Archive for January 7th, 2013

Heroes of the common good

January 7, 2013

New  Year’s always looks both ways. Janus was the two-headed god of the Romans from whom January gets its name. We have to embrace the future with enthusiasm and reflect on the past. This January  I thought a lot about 2 heroes of the common good who died. They were both great friends of mine.


Tommy McKillop, the quintessential Vatican ll priest whose vision of youth ministry was unparalleled in North America. Tommy was a late bloomer, a guy who wouldn’t quit.An only child of Scotties, he grew up in Toronto’s west end, a jock with a vision.He tried the Paulist order as a candidate for the priesthood but was drummed out. He had a speech impediment and the charism of the Paulists was preaching. Tommy never quit and as a late vocation entered the diocesan priesthood, to be ordained at 36 in 1964.

With several others he found himself caught up the new vision of  church which was roiling at the time: Vatican ll. He saw himself as a “servant-priest” with a gift for forming young people and this he did for 20 years, allowing youth to speak to youth. He was always Tommy, eschewing the unearned respect so many gave the priesthood, a  respect which infantilized so many. Tommy kept reading and listening. He was attentive to “the signs of the times.”He took the cause seriously, never himself. He was a loved man who had a concern for fellow priests. Many thought he was crazy. He kept on moving even after he had a stroke. Big T’s work earned him the Order of Canada, universal respect and great love. We shared a deep bond with our downtown baseball coach, Carmen Bush. It was CB who introduced me to Tommy in 1960 before he was even ordained. I loved the way he referred to Carm—as “the Voice”. Tommy died in February, a real throwback to the integrated priest types we knew in the halcyon days of Vatican ll.

Another great worker for the  common good who died last year was  my great friend “Buffalo” Bob Davis who died around the same time as Tommy. We met in the early 80s as he was engaged in critical curriculum work in the public school system, similar to my own work in Catholic education.To me he was the quintessential public educator. His life was also a living text, an open book which reflected the liberation perspective of the many courses he taught in both high school and university. Maybe his most amazing feat was developing and teaching a Black History curriculum as a white man. Such was his deep sympathies for those on the margins of history.


Bob never stopped thinking and writing about what teaching is all about, a passionate master teacher, always listening, reading, thinking, revising and caring about those with little voice. He was a regular member of my “communion of saints”, a fellow traveller, an inspiring friend. How fitting as well to have a memorial service  on Oscar Romero Day at Holy Trinity Church on March 24, 2012.

Tommy and the Buffalo, gone but never forgotten