THE ‘GO-TO’ MISSIONER

|| By Margaret Gaughan

A Maryknoll Brother lives his vocation by going where he is needed

The call to serve others as a Brother began to beckon Thomas Hickey when he was a seventh-grader at St. John’s School in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, N.Y. “I was impressed by the De La Salle Christian Brothers who taught me,” he says, adding that he was further drawn to Brotherhood at St.

Helena High School (now Monsignor Scanlan High School) in the East Bronx, where the Marist Brothers became his role models. But it was the Maryknoll Brothers he saw in the pages of his mother’s Maryknoll magazine—specifically a Brother wearing a pith helmet in Africa—that led him to follow in their footsteps after he graduated from high school in 1961.

“I felt Maryknoll was where God was calling me, not to sacramental ministry, but to be of service as a disciple of Jesus, journeying with others,” says this son of immigrants, whose mother was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and father in Limerick, Ireland. But the young Brother would have to wait a while before journeying with people overseas. He was sent to study accounting and to work in the Maryknoll Society’s business office.

In 1969 Brother Tom, as he prefers to be called, finally saw his dream come true when he was assigned to mission in Japan. His favorite tale from his time there occurred when he was helping in a parish on the northern island of Hokkaido and struggling to learn the Japanese language. “An elderly Buddhist grandmother who had been living with her son in Tokyo returned to her Catholic daughter’s home in our parish after her son threw her out,” Brother Tom remembers. “Ailing and upset by her son’s rejection, she went into the hospital. I visited her and we chatted. The old woman took a liking to me and invited me to come to her house any time I wanted to practice the language. I did go and in turn invited her to the church. Eventually, she asked to be baptized.”

Reflecting on that incident, Brother Tom says, “I was a brother to her just by showing a little care and love. That’s how we share Jesus with people. Using our gifts and being ourselves, we can attract people to God, like a magnet.”

Brother Brendan Corkery explains what attracts people to his classmate. “Tom is your ‘go-to’ guy who never lets you down,” says Brother Brendan. “He is kind and compassionate and interested in everybody and everything.”

Besides his five years in Japan and two years providing hospitality at the Maryknoll house in Rome, Brother Tom has dedicated most of his missionary life to service in the United States. “I have found joy and fulfillment being in whatever job needed to be done,” he says. He draws inspiration from veteran Maryknoll Brothers like Conrad Fleisch, now 103. “Brother Conrad never worked overseas but was happy building up mission by using his skills to maintain Maryknoll institutions in the United States, where missioners trained and from which they went forth,” says Brother Tom.

After almost 20 years of doing jobs for the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers that needed his business and organizational skills, Brother Tom was asked to turn his attention to the elderly members of his mission society. He took courses in gerontology and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and is now accompanying senior Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in assisted living. “I help with planned activities and prayer services for the men, but my main role is to be available for them,” says Brother Tom. His fellow Maryknoll Brother Wayne Fitzpatrick finds Brother Tom amply qualified for the job.

“Tom has a great gift to sense the needs of others, especially the elderly,” Brother Wayne says. “He is a patient listener and is comfortable in his vocation. He’s your brother Tom, a family member.”
But the affable Brother Tom is quick to point out that he relies on more than natural gifts to live his vocation. “My strength comes from daily prayer,” he says. “The Person I meet in prayer is someone who I know will listen. I can take whatever is bothering me and leave it in God’s hands. That focuses me for the day.”

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About the author

Adam Mitchell

Adam is the Senior Marketing Technologist at Maryknoll.