Fr. Thomas Plassmann, OFM
Fr. Thomas Plassmann, OFM, was born in Avenwedde, Westphalia, Germany, on March 19, 1879. At the age of 15, he left Germany to join the American mission of the Thuringian Province of St. Elizabeth, but was sent first to complete his classical studies at Quincy College in Illinois.
In 1898, he was received into the novitiate at St. Bonaventure Friary in Paterson, N.J. Fr. Thomas professed temporary vows in 1899 and solemn vows in 1902. In 1906, he was ordained a priest, and completed his Ph.D. in Semitic Languages from The Catholic University of America in 1907. He was then sent to Rome, where he received another doctorate in Sacred Theology.
In 1910, he began his long career at St. Bonaventure’s College and Seminary, Allegany, N.Y., where he would remain for the rest of his life, with the exception of his three year term as Provincial Minister. Fr. Thomas became the 11th president of St. Bonaventure’s in 1920, remaining in that office for a record 29 years, guiding a small school of only 300 students through the crises of the depression and World War II to over 2,000 students at the end of his term. He was instrumental in the formation of the U.S. Franciscan Educational Conference and the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure.
Although “Fr. Tom” served a number of times on the Provincial Council while at St. Bonaventure, he was a surprise choice for Provincial Minister in 1949 – at the age of 70 – and served only one term. He oversaw St. Bonaventure’s elevation to University status, the construction of the new Christ the King Seminary there, and the foundation of a new house of studies in Rye Beach, N.H. He also began the Province’s missionary efforts in Japan, after the friars were driven from their former mission in China.
After leaving office in 1952, Fr. Tom returned to Allegany to assume the post of rector of Christ the King Seminary. His vast erudition reached far beyond the confines of the classroom to affect countless people through his lectures, retreats, articles, books and radio talks. He contributed 15 articles for the Catholic Encyclopedia. He spoke and read Hebrew, Syriac, Latin, Greek, Ethiopic, German, Italian, Spanish and flawless English.
Thomas Merton, in his Seven Story Mountain, referred to Fr. Tom as the “picture of benevolence,” while Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston called him “one of the greatest priests of our generation.”
The “grand old man of Allegany” died Feb. 13, 1959, in Olean, N.Y. He was 79 years old, a professed friar for 59 years and a priest for 52 years.