The Cereal Box Series
not so random lessons that came from people along the way
Father Tom Lamanna, S.J.
I first knew him when he was the Christ Child's freshmen football coach. The school is pretty careful who they put in that position because the year is about absorbing tradition and creating norms as much as it is about the tactical ins and outs of football. If they lose and look good and act like gentlemen and are generous in all things, then it's been one heck of a freshmen football game at G Prep.
So I saw Tom Lamanna out there in shorts and a t-shirt on a hot August afternoon, working with the O line, going play for play with them, mostly because he could: he was fit, athletic and sharp. And they loved him, those half little boy/half grown boy boys of the freshmen class. He knew them, he knew football, he knew Prep and they fell right into line as he played his piper's song of team work, tenacity and faithfulness. As we watched our little boys change and become winsome big boys, practically in front of our eyes, we mothers wanted to go over to the treasurer's office and pay our tuition again. Practically. But I was clear from the first day that I was witnessing the divine, or God's face in our daily life as St. Ignatius would have it. And there was God in smelly, hot, tired boys of an awkward age. But Tom Lamanna saw Him first.
And so we were treated to the wit and wisdom of Tom Lamanna each night at dinner as the leaves turned red and gold, the nights grew colder and the stars multiplied and divided throughout the navy blue evening skies. As the Christ Child was the only kid left at home, he had the floor to himself and expounded at length on the teachings and dogma, The World According to Father Lamanna. Yes, turns out the guy was a Jesuit priest. The Christ Child's father and I both agreed that things were definitely looking up for the Jesuits. The school year was not 3 weeks old when the Christ Child began weaving Father Lamanna's directions and observations into other areas of his school life as affairs of the classroom, food drive, and class counsel began to unfold. The teachings of Lamanna, S.J. were everywhere. What a great year it was going to be. Our youngest child had successfully forded the icy cold middle school/high school creek with Tom Lamanna calling plays from the banks. Deep, blissful grace that parents can't imagine until they are in its midst.
That year at Christmas, the Christ Child had his Eagle Scout Court of Honor. The troop's sponsor was the Presbyterian Church and the ceremony was held there. I'm sure it was the first time in the history of the church that 6 Catholic priests spoke from the altar, such that Presbyterians have. Mostly, the diocesan and Jesuit priests spoke of the Christ Child and how he had grown and flourished in Scouting and church and their hopes for his future. Father Lamanna was batting clean up that evening and spoke about what kind of a football player the Christ Child was; but much of it had already been said. He spoke of his character and that too had been covered. And so he downshifted and drove into the teachings of Our Lord with power and authority. He delivered a brilliant, brief homily on service and leadership, keenly tied to the credos of Scouting. Although it was Scouting event, although it was a Protestant church, although, although, although Father Lamanna did not lose an opportunity to lay out again, who we are and what we do, as a Catholic and Christian people. It was leadership of the finest and first order and we were deeply proud to turn to all and say, Father Lamanna is a teacher at our school. And it was a moment of quiet, crystal-clear clarity; especially for those who really wondered why we were Catholics and how we lived our life as Catholics.
But football was over and Father taught classes that freshmen don't take and that's how we didn't hear or see so much of him after the Eagle Court of Honor. The next year he worked in the school President's office more and spent an increasing amount of time in Portland, working in the office of the Provincial. The next year he transferred to Portland completely.
It was totally random but sometime after he had moved to Portland, we heard that Father Lamanna was pronouncing his final vows that very night in Spokane. We scurried to regroup and reschedule and hustled over to GU early, because we had no idea what time the gig started and we didn't want to miss a minute.
One by one, his family and friends, his Jesuit colleagues arrived. Father Lamanna himself came just on the side of late for a mass being said for him and greeted us warmly. He said, "What are you doing here?"
We said, "We came for your mass and to hear your vows!" He was puzzled as to why we'd brave a cold, snowy winter night on this type of an errand but hugged us and thanked us. I wonder what he thought when he came out for mass and saw a beaming SRO crowd.
The Provincial, Father Whitney, said the opening prayers and led the profession of faith. Then Father Lamanna stepped up to the lectern to give the homily and the room grew perfectly still with anticipation. He spoke about the rigor and regimen of becoming a Jesuit; it takes 17 years. He talked about where he had worked and told a humorous anecdote or two as he laid out his apostolic CV. He was utterly stunning as he recounted his life as a Jesuit-- articulate, keen, handsome, charming. But he did it again: with practically no warning, he downshifted and laid out the blood and guts, the heart and soul of what the evening was about, as far as he could see. He said:
But I would not be here tonight if it wasn't for you and your prayers and prayers of many who are not here. None of this would have been possible for me except for your prayers and your faith, and for that I am deeply grateful.
And then left the lectern. There was no intellectual rendering of the call to serve others; no revelation of a powerful Ignatian moment; no righteous exhortation of what Christ would do in any instance. He simply told the truth of where he was and what he really was thinking and the strength of faith in his life and then had the courage to know it was more than enough. Tom Lamanna is a deeply humble man whose only need at arguably the biggest moment in his life was to say
I owe this all to you and Our Father.
He then made his final vow of obedience to the Holy Father, recalling his earlier vows of poverty, chastity and obedience made fully 15 years previously. I will always remember the light of that dark winter night and how it illuminated having all that you need, giving without counting the cost and showing courage and truth any moment, big or small.
Pure and unfettered humility is potent and powerful antidote for the treachery and despair of the dark and that's what Tom Lamanna taught me, when he nor I were barely looking.
The 'Kan EWA