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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Father Thomas Corbino from St. Anthony Parish, Frankfort, Illinois
Today, nearly 30 years after putting on the Roman collar, he knows he was right to say “yes“ when called. And he finds joy and comfort in his work as a diocesan priest and his membership in Regnum Christi.

Father Thomas Corbino
“The first time I walked into St. Peter’s in Rome, my eyes tracked to the dove above the alter – the symbol of the Holy Spirit. It was that same bird that I saw in my dream years ago.”
Fr. Thomas Corbino grew up in a time when the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago had a comfortable calm about it. But he realized his vocation during the turbulent days after Vatican II, when anti-war demonstrators filled the nightly news and it seemed the last thing a young man would want to become was a priest. Today, nearly 30 years after putting on the Roman collar, he knows he was right to say “yes“ when called. And he finds joy and comfort in his work as a diocesan priest and his membership in Regnum Christi.

One of Fr. Thomas Corbin’s early pastors had a tradition of occasionally placing a berretta, the small black hat favored by some religious, on the head of a boy he thought had what it takes to be a priest.

Young Tom Corbino often got the hat. The pastor seems to have been blessed with considerable insight.

Fr. Tom started thinking about the priesthood as a small boy. Through the years of childhood, youth and college, those thoughts continued, bolstered by prayers, dreams and well-placed encouragement.

“My earliest childhood memory is of my mom taking me to church, showing me how to use holy water and genuflect,” Fr. Tom said. “I was about four years old at the time. By the time I was in the second grade, I was actually talking about being a priest. And I was encouraged by my mom and the wonderful nun who was principal of my school.”

School in those early years was at Holy Trinity, a parish in what was then Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood along Taylor Street. In was the 1950s and the parish school was small, with four nuns teaching and two grades assigned to most classrooms. Fr. Tom said the nuns had an incredible impact on his life, as they seemed to be the backbone of the school and church -- doing everything from teaching to cleaning to cooking to running fundraisers.

Fr. Tom also remembers the two pastors who served at Holy Trinity during his early years, both dedicated and holy priests who would occasionally ask whether he had an interest in the priesthood. They encouraged him, but more than that, they were the models of what he wanted to be.

Fr. Tom’s family settled in Lombard, a far west suburb. He continued high school in Chicago at St. Philip High School, while the family joined St. Pius X Parish in Lombard. At St. Philip’s, the Servite priests also encouraged him in considering a vocation to the priesthood.

“I’m a priest today because of several great pastors, some wonderful nuns and priests who modeled for me what it means to be a priest,” Fr. Tom said. “They encouraged me – they were my models.”

After high school, Fr. Tom attended St. Precopius College in Lisle, Illinois (now Benedictine University). Thoughts of the priesthood continued, but took a back seat his first couple years in college, as for the first time he received considerable discouragement about his vocation.

It was the 1960s, a time of cultural upheaval in the United States and the Catholic Church. American students protested the war in Vietnam and many turned to a free lifestyle that seemed based on sex, drugs and rock & roll. While that might not have been the atmosphere at St. Precopius, few students had an interest in a religious vocation. Most wanted to get married, have a family and get a good job.

“Friends from high school and college just couldn’t understand why I would want to be a priest,” Fr. Tom said. “They thought I was giving up too much. Even my father had doubts, mostly because he feared losing a son and not having grandchildren with the family name – I was the only boy in the family.”

Ironically, Fr.Tom eventually became a priest of the diocese where his parents lived, while his two sisters moved far away.

“I saw my parents fairly often,” Fr. Tom said. “ Sometimes, Dad and I would walk around the local shopping mall and kids who recognized me from church and high school teaching would come up to say hello. I think he realized that I might not be a dad like him, but I still have many children.”

“Dad died about 16 years ago, suddenly, of a heart attack. I visited him just the day before and his last words to me as I left were that he loved me, he was proud of me and he was glad I was a priest.”

