Rest in Peace, Tom McLaughlin

Please join me in praying for the repose of the soul of Tom McLaughlin, one of the most brilliant catechetical minds I’ve ever known. I benefitted immensely from “sitting at his feet” over the years. Tom passed away this morning at the age of 64.

I met Tom when I was a baby DRE in 1991. I attended sessions at the Office for Catechesis to learn about my new ministry as a catechetical leader. Tom was one of the presenters, impressing upon us newbies the importance of striving for professionalism and the need for just remuneration in our ministry.

6 years later, I had the pleasure of joining Tom at the Office for Catechesis in the Archdiocese of Chicago and setting up my office next to his. We became fast friends, sharing a love for things like Star Trek, the Cubs, camping, and, of course, catechesis. When he left to go to Loyola Press, I followed within a year and our friendship continued to grow.

Needless to say, Tom was unique. After a brief “stint” as a monk, Tom got a job as a janitor in a Catholic Church. When help was needed in the religious education program, Tom stepped in an never looked back. He was incredibly brilliant and yet enjoyed simple pleasures. He’s the only person I know who would read Church documents while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on TV. He would often make off-the-cuff remarks about things like having a new insight about the Catechism of the Catholic Church as he read it through for the 3rd time, as though he assumed everybody read the Catechism multiple times.

Every day was an adventure with Tom because you never knew what was going to come out of his mouth. You could always count on him blurting out a comment at a meeting that would ease the tension and send everyone rolling on the floor (or at least rolling their eyes). Outside of the work place, Tom and I enjoyed many great moments together. One of them was camping at Starved Rock State Park where he tied his hammock between 2 trees, invited me to lay down in it, and laughed uncontrollably when the hammock came loose and I went tumbling to the ground.

The grave of William Hulbert, first president of the National League

Another was getting in the car and driving to Cincinnati in 2003 to watch the Cubs play when it appeared they might be closing in on that elusive World championship. We drove in the morning, took in the ball game, drove home, and showed up at work the next morning after about 2 hours of sleep! Tom was a die-hard Cubs fan and kept a schedule on his desk, coloring in wins and losses each day. The day after the “Bartman” fiasco occurred at Wrigley Field in the 2003 playoffs, Tom and I went to Graceland Cemetery in Chicago to “pray” at the grave of William Hulbert, the first president of the National League, hoping the Cubs would pull out a game 7 victory. No such luck.

My favorite, however, is the day I invited Tom to stay at my house after work until the presentation he was giving that night at a parish in my neighborhood. When my daughter came home from grade school, she came running into the house telling me, “Dad there’s some old man sitting in the back yard reading a book!!!”

At Loyola Press, Tom made many incredible contributions, not the least of which was writing the entire Glossary for the Finding God curriculum! He was also instrumental in the creation of the Confirmed in the Spirit Confirmation program.

Tom left Loyola Press in 2009 and returned to the Office for Catechesis, however, his health began to deteriorate rapidly (Tom suffered from diabetes). As the years went by, dementia began to set in. On more than one occasion I made arrangements to get together with him only to have him forget. As his health deteriorated, he became more and more of a recluse. The last time I saw him was about a year ago when I visited him in the hospital after he had a heart attack. Something told me then I might never see him again and I kissed him on the cheek as I said goodbye.

Through another good friend, I kept tabs on Tom and learned just a week or so ago that he had taken a turn for the worse and was not expected to live long. The news of his passing came this morning.

Tom was the last person that I could honestly call a “best friend.” In life, most of us are lucky to have several best friends. I have many good friends, and numerous acquaintances, however, when it comes to best friends, aside from my wife, I really only count a friend from childhood and another from high school. Unfortunately, however, the opportunities for us to see each other are infrequent due to distance. Tom was a best friend that I got to see every day for about 12 years and I give God thanks for each and every one of those days and for Tom.

Rest in peace, good friend.

