Father Tom Carten, CSC

A Special Honorary Unsubscribe

Over the years I’ve been accused of being “anti-Christian” so much that what gets lost is what I really am: anti-hypocrite.

So when I see a man (or woman) “of the cloth” that actually walks their talk, well, it’s so refreshing that I go a little ga-ga over them, no matter what their denomination. They are kindred spirits whether we agree on the specifics of their religion or not.

Such is the case with long-time reader Tom Carten: he was a Roman Catholic priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which was established in France in 1837. A few years later the order established its American branch at Notre Dame, Indiana, which is where I finally met him — but more on that in a moment.

I was first aware of Tom as a reader who upgraded to Premium in 2003. A year later he burst into my inbox with a comment expressing his displeasure over how some readers were trying to influence my work. At the time, I didn’t know he was a priest, and his first note never even suggested it. This is his entire comment, verbatim:

Unlike your writer from New Hampshire, I personally don’t give a rat’s @ what you do with my premium subscription money. Just keep the stories coming and keep them good.

I also don’t give the rest of the rat’s anatomy what your political leanings are, who you hired or anything else. If I wanted a bland e-letter, I’d say so. I want something outrageous and opinionated from someone who doesn’t give a **** who’s offended. (For purposes of offense, “****” is defined as starting with the letter “s.”)

Of course I immediately liked Tom: say what he means, and mean what he says, with full clarity. And apparently I kept the stories coming and good, because he continued as a Premium subscriber for the rest of his life.

A Taste of Fr. Tom

At the time he was a professor at Kings College in Wilkes Barre, Penn., but soon retired. King’s College was founded in 1946 by CHC priests, as well as brothers from the University of Notre Dame. Tom founded “The Radio Home Visitor” show at the campus radio station, WRKC, in 1974: it still runs today, and is the oldest radio reading service for the blind in the U.S.

Tom mentioned in 2015 that he had been in a retirement home for Holy Cross priests at Notre Dame since 2013. In addition to spending time as a radio announcer, and quite some time writing a newspaper column in Wilkes Barre; he continued his duties as a priest “who thinks spirituality should trump religion.”

From The MEDIAconnection, the student newsletter of the King’s College Mass Communications Dept., December 2009 (highlight added).

Next sentence: “(Most of what we do is poo-bah; just love one another and the rest will fall into place.)”

“It’s SO simple,” I replied to that, “yet SO many don’t grasp it. Even (or is it especially?) the wear-Christianity-on-their-sleeves types, who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.”

“So here’s an interesting question for you,” I continued. “I’ve long noticed that among my readership, there has been an over-representation of what I now call ‘The Three Cs’ — Cops, Clergy, and Counselors (aka lawyers). I won’t ask you about the first and third, but why do you think that so many clergy like This is True? Especially considering that one way to look at it is, it’s ‘about’ the worst in human behavior?”

“I’ve been thinking about this most of the day,” he finally replied. “First, I want to stock up on Zero Tolerance stories as inventory for when I run into the idiocy and want ammo to blow the idiots away. Or at least let others know what fools these people are. I’m a good writer and I think in one newspaper column where I worked on the side I sort of devastated and destroyed a very inhumane ruling by a nearby city’s mayor about his horrid treatment of illegal immigrants: forbidding residents to give them food or water, clothing or housing, not even a ride to the bus terminal to get out of Dodge. Shortly after the piece appeared, he backed down. TiT’s influence helped.”

Wow. But he wasn’t done.

“Second, I like stories about dumb people. WWJD (What Would Jesus Do)? Probably roll his eyes.”

Probably!

“Third, the Honorary Unsubscribes let us know that there are celebrities who are famous for being famous … but they haven’t done s**t to improve the human race. Your honorees may be fairly unknown, but they made the world better for having been here. It’s an example, as well as an inspiration, for us to keep on with our efforts to improve this planet whether we get a medal or not. None of us will get an H.U., but it doesn’t matter; it matters that we made a difference.”

Oh, I don’t know about “none of us,” I didn’t say back.

“And fourth, I like seeing people get their comeuppance.”

My take was, the man is supremely human.

He signed that message with the tiniest photo of himself with the caption, “The roman collar I rarely wear. Except for formal pics. Hoo-Hah!”

