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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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in memoriam
Wednesday

Rev. Gavigan, first San Juan Provincial, dies at 71

Redemptorist Father Thomas Gavigan, who served for nine years as the head of the San Juan Province, died Wednesday, Nov. 9, at St. John Neumann Residence in Saratoga Springs, NY. He was 71.

"Padre Tomas," as he was known during the 39 years he ministered in Puerto Rico, was a native of Brooklyn, the son of the late Thomas and Helen Murphy Gavigan. He grew up in Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish and maintained a deep devotion to Our Lady throughout his life.

His Funeral Mass was offered at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica on Monday, Nov. 14, with burial following at the Redemptorist cemetery in Esopus, NY.

He began his studies with the Redemptorists at St. Mary’s Seminary in North East, PA, and made his first profession of vows in 1955 and his final profession in 1958. He was ordained to the priesthood June 19, 1960, at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY.

Father Gavigan served as a parish priest in Guayama, PR (1962-64); Aguadilla, PR (1964-65); San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic (1965-67); and Puerta de Tierra, PR (1967-70). That year, he was named rector at San Juan de la Maguana and, five years later, he was chosen rector of the cathedral in Mayagüez, PR.

He was elected Vice Provincial of San Juan in 1981; when the Redemptorist missions in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were raised to the status of a Province, he was elected and reelected Provincial. He returned to the United States at the end of his third term and, for a few months, served at Immaculate Conception Parish in the Bronx. When the new triennial appointments were made in August of 2002, Father Gavigan was named rector of St. Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia. He moved to St. John Neumann Residence at the end of July 2005.

So beloved was Padre Tomas in Puerto Rico that not only the San Juan Provincial, Father Manuel Rodriguez, but the former Provincials were in attendance at the funeral as well: Fathers Thomas Travers, Kevin Moley and José Rached. Other confreres from Puerto Rico also came, including younger men who benefited from the formation system he had established there.

Various confreres remembered Father Gavigan for his generosity, his warm hospitality, his wit, his devoted care of the sick, and his unfailing care and concern for his fellow Redemptorists.

Father Rodriguez described him also as "a man of vision" who accepted and met the challenges of putting together the structures needed to support San Juan’s status as an independent Province. "We didn’t have anything then; he’s the one who put the whole formation system in place," he said. Not only were his nine years as head of the unit a time of transition in status, but they also were a time of issues being raised concerning Puerto Rican cultural and political identity, and a general questioning and renewal of Religious life. "They were most difficult times, and I don’t remember that Tom, as Provincial, ever raised his voice in those nine years," said Father Moley in his funeral homily.

Father Travers, speaking at the wake service, noted Father Gavigan’s ability to create a homelike atmosphere wherever he was stationed: "I think he cleaned up, painted, fixed up every house that he was stationed in. The happiness and the quality of life of the community were important to Tom." Father Michael Hopkins, who served with Father Gavigan at St. Peter’s in Philadelphia, recalled that one of his confrere’s efforts to fix something in a Puerto Rican rectory led to his fall from a ladder which broke both his shoulders. The bones were improperly set and later had to be rebroken and reset, he added. Broken shoulders and all, he was able to say at the end of his life that he remembered only one day of his priesthood that he was unable to celebrate Mass.

Father Gavigan’s hospitality was well-known and extended beyond his confreres. When the mother of Father Hector Colon died, he invited the young priest’s widowed father to move in with the community. When Bishop Ulises Casiano was named Bishop of the newly-established Diocese of Mayagüez in 1976, he invited him to live with the Redemptorists until a house for the bishop could be built. He also extended the sense of family to countless lay people who had worked with the confreres, inviting them to become Redemptorist Oblates. Father Rodriguez said that Father Gavigan not only proposed more oblates than anyone else he knew, but also drew hundreds of people into a closer relationship with Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

His time in Philadelphia, although filled with increasing health problems and a manpower shortage, was one of joy in the spiritual vitality emanating from the parish and the Shrine of St. John Neumann, according to Father Hopkins. It was not a singular occurrence that a severely ill child he had blessed with a relic of the saint was brought back by a grateful parent after a new physician’s report showed the disappearance of the cancer or heart problem, he said. "And the miracles he found in the Sacrament of Penance were much greater than the physical miracles," Father Hopkins added.

A hard-working priest all his life, Father Gavigan was determined to finish his assignment at St. Peter’s and it was only after his term ended and Father Moley was appointed as his successor that he agreed to go to Saratoga Springs, where he could receive nursing care.

Despite Father Gavigan’s concern for the comfort of others, he himself lived very simply, Father Moley said. When he was getting ready to drive Father Gavigan from Philadelphia to Saratoga Springs, he looked for a trunk and found that all his confrere’s possessions were packed in a few bags.

Father Moley described his confrere as "a great pastor and a great superior." His parting message was: "Tom, we will miss you greatly because we love you greatly."

 

Rev. Thomas Gavigan C.Ss.R.

  • Born: January 1, 1934
  • Professed: January 1, 1958
  • Ordained: June 19, 1960
  • Died: November 9, 2005

 

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