A couple of weeks ago marked the fourth anniversary of the passing of one of my best friends, and my golf partner, Msgr. Tom Harrington.
Everyone knew Msgr. Harrington. He was such a dynamic and lovable character, who loved his God and God’s people.
More than once, as chaplain of the Fall River Fire Department, he would leave the comfort of his bed in the middle of the night to respond to a fire scene to assist anyway he could. There is one iconic photo of him taken by an area newspaper photographer, of Msgr. T leaning out the second floor window of a burning building to escape the heat and smoke. That photo tells his whole story — as man, as a priest, and as a human being.
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but Msgr. Tom became a friend of my family through the years. We would offer him a ride home from a Sunday Mass after he wasn’t able to drive any longer because of his failing sight.
My daughters got know him during those times, and they very much enjoyed the Masses he celebrated. They dubbed him Father Santa Claus, because of his genuine jolly nature.
But my favorite memories of him are his coming into my Anchor office to talk sports, and of course the hours we spent together on the links.
The golf course was a great escape for both of us and we both eagerly looked forward to our next venture on (and around) the fairways and greens (and sand and water).
We would briefly talk religion, and then dive headlong into sports and our golf game.
He was a pistol. I know I’ve mentioned this before as well, but it’s such a great memory. I would line up a putt, and he would ask, “Are you sure it’s going to break that way?” I was certain it would, until he played that head game.
We always played for an ice coffee après golf, so it was important to win. I remember I marked my ball on the green with a medal of St. Kateri Tekakwitha I carried in my pocket. He got the biggest kick out of that. “Are you marking with a holy medal?” he queried, and said I would do anything to win.
I would have to watch the path of his ball when he teed off because his eyesight was limited. It would have been so easy to tell him it was in the woods or water, but who would do that to Father Santa?
Despite his poor eyesight, he insisted on driving the golf cart. Again, who can say no to Father Santa?
Great memories out there, but the last time we went out together was a sad time. We hadn’t even played nine holes yet, but I knew he was struggling. He was out of breath and very fatigued.
I told him we should call it a day, and his response was “But I don’t want to spoil the day for you.” Typical Msgr. Tom response — caring for someone other than himself.
We never golfed again, and the next golf season, he passed away. But I still have on my office wall, the only selfie he was ever in — him and me on the links.
I miss you, Tommy. The whole world misses you. But my life is so much more fulfilled having had you in it.
The next time we meet, I owe you an iced coffee.