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Msgr. Thomas Hartman: Rabbi Gellman’s eulogy for a friend

Rabbi Marc Gellman, right, with his friend Msgr.

Rabbi Marc Gellman, right, with his friend Msgr. Thomas Hartman during a benefit for the Thomas Hartman Foundation for Parkinson's Research at Stony Brook University in 2012. The dinner took place at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Msgr. Thomas Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman formed a partnership they dubbed “The God Squad” in 1987 and started writing a weekly column for Newsday on religious topics in 2002. The next year, Hartman made public that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He continued to write with Gellman until September 2007. Hartman died Tuesday at age 69. “I cannot easily summarize almost 30 years of friendship,” Gellman said. “My heart is too heavy. This is the best I can do. May God receive his soul.” Here is Gellman’s eulogy for his friend.

The great American poet Mary Oliver wrote,

“To live in this world you must be able to do three things:

To love what is mortal;

To hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

It is time to let Tommy go, but not before we pray together that his soul might discover the best way to heaven, and that we might discover the best way to survive our deep and inconsolable grief at the loss of such a luminous life.

My eulogy for my dear friend is not for us. We do not need to have Tommy’s life neatly summarized and piously lauded. Knowing Tommy was like watching a diamond turn in the light. Each of us was privileged to see one or another facet of his holy life reflected into the world to bedazzle us with its love and kindness, its compassion and generosity, its sacrifice and its secrets.

My eulogy is not for Tommy’s extraordinary family who also does not need words because they watched him grow into a man in full, and then a priest in full who was able to be a father to thousands of families. What I most admire about all of you, particularly you, his dear mother, Sheila, was the way you and your beloved husband Herman, may his memory be blessed, prepared him for the priesthood by raising him in a home of unconditional love. May God comfort all of you among the mourners.

My eulogy is also not for his many friends. For some of you, like Mike Pascucci, Tommy was your most expensive friend because even though he never asked for anything for himself, he was always asking -- no the right word is offering -- opportunities to share your blessings with those who sleep in the dust. For Charles Dolan, who generously gave Cablevision viewers through the Catholic cable channel Telecare the opportunity to know the Good News of Jesus Christ besides the channels that offered viewers the opportunity to know the news of what the Kardashians are doing.

For Cal Kleinman, who along with Tom and me created the great Healing Lights Foundation. that in the early ’90s gave the newly emancipated peoples of Eastern Europe the healing lights of advanced mammography equipment; and received in return the healing lights of hidden and historic Torah scrolls that are the last survivors of the Holocaust.

For all of Tommy’s friends who visited him regularly at the nursing home and sneaked him chocolates. For Dr. Rachel Pullman, who healed what could be healed and tried without surrender to heal what could not be healed. For Bishop William Murphy and before him Bishop John McGann, may his memory be blessed, who cared for Tommy and who both informed and respected his unique ministry and vision.

For Veronica Allocca, who for years helped keep Tommy’s impossibly chaotic life possibly chaotic. For Eulalee Parker, who cared for him at the nursing home and washed him and prayed for him without ever losing hope or joy. For all of you, know that although love does not need to be repaid, all of you and others repaid Tommy’s love by giving him the great gift of knowing that he was not alone and that he was loved until the very end.

My eulogy for Tommy is also not for me. Our friendship produced many words, but it never needed words. I once asked a woman who loved a speech we had just given what she liked most. She replied, “Honestly, I don’t remember anything you said. All I remember is how he looked at you when you were speaking, and how you looked at him when he was speaking.” That woman knew what we were doing more than we knew what we were doing. Tommy taught me that smiles are more important than words, and I do not need words now to remember that transformative wisdom.

No, my eulogy is for the angels in heaven. I want them to understand how to take care of Tommy’s soul:


Dear Angels,

You have just received the soul of my friend Msgr. Thomas John Hartman, but he prefers it if you just call him Tommy. This is what you most need to know:

Tommy will need to wander off. He will need to find a way to be with those poor souls who did not make it to heaven. He will need to remind them that there is still some spark of God’s image burning brightly within them. Even if that spark has been buried under the dross of sin and weakness, Tommy can make them feel that they are loved and valued and embraced.

One day I called him and awakened him, which was strange because he usually called me very early every morning after Mass with the unwelcome but cheery greeting, “Is this the great Rabbi Dr. Marc Gellman?” And I, in my humility, would reply, “Yes it is.” But that morning he had slept in because he had driven to Albany from Long Island the previous night to stop a young man from committing suicide. I said, “You must have known him very well.” He said, “I didn’t know him at all. He just found my number and called me.” Tommy Hartman drove to Albany to help a total stranger find a measure of hope that had eluded him. All the good things Tommy Hartman did in his life will never be known. At a time when AIDS and homosexuality were still deep social taboos, Tommy built Christa House, in memory of his brother Jerry, whose soul you have already embraced. Christa House was the first AIDS hospice ever built on church property in America. He also helped build up Island Harvest so that wonderful food that was to be discarded could be gathered up and fed to hungry souls who thought it was their fate to have to eat garbage. Tommy will need to wander off.

Oh, and if you don’t have a television station in heaven, you will have one soon.

Finally, dear angels in heaven, I ask you to let Tommy talk to me occasionally. I know you and The Boss take a dim view of dead people talking to living people, and, truth be told, so do I, but Tommy believed that the boundary and barrier between life and life after death was neither ultimate nor impenetrable. And so, some day, I just want to be able to say out loud, “I am Rabbi Marc Gellman,” and then I want to be able to hear him say to me in his soft and healing voice, “And I am Father Tom Hartman, and we are . . . the God Squad.”


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