Getting Deeper

Here is where I really started to admire Fr. Tom. Also in 2015 I wrote a little about autism, which “is linked to higher intelligence, and genius and autism may share a genetic link. So? So maybe it’s not a great idea to try to ‘breed out’ such ‘undesirable’ traits as autism.”

Fr. Tom quickly replied: “I have Asperger’s, which is a higher level of autism but still there. I am glad nobody did a ‘breed me out’ and I certainly do not want to be cured. My brain processes information differently from neuro-typicals and I often wonder if it is the cause of my synesthesia — I see colors connected to everything. For instance, each day of the week has its own color: Wednesday looks like the color of celery, Thursday looks like the color of plums, Monday is white, etc. In sound, each musical instrument has its own color and the orchestra as a whole is just a beautiful painting. Peoples’ names are colorful or dull, depending on the letters and their arrangement because each letter has its own color, just as numbers do. Voices, the same. Everything is so colorful; I say to the normals, ‘You people go to concerts in black and white; I see the colors connected to the music. I feel sorry for you.’”

From a King’s College brochure for the 2012-2013 school year, which includes a better copy of his portrait from above.

He also had a delightful sense of humor.

“One of my students at King’s College,” he wrote in 2018 after one of the “freak of nomenclature” (weird names) stories in True, “Monica Forskin, told me she wished she could get married soon. But not to one of our student radio announcers, Tony Kopenis. Monica Forskin Kopenis just didn’t make it with her.”

He had a little “Thought for the day” signature at the bottom of his emails. My favorite was:

“You must pay for your sins.
If you have already paid, please disregard this notice.”

The Gloves Come Off

In February 2018, this story ran in True:

Demanding Dances

“You guys are misunderstanding again,” Natalie Richard told her daughter. But it wasn’t the sixth-grader who was mistaken: Kanesville Elementary School in West Haven, Utah, really does have a policy that at its Valentine’s Day dance, “no” is not an acceptable answer. “We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance,” said district official Lane Findlay. Students aren’t required to attend the school’s event, and Richard was able to get the principal to mention the rule on a permission slip. But she couldn’t get him to let girls say no. “Sends a bad message to girls that girls have to say ‘yes’,” Richard said, and it “sends a bad message to boys that girls can’t say ‘no’.” Students are asked in advance to list five schoolmates they’d like to dance with, and Findlay said if a student was uncomfortable with a request, that “can be addressed.” (AC/KSTU Salt Lake City) …It can be addressed more easily by letting them say no.

Father Tom Replied:

I was in a ‘Can’t say “no”’ situation and decided I was darned well going to say no to a big shot. Shut the f***er up it did. Several of us were at a backyard picnic with a former mayor and current imbiber. I asked for a 7-Up or ginger ale. Jerkoff shouted out loud, ‘What’s the matter, Father? Aren’t you man enough to drink?’ I yelled back, ‘I’m man enough to say no!’ A quiet dropped out of the sky for a moment, then things went on as usual. I had the feeling they [the other guests] were waiting for someone to shut him up.”

Again that’s verbatim, and here’s where it gets really important, Father Tom includes his specific advice from his teaching days at, yes, a Catholic school:

I always told the female students at the college that is alright, nay, necessary for them to say ‘no,’ and in whatever voice level is appropriate. Match [the] boy’s level, then increase as necessary. If it’s an adult, start louder and report. If a person in authority over you, go higher and then drop by the newspaper and TV station. Keep a written record of ALL threats, boys and higher, no matter how incidental; paper trails are important from the first moment.

Hopefully he said all of that in earshot of the male students at the college, as a reminder to mind their manners.

See what I mean by a man of the cloth walking his talk — and, even more importantly, encouraging others to do the same? I don’t care if you’re pious, atheist, or somewhere in between, it’s important for kids of any age to have that knowledge and permission to have full ownership of their bodily and sexual autonomy.

I have been merciless about priests who talk the talk …while molesting altar boys. So you bet I’m happy to fully acknowledge one of their brothers who knows the walk is much more important than the talk. To act otherwise is hypocritical — and WWJD with a hypocrite?

Meeting Tom

In July 2018, Kit and I spoke at the Mensa Annual Gathering (convention) in Indianapolis, and I asked Tom if we could drive up to Notre Dame to meet with him. “I would be delighted,” he replied. His body and, worse, his mind were failing him, but he was trusting enough that we would see him, not his disabilities.

