35 Years of Hope: Brother Tom (Honoree, Sister Therese Service Award)
Brother Tom Collins, an Edmund Rice Christian Brother and Chicago native, is a teacher to his core. He studied chemistry as an undergrad, earned a master’s of science in chemistry from Notre Dame, and went on to earn a master’s of education in school administration and a master’s in Christian spirituality.
As Brother Tom was learning, he was teaching. He taught chemistry for 58 years, including 35 years at Brother Rice High School, where he also served as Principal in the 1980s.
Now retired from teaching, Brother Tom is an avid photographer who took an estimated 25,000 photographs each year for Brother Rice High School. He also drives 100 miles each week picking up and delivering donated food to St. Martin de Porres House of Hope and other organizations. “I’m a food hustler in the first order,” he says with a smile.
Brother Tom came to St. Martin de Porres House of Hope to teach in 1994, and has continued to do so ever since. “I would bring Brother Rice High School students and teachers to St. Martin’s to tutor the residents’ children. There were many children living at the home in the primary grades. After I while, I suggested to Sr. Therese that I could work with the women, teaching the GED program. The two nuns got religion and mandated that residents who did not have a high school diploma had to get a GED. I come to St. Martin’s every week to tutor women for the GED.”
Brother Tom doesn’t just tutor the women ” he encourages them to believe in themselves. “They respond so positively to any type of encouragement we give them. They may not have met with success in the past with their schooling, and some of them have been out of school for 20 years and they may say “Oh, I don’t want to do this,'” Brother Tom says. “But we encourage them to give it a try and to work on it. When they do get their GED, typically the state just sends you a piece of paper in the mail, but we make a big deal out of it. I get white academic gowns, we come in the dining room and I play Pomp and Circumstance, we have a cake with their name on it, and we give them a dozen roses. We really make it a big deal.”
“I’m impressed by the people who are here and the struggles and things that they’ve faced,” Brother Tom says “I keep coming back because they’re a wonderful example of courage.”