“Greater love than this no man hath,
that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Jn 15:13

I remember once sitting in Mass at Christendom, my alma mater. Father Hiesler was giving the sermon. As a highly involved campus chaplain, Father always knew the current happenings on campus and tailored his sermons appropriately. I remember during this time that many girls were going through tough times with boys and vice versa; Spring Fever had hit. As such, he was preaching about dating and marriage. Speaking of women, he said that females should be ready to imitate Mary, loving and serving in a way that was completely emptying. For men, he advised they wait, until they were ready to spiritually die for thier loved ones. Men, he said, were ready to seriously date and marry when they had an ardent desire to place thier lives daily at the mercy of their family. Like Christ, men should be willing and ready to die spiritually and physicall for their family.

I remember many more things about Christendom. The campus, the snow, the camaraderie. I remember the president, the chaplains, the students. Faces, names of faculty and staff pictured clearly in my mind. I remember one man, quiet, steady, constant. He was always there, on campus, talking to the guys and chatting with the girls. He was at all the sporting events, smiling, encouraging, teaching. This man did not lecture in a classroom; he did not have an office in Coeli. Rather, at the back of the campus, in a small room in the gym, he inspired the young men and women to do their best on and off the soccer field and gym court. He developed an intimate relationship with each of his athletes, causing them to grow and become deeply committed and resolute in all areas of their lives. He gave his all in that office, each day. He spent each day spiritually dying for his athletes.

I remember something else about this man. As tough as he was, he had such a soft heart. Always at his side was his youngest son, disabled by Down’s Syndrome. This man went everywhere with his son, letting him ramble around campus and make new friends. He always knew what his son was doing and where he was going. Oftentimes, when I was leaving workstudy, I would see these two, walking and talking as if there were nothing else in the world. Totally absorbed in his son, he would see me at the last second but always greet me with such kindness. I looked forward to seeing them on the way back to my dorm; he and his son always left me feeling better than before. I noticed his face was lit up each time his son was rattling about his thoughts. He loved his son dearly.

I was deeply saddened to hear the loss of this man on the Feast of Mary’s Nativity. Diving into a septic tank without a second thought, he held his son up for twenty minutes, so as to save his life and in the process he lost his own. Leaving behind a large and greiving family, he also leaves behind other things, as well. Athletes both from Seton High School and Christendom College, whom he watched develop during the most critical time of their lives. He leaves behind his son, Josie, who was the apple of his eye. A college and high school mourn the loss of man who martyred himself daily.

But, more than that, Mr. VanderWoude left behind a legacy, woven with inspiration and humility. News stations have covered his life; newspapers writing lengthy articles on his kindness and love. This man lived his life for others and, in the fulfillment of who he was, he laid down his life for his family. He truly was the pinacle of fatherhood: giving his life spiritually to ot his children daily and, finally, dying to save his son’s life. While many people grieve his sudden departure, Heaven rings out welcome for this Saint. A martyr, mirroring Christ, has come home to be with his own Heavenly Father.

Praise God for Thomas VanderWoude; glory to God for his complete selflessness. While we naturally mourn his loss, let all who knew him thank Christ. Thank Him for this gift of personified kindness, love, and strength. Thank Him for a living example of Christ’s love. For all the sadness I feel at Mr. VanderWoude’s death, I am astonished at what an amazing, Christ-like man I was gifted in knowing. Thanks be to God!

Eternal rest grant upon him, O Lord, and may the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace.

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