We visited, and he treated us to lunch there in the Holy Cross Father’s Home at the edge of campus. We then sat outside in the garden, chatting and expressing thanks for our years of online correspondence and thought exchange. And as we drove away a few hours later, I sighed and told Kit, “We should have gotten a photo with him.”

We knew it was unlikely we would ever see him again, and sure enough I had popped him an email last summer checking on him, and never got a reply. It finally occurred to me to check Google News and, sure enough, I found that Tom died from Covid-19 on Christmas Eve in 2020. He was 78.

I will truly miss our chats.

Tom’s Last Words

In late 2016, Tom was feeling his mortality. “I can still write like the pro I was,” he wrote, “and when The Time Has Come, they will find limericks I have written overnight in the casket.”

For example?

“When I have gone, don’t be blue;
From heaven I will think of you.
If they doubt I made it through
Miracles I will perform, so
They will learn, that This is True.”

P.S.: Another Bit of Tom’s Wisdom

In 2018 I had asked readers to weigh in on celebrities who were important in our lives …until it was revealed that they committed a serious moral transgression, such as Bill Cosby when he was convicted of rape. Tom weighed in there:

The work stands on its own. Bill Cosby may, in his personal life, have been somewhat of a lower-than-low example of humanity, but his work as America’s father and all-around inspiration to people through television has pretty much no equal. We probably look down on him because, while we have sinned, at least we didn’t do that to people.

Along that line, when the authorities brought the prostitute to Jesus and wanted him to pronounce her to be stoned, he idly played with the dirt on the ground and said, “Let the one who has not sinned cast the first stone.” He didn’t mean stealing a loaf of bread; he meant screwing a whore, perhaps this one. Well, they all snuck off.

Lots of people in the past and present are up to their necks (or belts) in doing the nasty. Either we didn’t know it, or we just put it aside and say, “They’re only human and what they left for us more than makes up for their dalliances.”

A long time and some distance helps bring perspective: treasure the work, overlook the failings of the worker. We have jails to separate evil-doers from those who they harmed or might yet harm. The wise among us says, “Yet, for the grace of God, it could have been me.”

Rest in peace, my friend.

Note: Some of the details here were gleaned from “Father Carten, Beloved Priest, Radio Host, Writer, Dies at 78” from the Wilkes-Barre Citizen’s Voice, 26 December 2020, and from the web site of King’s College.

The Honorary Unsubscribe entries usually reside on that site, but as this one “breaks the rules” I published it here instead, which also allows readers to comment.

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38 Comments on “Father Tom Carten, CSC

  1. You do have the best readers Randy — I knew it. Thank you publishing the personal details. They make you look more approachable (because you have celebrity status in my mind).

    You are correct, I do have the best readers! And while I can’t possibly answer all of my mail, I do notice most of the really cool folks who write here and there. Even Tom was very respectful of my time, with such asides as “I don’t expect a reply, I know you’re busy” — but I did reply when I could, and I’m grateful I was within a few hours of his home and could schedule a visit. -rc

    Reply
  2. Thank you for introducing Father Tom Carten. Even though (or maybe because) I’m an atheist, I have had some wonderful conversations with good people who have been members of the clergy. I’m glad to have learned about another one who walked the walk.

    ​Since I’ve also met you, I’m quite sure you would have enjoyed each other. -rc

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  3. It is great to hear of a good man. The news is so full of the wrong sort and not enough of the good ones to balance our perceptions of the world.

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  4. Aw, even I remember Fr. Tom! You’ve mentioned him several times over the years.

    Yep: I frequently published his insights in the newsletter. I have a trove of messages, some published, many not. -rc

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  5. This is the best Honorary Unsubscribe you have ever written. I would have loved to have known Father Tom. The world definitely needs more like him. Hooray to you and Kit for having the privilege of meeting him.

    Having known him for some years allows for a different way of writing. Glad you got to see the essence of the man. -rc

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  6. Okay, my life was enriched by taking the time to read that H.U. Thank you, Randy.

    Tom would consider that high praise. You’re most welcome. -rc

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    • I find reading the H.U. frequently not only enriching but also both fascinating and uplifting.

