by Penni Cannova
Our lives provide many opportunities for work, and much for enjoyment, but the opportunity to interview Tom Norton on the eve of his retirement from St. Isidore provided this Harvester staff member great pleasure and privilege. Meeting with Tom in his office decked with mementos of family, friends, and
experiences, we sat down to talk of his time at St. Isidore, his plans, and the gifts of God’s grace in his life and the life of his family.
St. Isidore Parish has known great leadership, compassion and vision in Tom Norton. Tom joined the parish staff in 1994 as a part-time Peace and Social Justice Coordinator.
He took over from Carolyn Ford, who started our peace and justice ministries under Father Joel. Tom and his wife, Sue, had volunteered much in this ministry and Sue suggested Tom apply for the position when Carolyn was moving. Tom did so and describes how he learned as he went. “The Spirit got ahold of me,”, he says, and he furthered his work with a second part-time position in social concerns ministries at Resurrection Parish. While at Resurrection, in 1999, Tom started the work of combining area food pantries, leading to the creation of what later became known as Neighborhood Food Pantries. After leaving Resurrection, Tom worked part time as NFP’s Executive Director until 2019.
Father Tony found the size of the parish too much for his vision of leadership as a priest when he came to St. Isidore in 2002 and asked Tom to serve as Parish Administrator, giving pastoral direction to the staff. When Father Jim came to lead St. Isidore, he wanted a more hands-on, administrative role for himself, and Tom shifted to work within Stewardship and Communication. Tom also helped Leonor Carvajal for a time in Evangelization, citing the huge work of teaching adults in a parish of this size.
Coming down to his last few months with us, his “biggest joy is working with dedicated parishioners.” He speaks of the incredible influence St. Isidore has made on his family. Each of his four children, who grew up in the parish, are in helping professions. “This is where we learned to be disciples,“ said Tom. He credited Father Joel as a primary mentor and spiritual leader in his ministry career.
Tom said he would rather be a leader than a boss, although he certainly learned to take on that role too. He said as an introvert, he was a reluctant leader but that God called him to that, so he followed and trusted. Tom is still listening; he has a heart for this work and hopes to volunteer or work part-time in ministry. His goals for retirement center on Three Gs: Golf, Grandkids, and Gainful part-time employment”. He laughed in saying that the last one should happen if only because Sue is still fully employed and she may wish him to be out a bit from the house.
Father Jim had joked with Tom that he had survived four pastors in his time with us. Tom smiled in response that four pastors survived him. His tenure encompassed all of us, and his deep kindness, compassion, humor, and quiet strength of vision have lifted each of us. Tom’s gentle way of saying hello, of looking at you like God’s own had just walked up, of truly listening, are gifts of God’s grace to us all. We will miss him very much but know better than to get in the way of someone listening to God and walking the path he is called to.