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Tribute to a Great Man

Sorry for my long absence. I spent yesterday in the near presence of the Fathers. With my good friend and colleague, Rob Corzine, I trekked to Virginia to help sort out the literary estate of the great patrologist Thomas Comerford Lawler. A close associate of Johannes Quasten and a longtime (1964-1991) editor of the Ancient Christian Writers series, Tom himself produced new translations of Jerome and Augustine. And he did all this while serving as a top executive in the Central Intelligence Agency. Tom died peacefully Nov. 20, 2005, just weeks shy of his 85th birthday.

His widow donated his substantial library to the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, of which I am vice-president. Together we are also arranging for his papers to land at two research institutions. For those of us who knew Tom — and for the many more who have benefited from his work in patristics — it’s a joy to know that others will continue his work of studying and promoting the Church Fathers.

Catholic readers know Tom as the author of many books, most notably the bestselling catechism The Teaching of Christ (which he co-authored with his brother Father Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap., and Bishop Donald Wuerl).

He retired from the CIA in 1977 with the United States’ Intelligence Medal of Merit.

Tom was widely acknowledged in his lifetime as one of the great scholars of the Church Fathers. Though he never finished an undergraduate degree, he received two honorary doctorates. He considered it his greatest achievement, however, to have received the award Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope John Paul II.

He and his wife Pat raised their children in Alexandria, Va. Sometimes when he identified himself on scholarly articles, he would drop the state of Virginia from his place of residence. He was Thomas of Alexandria. It had the ring of antiquity.

One of his last great projects was the fifth edition of The Teaching of Christ, completed in 2005. As he waved his final goodbye to a co-editor, he said: “It’s a wonderful life.”

His certainly was.