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. What a nice requiem. As a fellow Die Hard Cubs fan, I hope he offered up the pain for all the souls in purgatory. I will offer up this year’s pain for Tom. By the way, as a 5 day teacher of religion and social studies and a PRE teacher, too I am very impressed by the Loyola Press textbooks. I thank you and Tom for your efforts.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Steve, about Tom and the textbooks!

      There’s a lot of pain to offer up for the souls in purgatory when it comes to the Cubs!

  2. I extend my sincere sympathy to you, Joe, and Tom’s family, friends and co-workers. May his soul and all the souls of the faithfully departed rest in peace.

  3. Oh, this made me cry! I had forgotten about Tom’s habit of coloring in the Cubs’ wins and losses. And remember when a group of us went to see “This Old Cub”?

    • I do indeed remember that Beth. I almost included it in my post but opted to keep it short. Thanks for bringing it up.

  4. I learned a lot from Tom, and he always made me laugh. Tom started a Finnegans Wake reading group at loyola. We discussed it once a week at lunch. Of course, Tom had read it 3 times already and had a lot if it figured out. Of course! He is the only reason I read that book. Tom will be missed.

  5. Thanks Joe,

    Tom was the first person we turned to when we knew we needed more expertise for developing Finding God. He was always honest, worked well with the young editors who became fast friends. I remember many a day at lunch Tom sitting with his groupies as they deciphered Finnigan’s Wake.

    My favorite memory was when we worked together in the Office. Our boss told us how she had spent the weekend going through a series of DVD’s on the Second Vatican Council. Tom said that he spent his time watching Men in Black.

    • That’s our Tom! Thanks Jim. I’m so glad that we share memories of Tom from not only Loyola Press but also the Office for Catechesis!

  6. I worked with Tom when I was an organizer in Chicago and he was the DRE at St. John Berchmans in Logan Square. I will always remember his strong faith and hope for the future of the church and it’s role in making the world better. This hope was always grounded in an appreciation of what was really happening in people’s everyday lives. Rest in peace Tom. Love, Ann

  7. Hello Joe,
    I met Tom when I was in third grade and he was the DRE at St John Berchmanns. He ran the Rainbows program for kids from divorce or death situations. Meeting him had a huge impact on who I am today. He must have sensed something in me because he took me under his wing. Perhaps he thought I was intelligent or figured I needed a male figure in my life. He took us out on all sorts of excursions, about once a month for years. Tom and I did everything from museums to movies. He introduced me to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and to the beauty of classical music, especially Vivaldi. He brought me to my first (and only!) opera and to the opening of “Total Recall”. He introduced me to REM, NPR, and The Nation. He took me to my first anti-war protest back before Iraq part 1. Most times we ended up walking Chicago streets for hours. He would read Sagan and Hawkins to me, and said it was as much for him as me. He said if he could explain to me, it meant he truly understood. He had my family over to his house and cooked for us. He may have started his editing career while I dictated my school papers to him as he typed them on the original Word Perfect.
    Our biggest adventures were the two times he took me backpacking on Isle Royale. We laid out and saw the stars in a way I never saw them before. He pointed out everything of interest in the sky. He even pulled the same hammock joke on me or at least found it a riot that I landed on my ass. We kept journals on our trips and shared passages. He was reading Whitman on one of those trips. I was trying to get through my high school honors reading list, and he always provided insight that would prove invaluable. As high school and its activities grew, I talked to him less and less, much to my regret now. The last time we talked I was a young adult and we made plans to see a Cub game. That never happened.
    I came across this page months ago. Wasn’t till now that I felt the need to reach out to someone else who was close to him. He exposed me to so many things and helped form much of who I am today. I wish he could see me married with children.
    I have wondered what may have become of his journals. I would love to read all his passages of those times backpacking. He had an amazing mind and heart, and it was very saddening to read of his passing and even more so knowing we should have stayed in touch.
    Thank you for your beautiful memorial writing. It brought back the feeling of how much he meant.
    Dave Foley

    • Dave, thanks for sharing your wonderful memories of Tom. I continue to think of him often and miss him dearly. Blessings.

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