by Jill Ragar Esfeld
It wasn’t at all unusual for Holy Trinity parishioners, still in church after Mass, to hear the booming voice of Father Tom Dolezal from the church foyer or even outside on the sidewalk.
“Goodbye! God bless you! God bless you!”
We would look at each other, shake our heads, laugh and say, “Father Tom forgot to turn off his mike again.” It was one of many quirks that endeared him to us.
When Father Tom died on the Solemnity of Mary, it was fitting. He had a great devotion to the Virgin Mother.
My children attended Holy Trinity School, and in an effort to spend more time with them, I left my career as a technical writer and took a job in the school library.
Father Tom became pastor of Holy Trinity during my tenure there.
His size alone made it impossible for him to go unnoticed in the school, on the playground, at church. But it didn’t take long for the students to discover his joyful, gentle nature.
He was Santa without the red suit, Baloo outside the jungle. He was the good shepherd with his finger on the needs of everyone in his flock.
His love of the rosary became his focus with the children, and it wasn’t long before rosary recital was a regular practice in the school.
He encouraged me when I decided to start a weekly parents rosary in the adoration chapel — a practice going on now for almost 20 years.
When I returned to writing, joining The Leaven staff as a freelancer, Father Tom was helping The Leaven with its website. Every morning when I came to Mass he would yell at me “What story are you working on now?”
His interest was genuine, and he always remembered to mention something about the stories he read.
Father Tom was not without fault. Those of us who provided meals when he was recovering from a surgery or illness would get frustrated by his habit of shoving all the salads and colorful vegetables to the back of the refrigerator and eating only the meat, potatoes and desserts.
The man loved a pepperoni pizza, and even admitted eating one by mistake, in public, on a Friday during Lent. He apologized from the pulpit in church and assured anyone who might have seen him that he did not eat meat the following day.
He brought so much to Holy Trinity during his time there! But his greatest legacy is the adoration chapel, built under his watchful eye in 2009.
It bears his spiritual signature in the selection of stained-glass windows depicting the corporal works of mercy, reminding those who come to visit that we are now the hands and feet of Christ.
His favorite painting was Roberto Ferruzzi’s “Madonna of the Streets.” And so, a statue designed after the painting stands at the front of the chapel — a reminder of Father Tom’s devotion to Mary and his love of the rosary.
He was a favorite confessor because of his understanding nature, and a constant example of joy in the face of suffering.
Everyone who knew Father Tom knew about his many health challenges — from his harrowing plane flight across the ocean with a broken hip, to his battle with kidney cancer.
He suffered constantly from back and joint pain, but steadily made his way up the steps to the altar to celebrate Mass, always treating parishioners with a joyful “Good morning to you!” and reminding us to give our Mass to someone in need.
Because he had cheated death, he treasured every moment of life, every experience he had and every person he met. His suffering seemed to remind him to be present in the moment and he was passionate with joy every day.
I will remember him every time I’m leaving Mass with my family and there’s no hot mike outside to make us smile.
“Goodbye, Father Tom! God bless you! God bless you!”
The good Lord willing, we’ll meet again in heaven.