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.
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.
|“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.”|
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
“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.
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
“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.”
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
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
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.