But in the 1960s, it had taken an amazing leap of faith to enter religious life. Vatican II was changing the church, not always in ways intended.

“I had always felt comfortable in the church,” Fr. Tom said. “I liked being in the building, praying before the Blessed Sacrament. But I knew that the church I grew up in would not be the church in which I would serve as a priest. So much was changing. The issue became not whether I wanted to be a priest – I did. But I wasn’t certain what it would be like.”

“I believe I was called to be a priest and my answer was ‘yes,’” Fr. Tom said. “There never really was a question of not being a priest – only a question of what my life would be like.”

A couple years of college completed, Fr. Tom entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, in Lockport, Illinois, where he finished college. From there, it was on to Conception Seminary in Missouri. He finished his studies for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore.

“It was a time of incredible transition at each of the three seminaries,” said Fr. Tom. “Both Borromeo and Conception closed within a couple years of the time I was there. With all the changes in the Church and society, the seminaries were trying to define their place. I received good formation, a solid foundation in theology. And I continued to ask God to show me his will for me – and continued to get the answer of the priesthood.”

Fr. Tom was ordained in 1972, at his family parish. For the first four years, he served at Immaculate Conception Parish and high school in Elmhurst, Illinois. As chaplain, teacher and department chairman, he was asked to go to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, in Lockport, as Dean of students and teacher. After that, he returned to Immaculate Conception in his former position. The parish included 33 nuns and five priests on the grade school, high school and parish staffs. However, this began to change as many priests and nuns began to leave religious life. But for Fr. Tom, leaving was never so much as a thought.

“I know I was called to my vocation, that it was the work of the Holy Spirit,” Fr. Tom said. “It was the right decision. Whenever I feel discouraged, I spend time before the Blessed Sacrament and I’m reminded that there really is nothing to fear, that nothing of real value can be taken away.”

“As a young boy, I had a recurring dream,” Fr. Tom continued. “I was in the church, kneeling at the communion rail. A white bird descended on me from the top of the church. The first time I had this dream I was afraid and woke up choking and crying. But after than, I wasn’t afraid.

“The first time I walked into St. Peter’s in Rome, my eyes tracked to the dove above the alter – the symbol of the Holy Spirit. It was that same bird that I saw in my dream years ago.”

After his time at Immaculate Conception, Fr. Tom went on to various assignments, first as an associate pastor, and in his last two churches, as pastor. He has had a range of experiences, including the building of a new church in Warrenville, Illinois.

In early 2001, Fr. Tom joined a group of pilgrims to Rome, where he became a member of Regnum Christi, the apostolic movement affiliated with the Legionaries of Christ. He explained:

In relation to diocesan priests, a membership in Regnum Christi is a sharing in the charism (gift) of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi. It is not a canonical commitment (Church law) such as the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi.

This allows the diocesan priests to live out his vocation among his people with active support. It is not for everyone, but it helps a priest who so chooses in living his mission as assigned by his diocesan Bishop (e.g. as a pastor or parochial vicar).

Thus Regnum Christi offers to diocesan priests a Christ-centered spirituality based on the habit of prayer, spiritual direction, and retreats. It allows the diocesan priest to live out his commitment with other priests “praying together, reflecting together, and growing together”. Teams of priests help each other to grow and this impacts the personal/spiritual life of the priest.

Finally, it encourages diocesan priests to join in the charism of helping to develop “lay apostles” and “to evangelize” and “to propagate the faith”. By strengthening our own faith as priest, we help to strengthen the faith of our people, to develop a formation of our lay people and to develop active, committed, properly informed, and correctly formed lay leadership to carry out the mission of Christ and his Church.

He clearly enjoys his life of sacrifice and service. Material goods have little meaning for him, although there is one gift he received at the 25th anniversary of his ordination that holds special value. It is a black berretta just like the one the pastor put on his head five decades ago. It turned out to be a perfect fit.



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