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03/10/2006
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Father Tobin celebrates 50 years as a priest
By Albert de Zutter
Catholic Key Editor

0310TobinTeresa.jpg
Key file photo
Father Pat Tobin with Blessed Mother Teresa in Calcutta during a retreat for the Missionaries of Charity in December 1980.
KANSAS CITY - What do children's ABC blocks, water purification tablets and tomatoes have to do with being a Catholic priest?

Just ask Father Pat Tobin, who will celebrate his 50 years as a priest March 18.

Father Tobin, 75, is officially listed as retired, but he continues to minister full time at St. Therese Parish, Parkville, one of the diocese's largest (3,200 families) and fastest growing churches. He also continues his pastoral work with the Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity and other projects to help the poor locally and throughout the world. His latest project is bringing drinkable water to as many children and adults as possible, wherever the need exists.

One of the greatest needs of the poor of the world, especially those suffering and dying of malnutrition, is for safe drinking water, Father Tobin will tell you. He has presented a slide show on hunger and safe water 1,000 times in public school classrooms and 800 times in private schools.

His pure water project involves the distribution of purification packets produced at a cost of 1 cent by Proctor & Gamble. Each packet purifies 10 liters of water, or a little more than 2-1/2 gallons.

Father Tobin said that several million packets were sent to Sri Lanka for victims of the tsunami of December 2004. The project helped the population avoid dysentery, diarrhea, cholera and typhoid.

"Two-thirds of the world's hunger problem is related to impure drinking water," he said. "Solving the water problem is a priority."

On March 18, Father Tobin will be celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest. Father Tobin was ordained on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1956, at St. Patrick Church, Maryville, by Bishop John Patrick Cody for the Diocese of St. Joseph. Later that year, the Kansas City and St. Joseph dioceses were merged into the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

His golden jubilee Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. at St. Therese Church, 7207 Highway 9, NW, with a reception to follow. There will also be receptions following the 4:30 p.m. Mass that day, and after the 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon Masses on March 19.

Thomas Patrick Tobin was born June 10, 1930, to Frank and Nora Kelly Tobin, who brought seven boys and a girl into this world.

Father Pat Tobin served in several parishes over the years, and also served as associate director of Catholic Charities.

In 1968, Father Tobin's pastoral outreach took an international turn. During the civil unrest in Kansas City in April 1968, he was pastor of Annunciation Parish at Linwood and Benton boulevards, an inner-city church that later became Church of the Risen Christ. Because he felt that the situation of inner-city youth was bleak, he asked Mother Teresa to send them a tape-recorded message. She responded, and they met soon after when she visited Chicago.

Subsequently, she asked him to come to Calcutta, India, to give a retreat for 800 Missionaries of Charity. He wired back, saying Mother Teresa must have made a mistake. Her reply was, "No mistake. Come to Calcutta." That led to his giving eight-day retreats to the sisters in 31 countries, often with Mother Teresa as co-director.

The theme of the retreats was service to others, or "Let the Jesus in you meet the Jesus in other people." His brother Maurice, an attorney in Washington, D.C., financed his trips.

His travels gave him first-hand experience of the problem of hunger worldwide.

Father Tobin said that he has long since adopted as his own life's slogan a saying of Blessed Mother Teresa's: "Unless life is lived for others, it is not worthwhile."

But his efforts on behalf of others preceded his friendship with Blessed Mother Teresa. In his work with Catholic Charities, he worked to get foster children placed or adopted, helped refugees from Castro's Cuba, and unmarried mothers through their pregnancies and getting their babies adopted.

As pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, he was also chaplain to Western Missouri Correctional Center there. He conceived the idea of having inmates make letter blocks for poor children.

But these were no ordinary blocks. They were cut, shaped and sanded by hand, and decorated with letters, numbers, shapes and stickers designed to enhance children's self-image. Father Tobin did not confine himself to directing the operation. He worked three nights a week, sanding alongside volunteer inmates.

The blocks then went to needy families through Harvesters, an agency that supplies food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the metropolitan Kansas City area, and which Father Tobin had helped establish.

In 1992, Father Tobin was honored as Missouri Corrections Association Volunteer of the Year. In addition to the children's blocks program, he also started a garden for the inmates. He furnished 2,000 tomato plants and 100 watermelon and cantaloupe vines to begin the gardening project. Subsequently, flowers and a greenhouse were added. The food they grew went to the poor.

Father Tobin took his gardening program to his parishes as well.

In the 1970s, as pastor of St. Louis Parish, another inner-city parish, and in the 1980s at Coronation of Our Lady Parish in Grandview, he got parishioners to plant gardens.

He told of a man on crutches who came to the stand where the produce was being displayed and asked if he could buy some tomatoes.

Father Tobin told him, "No, you can't buy any tomatoes. But go ahead, help yourself to what you need."

The man came back later and told him that those were the first fresh tomatoes he'd had in two years.

And that, Father Tobin said, made it worthwhile.

END


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