Monsignor Thomas A. Kleissler, who launched a parish-renewal program that turned into an international movement, died on Tuesday February 2, at St. Catherine Healthcare Center, Caldwell, N.J. He was 89.
Father Tom, as he preferred to be known, co-founded RENEW International, which has been serving Catholic parishes for more than 40 years with processes that help the laity, meeting in small Christian communities, assume roles of leadership and service in the Church.
Born in Newark, Father Tom attended Seton Hall Prep and Seton Hall University and the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Darlington. He was ordained at Sacred Heart Cathedral on May 25, 1957.
From the beginning of his work as a pastor in the Archdiocese of Newark, Father Tom promoted lay participation in the life of the Church.
In 1976 Archbishop Peter L. Gerety asked him to develop the Office of Pastoral Renewal, which encouraged the formation of parish councils, and worked to engage the laity in a deeper relationship with the Lord. Then, together with the late Msgr. Thomas Ivory, he founded the original RENEW process in the archdiocese and was appointed its director.
Under his leadership, the mission grew beyond the original RENEW experience, developing RENEW 2000, Healing the Body of Christ (in response to the sexual-abuse crisis), Why Catholic? and many other programs for small Christian communities.
These processes have reached over 160 dioceses in the United States and 140 dioceses in 24 other countries. Father Tom traveled extensively to plant seeds of RENEW’s message of conversion and community in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
“Father Tom's legacy is not about a program or an organization but about a way of renewing faith, building communities of hope and gospel action, and transforming the Church and the world,’’ said Sister Terry Rickard, OP, president of RENEW. “It is largely because of his vision and his work that diocesan spiritual renewal, parish small groups, faith-sharing, and faith-based action are part of the fabric of Catholic life.”
Father Tom was a founding member of the North American Forum for Small Christian Communities. He wrote some RENEW publications and co-authored Small Christian Communities: A Vision of Hope for the 21st Century. During his retirement, he wrote his memoir, Beyond My Wildest Dreams, published by RENEW International.
Father Tom was predeceased by his parents, Elizabeth R. Fagan and Edwin A. Kleissler; his brothers Edwin and Richard; a sister-in-law, Gertrude Kleissler; and a niece and nephew. He is survived by his brother, Robert Kleissler; sister-in-law, Mary Jean Kleissler; and many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.
A Mass of Christian Burial will take place on February 6th at Our Lady of Mercy Church, 2 Fremont Ave., Park Ridge, at 11 a.m. (As seats are limited, online registration is required for all attending the Mass. To register, go to urolm.org). Visitation will follow from 12:30 to 2:15 p.m. (To view the Mass, go to urolm.org, click on live stream Masses, scroll to Mass of Christian Burial.)
Visitation will continue on Monday, February 8, at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, 424 Lincoln Ave., Avon, from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m., followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. Interment will follow at St. Catharine Cemetery, Sea Girt.
Arrangements are by Reilly Bonner Funeral Home, Belmar, NJ. To send a condolence or register for Mass, visit reillybonnerfuneralhome.com.
Donations may be made to RENEW International’s Msgr. TOM KLEISSLER MEMORIAL FUND: Online at donate.renewintl.org or by check (mail to: RENEW International, 1232 George St., Plainfield, NJ, 07062).