Monsignor Thomas J. Hartman was known affectionately as “Father Tom.” He was a super nice guy who gave up his childhood dream of playing baseball to gain a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. Later in life, when he developed Parkinson’s disease, he raised enough money to found the Thomas Hartman Center for Parkinson’s Research, which opened in 2013. I can’t believe he passed away just a few days ago. (See this New York Times obituary.)
He was a champion of ecumenism and interfaith harmony who shared a spotlight with his good friend Rabbi Marc Gellman. Together, they formed “The God Squad” — a dynamic duo that team-preached religious tolerance and high ethics.
Father Tom and Sri Chinmoy met on a number of occasions. They became friends and even played tennis together, back in the day. In 2001, Sri Chinmoy honoured The God Squad in one of his lifting ceremonies. Rabbi Gellman recalls:
There are days when my hope wanes and when doubts corrode my faith. On those days I say that faith without reason is blind. But there are other days when I see miraculous things, and on those days I believe that faith without miracles is empty. When I awaken I am never certain what kind of day it will be. However, today I am standing behind Sri Chinmoy. On this day I remember the miraculous day of May 23, 2001, when Sri Chinmoy lifted me, my pal Father Tom Hartman, and a platform up into the air. Together—with the platform—we weighed more than 500 pounds (I had a very heavy cell phone in my pocket!). Sri Chinmoy took a seat underneath us and pushed up. With his two 70-year-old arms, he lifted us up into the air. Fourteen years earlier Sri had lifted 7,040 pounds with his left arm. Fifteen years earlier, at age 55, he lifted 7,063 pounds—with his right arm. Sri Chinmoy lifted airplanes and elephants and over 7,000 people. In fact, we were told Sri had postponed lifting Al Gore that day in order to lift us, the God Squad. Sri believed in “Lifting Up the World With a Oneness Heart.” It was part of his belief that “the physical and the spiritual must go together. They cannot be separated.” The weightlifter and body builder Bill Pearl said, “I have learned from Sri Chinmoy that the size of the arm does not make the man; the size of the heart makes the man. Nobody on earth has done what Sri Chinmoy has done.”
— Marc Gellman, “Are Miracles Real?” Newsweek
A year earlier, Father Tom had written the introduction to a compilation of Sri Chinmoy’s writings, The Wisdom of Sri Chinmoy. Here’s some of what he said:
Sri Chinmoy’s deep love for God is known worldwide. Long revered as a spiritual force for peace at the United Nations, this humble God-directed author asks people of this planet to look within, to rediscover the essential truths of spirituality that have so blessed his extraordinary life…
He is a champion of peace, attracting believers from all religions to see the oneness of the world. He suggests that true religions are recognized by forgiveness, tolerance, compassion, oneness and brotherhood. His work lends itself to a wide audience. Christians, Jews, Muslims and other believers will find many passages in his works of deep insight and helpful suggestion…
I find his works to be personally helpful. In an age when stress is real and it is hard to find the proper amount of time to pray, Sri Chinmoy reminded me that placing God at the center of my life, my work and my prayers will help me to make this a better, more peaceful world and to become the person of faith and love that I am called to be.
Father Tom also very kindly conducted an extended interview of Sri Chinmoy for the Telecare Network. Here’s the video of that interview:
It was natural that Father Tom and Sri Chinmoy should have become friends. They both expressed a keen and abiding interest in interfaith harmony. Years earlier, in November 1977, Sri Chinmoy had held a meditation and tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the United Nations. This was filmed by WPIX-TV.
Father Tom embodied all that is deeply good in the human spirit and all that is good in Catholicism. He will be missed by millions of viewers who knew him as the gentle voice of tolerance, and the gentle face of God.