This morning was the Mass of Christian Burial for Tom Johnson. As David Lebedoff noted in the eulogy he gave at the service, but for COVID, not even the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis would have been large enough to hold the mourners who would have been there to pay their respects. (As it was, the Mass was held with a limited number of attendees at Our Lady of Lourdes, and livestreamed for the rest.)
It was my privilege to know Tom, who I met through his wife Victoria and my adult faith formation work at Lourdes. (Tom came to many of the talks I gave there.) It was my privilege to talk with him, laugh with him, and to see the love between him and Victoria.
It is impossible to adequately describe his life of public service in a short blog post. Upon leaning of his death, our Minnesota Governor, Tim Walz called Tom “a voice for the voiceless [and] a passionate pursuer of justice.”
Early in his career, as a member of the Minneapolis City Council, he fought for campaign finance disclosures, expanded anti-discrimination protection, and truth-in-housing inspections, to name a few. One of his last jobs was serving as clergy abuse ombudsman for the archdiocese here. Of that work, Archbishop Hebda (who presided at Tom’s funeral mass) wrote that “we are a better church and a better community because of Tom.
In between those two positions, in addition to time spent serving as County Attorney, Tom founded CornerHouse, an advocacy center for children who are victims of sex abuse. He also founded and sat on the board of the Minnesota Justice Research Center, which seeks fair and humane treatment for those int he criminal justice system. And much, much more.
Tom battled stage 4 cancer longer than anyone thought possible, several years longer than doctors predicted. Last Christmas, Tom wrote his own obituary. Among other things (some lighthearted, some less so), he wrote that none of his jobs gave him more satisfaction than “calling attention to the unacceptable racial disparities in the justice system and their cost to society.”
The second reading for Tom’s mass this morning was one I love, from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. There would have been no hubris in Tom penning these words himself.
For I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day,
and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
Rest in peace, dear Tom. We shall miss you. I have no doubt the angels are leading you into paradise even as I write these words.