This is the sixth in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2016. They will be honored by the Province at a special Mass on June 23. The last issue of HNP Today featured Daniel Riley, OFM.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A friar mentor encouraged Alan Thomas, OFM, when he was a young religious to be open to all that life was going to give him. He took this advice seriously, accepted numerous diverse assignments during his 50 years of Franciscan life.
Alan was one of three boys born to the late George and Mary Thomas in Washington, D.C. Soon after his birth, the family moved to North Carolina. Alan’s parents divorced when he was a young boy, and he spent his formative years between North Carolina and Virginia.
Education and Formation
Alan attended Catholic grammar school in Virginia. “I was educated by the Benedictine Sisters and always thought I wanted to be a Benedictine. I was surprised when in high school, I applied to the Buckfast Abbey and was rejected,” he said.
After high school, Alan attended the University of Tampa, where he was a music major with a minor in history, and graduated in 1962 with an associate’s degree. While he was studying in Tampa, he volunteered at St. Joseph Hospital, where he worked alongside the late Gordian Ehrlacher, OFM, who was hospital chaplain, and decided to learn more about the Franciscans.
Alan first explored the Franciscans of the Commissariat of the Holy Land in Washington, D.C., where he received the Third Order habit in 1963. He soon got to know the young clerics of Holy Name Province who lived next door to the monastery at Holy Name College and, after an interview with the guardian, the late Patrick Howard, OFM, was invited to join the Province.
From 1963 to 1965, Alan was accepted as a tertiary brother in Croghan, N.Y., as part of the Province’s lay brothers’ training program. He was received into St. Raphael Novitiate in Lafayette, N.J., and professed his first vows there in 1966. His first assignment was assistant procurator and secretary at St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. Eager to improve his skills so he could serve in his role more efficiently, Alan took accounting courses at Orange County Community College in Middletown, N.Y., located more than one hour away.
His aptitude for and interest in continuing his education led to him transferring to St. Francis Friary in Rye Beach, N.H., so he could study Latin American history at the nearby University of New Hampshire. In 1969, he switched areas of study and began working toward a certificate in radiological technology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In the middle of his program, he professed solemn vows in Washington, D.C., in 1970.
One year later, Alan began working at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., and completed his schoolwork in 1972, earning his certificate. After expressing a desire to live with a smaller community, he transferred to Christ House in Lafayette, N.J., in 1972 and served as procurator and a member of the retreat team.
After a period of discernment, Alan expressed his desire to deepen his service to the people of God. On June 12, 1976, Alan was ordained a permanent deacon in Washington, D.C. Christopher Coccia, OFM, of St. Anthony Shrine, Boston, and Henry Fulmer, OFM, pastoral associate at St. Joseph Church in Anderson, S.C., are the only other permanent deacons in the Province.
Alan has always answered the call and responded to the needs of the community. His favorite assignments have involved administrative and parish work. “I really enjoy working with people,” he remarked.
In 1976, he moved to Immaculate Conception Friary in Atlanta, where he served in parish ministry, as well as in campus ministry at Georgia State University. He also worked on other assignments for the Atlanta Diocese. During the next three years, Alan served in various positions in team ministry and parish administration at St. Joseph Friary in East Rutherford, N.J., St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, and at Queen of Peace Parish in West Milford, N.J.
In the early 1980s, Alan spent several years in formation, including as director of the affiliate (postulant) program at Holy Cross Friary in the Bronx, N.Y., from 1982 to 1985. After two years at St. Francis Retreat Center in Rye Beach and one year at St. Catherine Parish in Ringwood, N.J., Alan returned to Beach Haven, serving St. Francis of Assisi Parish.
Alan began to lose his hearing in 1987 and the condition progressively worsened. He took a year off from his Franciscan ministry in 1992 to attend Gallaudet University to study lip reading and sign language.
He returned to ministry in 1993 in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., where he coordinated the Office for Persons with Disabilities for Catholic Charities for 10 years; during this time, he resided at the friars’ vacation house in Point Lookout, Long Island, and served as curator there. In 2003, he returned to St. Anthony Shrine to direct the Wellness Center, working for a year before becoming an associate for the Franciscan Missionary Union. In 2005, he moved to New York City and served for six years at St. Francis of Assisi Parish and as vicar of the friary before he moved to Butler, N.J., where he worked as a deacon at St. Anthony Parish. In 2013, he retired to St. Anthony Friary in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“Holy Name Province has been very supportive of me with the deafness, purchasing adaptive equipment and caring for me so that I could always be a vibrant member of the community,” Alan said.
“My source of pride in the Franciscans and the Holy Name Province is the fraternity and community,” Alan said. “I came to the Franciscans not to be a priest, but to be a brother to the men I lived with. It has been a very positive, fraternal experience no matter where I was or what I was doing.”
Alan is indebted to several friars who have positively influenced his ministry, including the late James Haggerty, OFM, the late Fred Kirchner, OFM, and the late Mychal Judge, OFM, who was his confessor for many years and a very good friend.
According to Alan, there have been many men along the way and wonderful Franciscan sisters who encouraged him when he needed support.
Now retired, Alan volunteers once a week in the pastoral care department at St. Anthony’s Hospital. He is an avid reader, enjoying many books on his Kindle.
Despite ongoing health challenges, Alan attends liturgies in different churches. He is blessed to have a sign language interpreter at St. Mary’s Church in St. Petersburg.
— Karen Karaszewski, a St. Bonaventure University graduate, is a freelance writer based in Western New York.