      But Fr. Carten has overperformed even here, and more so than usual, I am saddened to hear of his passing.

      I recall several mentions of him over the years and his input has always been great.

      I am deeply saddened to hear of his passing, especially as yet another bloody COVID casualty.

      Reply
      • Agree. I’ve provided tech support for something like 36 funerals in the last 16 months — sound guy, making sure photos run on the screen, live streams (because COVID). My wife says, “what a weird hobby.” I say it’s enriching and uplifting. How else would I know the stories of these people? HU is often the same experience, especially this one.

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  7. Thanks for sharing this story. The good father (Father?) was quite forward in his thinking. I have said many of the same things to my daughters, no means no. I agree with you that too many people don’t walk the walk. Thanks again.

    He was a good father (or Father), and so are you. Too many never broach such subjects, but that puts their children at a great disadvantage. -rc

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  8. This is such a great story, and beautifully told. Absolutely love that you wrote this Honorary Unsubscribe in first person, straight from the heart.

    For many reasons, I hope people with no direct connection to a Catholic priest will read your story — both to see the humanity of priests in general, but also Father Tom’s in particular.

    I’m so sorry for your loss of Father Tom. There is no doubt that your friendship was so special and meaningful to him.

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  9. Your story on Fr. Carten reminds me of a local priest we had in our small town. I am not Catholic but my wife is so we occasionally went to the church for holidays and our boys’ baptisms.

    Fr. Chuck is what I would describe as an old hippie. He is most definitely the antithesis of your ‘normal’ Catholic priest. He wore earrings, colorful garb and leggings, and his ever present Birkenstocks.

    I often said that if I were to start going to church services, I would go to his. His talks are lively, entertaining and informative. He has a gift for public speaking and keeps his audiences’ attention.

    It has been rumored that he was assigned our little parish as a sort of punishment because of his ways, and I really don’t doubt it. My wife’s grandmother came for a visit from South Dakota and she was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you at the way he performed his services. He is not for the conservatives in the Catholic religion.

    He makes no secrets of his own personal failings, his battle with alcoholism and also his adventures. He often goes on nature hikes to various places, most often in the Himalayas, Tibet and India. He is widely traveled and extremely smart.

    Perhaps he was not too much like your friend, but your story just brought to mind Fr. Chuck and his ways, which were different from the ‘normal’ Catholic priests that I have heard about.

    I think I would enjoy knowing him. -rc

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  10. I can only say that I wish I had known him. You are most fortunate to have had a mind and a man like that in your life.

    ​Keep on keepin’ on. I live for Monday evenings and TiT.

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  11. What a perfectly lovely man he was. He’s exactly the kind of man who is needed by the hypocrites who only talk the talk. Bless him. Thank you for a wonderfully written story about him.

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  12. I have started to pay attention to obits and eulogies. It has become evident that frequently the words, both spoken and written, cherry pick the best possible picture of the decedent — which is fine. What is more impressive is when the decedent is remembered with warts and all.

    As Fr. Tom described, we all have warts that we would rather no one knew about. The trick becomes living a life wherein the good outweighs the bad by such a margin that the words of an obit or eulogy do not seem to be cherry picking but rather a true reflection of a life well lived.

    I put effort into earning such an eulogy when the time comes.

    Reminder for others reading this: it’s best to start on this early. -rc

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  13. Thank you so much for letting us in on the life of Father Tom. It’s wonderful that you were able to flesh out your email correspondence with a face to face visit. Men like Father Tom are the rarity these days, it seems — those men (of the clergy, no less) who walk the walk, speak up for injustice and educate the next generation to respect themselves. The light of the world got a bit dimmer with his passing.

    And I am sorry for you personal loss.

    Thanks, Basyah. I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t really make it easier. -rc

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  14. Like a lot of your commenters here, I wish I had known the good man.

    But because of this H.U., I can feel (just a little) that I did know him (just a little).

    Of course I remember your mentions of your friend the priest. He always sounded like my kind of hero. I went to a Jesuit school (CHC! But College of the Holy Cross) and there were plenty of priests there that were a little like him.

    Please continue to make the occasional mention of Father Tom. As the saying goes, a person isn’t really dead as long as people talk about them.

