December 2, 2016

Home parish helped Cardinal Tobin live out his vocation as missionary

After celebrating Mass at his home parish, Holy Redeemer Church in Detroit, on Nov. 25, 2010, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin stands in the church’s main aisle greeting parishioners for more than a half-hour. Archbishop Tobin was baptized at the church and was its pastor for several years after being ordained a priest. (File photo by Larry A. Peplin, The Michigan Catholic)

After celebrating Mass at his home parish, Holy Redeemer Church in Detroit, on Nov. 25, 2010, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin stands in the church’s main aisle greeting parishioners for more than a half-hour. Archbishop Tobin was baptized at the church and was its pastor for several years after being ordained a priest. (File photo by Larry A. Peplin, The Michigan Catholic)

By Sean Gallagher

The roots of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin’s vocation as a priest extend to his years growing up in a family of 13 children.

Defining Moments logo“It teaches you that you don’t have the final word in the sense that what I want doesn’t dictate the course of the family. It can’t,” said Cardinal Tobin, the oldest of the 13 children. “You learn to share. You learn to support each other. You learn to ask forgiveness.”

He also learned to pray, especially for vocations.

“After Sunday Mass, our most common prayer experience was the family rosary. We always ended with a prayer for vocations. So I think it taught all of us that we were praying for something good. It was also a witness to us kids that this was something that our parents, if God was calling us, would support.”

His parents supported Cardinal Tobin in his discernment without putting pressure on him.

“My dad said, ‘If you believe it’s God’s plan for you to be a religious and a priest, you do it. But you don’t do it to please me. I’ll love you and I’ll support you in any way that you think you’re doing God’s will.’ ”

Cardinal Tobin in part discerned a call to life as a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, commonly known as the Redemptorists, because members of that order staffed Most Holy Redeemer Parish, his home parish in Detroit.

Cardinal Tobin entered a Redemptorist high school seminary in Wisconsin, and became a novice in the order after his second year in college. During that year, he was faced with the challenge of learning how to enter into contemplative prayer.

“In my younger days, I always thought of myself as a man of action,” Cardinal Tobin said. “I always think that the novitiate is one of the most difficult journeys anybody makes because it’s a journey within yourself, looking at yourself.”

During his years of religious and priestly formation, Cardinal Tobin entered more and more into the missionary spirit of his order.

His pastoral work, largely carried out in an African-American parish in the inner city of St. Louis, was part of his preparation for ministry as a priest, which he began after being ordained in 1978.

Yet while his order spread to dozens of developing countries—prime mission territory—Cardinal Tobin was assigned after his ordination to his home parish, Most Holy Redeemer in Detroit, to serve its growing Hispanic community.

“I went back to my room and cried,” he said. “I had the notion of being a missionary. In my horizon at that time, being a missionary didn’t mean going back to where you started.

“I should have known that Jesus went back to Nazareth and talked to his own.”

Cardinal Tobin now recalls those years at that parish as “an absolutely fabulous experience of poverty.”

He thought again of it when he received the news that Pope Francis had selected him as a cardinal.

“I’ve thought of different moments early on—the people I met and what they taught me,” he said. “I think of being with dying people, being invited into the homes of families that were having problems. All of that has crossed my mind.” †

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