr. Tank. “For our 25th anniversary, each of us celebrated a Mass in our own parishes, but we had a joint reception in the Commons at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Then we traveled throughout Europe.”
And of course, one of them would want to go THERE because it was new, and the other would want to go HERE, because it was familiar. Still, they managed to work it out.
Monsignor Tank’s skills in French got them through France, but Msgr. McGlinn’s “passable” skills in Spanish got them halted by the Spanish border guards, ordered out of their car and their vehicle emptied and searched.
Fortunately, the two pilgrimages they led to the Holy Land went more smoothly.
Lastly, the two men have spent a lot of time together in prayer.
“The two of us started a prayer group when we were four years ordained, and we’ve gotten together once a month for 47 years,” said Msgr. Tank.
“That’s where the cement came from,” said Msgr. McGlinn. “The prayer, sharing and support. We were able to share our deepest feelings, our deepest conflicts and our deepest aspirations in a group that would listen, among men you could respect and trust. We got to know each other better there than anywhere.”
Love and respect
The passing years and illness have presented challenges to both men. Monsignor Tank continues as pastor of Ascension Parish in Overland Park, but Msgr. McGlinn retired as pastor of Curé of Ars Parish, where he was pastor for 28 years, in July 2015.
“I have a great love and respect for Charlie,” said Msgr. Tank. “He is a great friend and a brother priest. We’ve shared a lot over the 58 years we’ve known each other and we look forward to many more years of being there for each other.”
“His positive attitude in the midst of his health challenges,” he continued, “really inspires me to be a better priest. While he knows how to press my buttons, I know that he cares deeply for me and all his brother priests.”
Monsignor McGlinn returns the admiration.
“I appreciate Tom for his heart — his heart for Jesus, the priesthood, the church and the people of his parish,” said Msgr. McGlinn. “He’s a very wonderful person. You’ve never met anyone like Tom — so talented and focused.
“Since his illness, I’ve seen a depth of humanity in Tom that I haven’t known completely before.”
Still, some things never change.
“Tom, you’re my best friend,” said Msgr. McGlinn. “I think about you every day and I pray for you every day.”
“I love you,” he concluded. “But you’re still wrong!”