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  15. Thank you for sharing this. I would have loved to have met Fr. Carten. You were indeed fortunate to meet him, although I think he would have been humble and said he was the fortunate one.

    I must admit I couldn’t figure out why the subject line in my gmail directory said :Goodbye Tom.”

    Heh! Sorry if I gave you a little scare. -rc

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  16. Thank you so much for this share. Tom was special for all his life and we communicated very often. We were friends for 78 years; Tom is my brother!

    Tom gave me Jim’s email address, so I let him know about this page. -rc

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  17. What an extraordinary human being he was — I am glad you had the chance to meet personally.

    I totally envy people with synesthesia, I have to admit. I am an Asperger too (maybe already mentioned it somewhere) and we are quirky people who always surprise NT people with our thinking.

    May Tom rest in peace and laugh with us from heaven forever.

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  18. Tom was/is a close friend of mine since 1979 and also his family. I’m blessed because of him and so are many others who knew him personally or came to know him through others! He was thrilled when Randy & Kit visited him!! Tom believed we’re here “for just a while” to LOVE as much as we can & to Learn as much as we can!

    Tom published a newsletter for residents of the home, and sent me the issue where he mentioned our visit. He was very glad to have the company. You are very fortunate to have known him for so long! -rc

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  19. Fr Tom sounds like a priest I would have liked. I have met a couple of other religious people that fit the bill but sadly not that many. When you said walked the walk and talked the talk, you meant it. Tom’s passing leaves us wanting but hopefully his students and listeners are able to carry his legacy forward, as you do. Thank you.

    That’s a good point: it’s awesome that a man like that was a teacher, and could impart a good dose of common sense and humanity to his many students. What a wonderful legacy! -rc

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  20. TC was a great mentor and friend while I was attending King’s College and reading with him on RHV. Truly a forward thinker in developing the visitor as a community service to benefit those who are visually impaired. Such dedication to have the show air 365 days per year. 25 plus years later I realize how valuable the experience was and look forward to the 7:00 PM recordings again one day. He will certainly appreciate this story!

    Great to hear from one of his students! -rc

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  21. I’m an atheist. And I would have been deeply honored to know Father Tom.

    And I suspect he would have liked you. -rc

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  22. I so wish I had known Fr. Tom (and a few more like him). Perhaps if I had, I wouldn’t have left the Church when I was 12.

    My condolences on your (and our) loss.

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  23. Incredible.

    That’s what I want my faith to look like.

    Thanks for sharing, and for all you do to encourage thinking folk.

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  24. I’m a practicing Christian and nothing is more frustrating to me than the slew of ‘Christians’ that are only that by label alone, yet bend what they believe as true just for their own personal whims or hypocrisy. Father Tom was truly a real man, of refreshing transparency, fearless honesty, and humility, of which if we had more consistent men like this in the church it would make for an incredible and life-promoting change for the personal health of many families. I really resonate with what he said about Cosby, and that the consequences of our failings must be adhered to in order to protect others. Talent or status should neither acquit or indict anyone; only their deeds should.

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  25. Thanks for breaking the rules to include this.

    Pretty much, I “had to.” I couldn’t not write about him. -rc

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  26. I consider myself an anti-hypocrite. I can’t stand people who do one thing and say another. In my youth I was one of those without realizing it. When I did, I took a really good look at myself and made the changes necessary to be the person I should be, someone who I could like. Father Tom is someone who I would have been proud to know. I’m glad you did this unconventional HU. Please do more of them when the merit is there. People like that, and like you, need to be made known to others. Thank you.

    I like how thinking turned you around. I will certainly do another HU like this should the situation warrant. -rc

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  27. With a few others mentioned above, I consider myself a Christian and I hope other feel that I “walk the walk” as well. I reject hypocrites about as much as Jesus did. I’ve met many clergy in many different denominations (and even some ordained ministers of other faiths — but don’t tell anyone!) who try to live up sincerely to their beliefs. Even though we all know, as humans, we fail again and again.

    Thanks again for your honest reporting and though I often don’t agree with your conclusions, I certainly agree with your major premise: we need more people who think for themselves.

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  28. I am sorry for your loss, but you are the richer for having known him. Let his memory be a blessing.

    What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. Only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.
    Hannah Arendt, ch. 2 of On Revolution (1963).

    Reply

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