“Nobody can be good at something if they don’t love what they do, and Father Tom loves his work and cares about people on the margins of society.”
That’s how Kevin Ahern, director of the peace studies program and assistant professor of religious studies, described Father Thomas Franks, the college’s new chaplain.
The announcement that Franks was appointed to the chaplain position at Manhattan was made on Aug. 21, one week before the fall semester began. Franks graduated as the valedictorian of his class from Fordham University in 2003.
The process to find a new chaplain after the passing of Father George Hill last September began with a job posting online and advanced with the assistance of the college’s human resources department. According to the department, hundreds of resumes were submitted and examined before narrowing down to three candidates to be interviewed via Skype.
After the initial Skype interview, the candidates were invited to interview on campus and met with the search committee group. They were introduced to Richard Satterlee, vice president of student life and college President Brennan O’Donnell.
“A college chaplain has to have a number of specific qualities,” Ahern said. “They need to be open to hearing students, faculty and staff where they are and they need to have practical skills to help members of the Manhattan College community, both Catholics and non-Catholics, deal with the struggles of life.”
The role of the chaplain is a unique position at a Catholic college. As chaplain, Franks will provide direction, guidance and pastoral care for the liturgical, sacramental and spiritual life of the campus community.
“Sometimes at a college, where we are so divided along schools, and sports, and dorms, it’s hard to see that we are one community… Fr. George, the former chaplain, had his own style and many gifts. Fr. Tom shares some of those gifts, but also brings his own experiences to serve our community,” Ahern said.
Conor Reidy, campus minister, also commented on the role that a chaplain needs to fill in their religious community.
“A new chaplain will bring energy, passion and stability to our College campus. Last year was difficult for our community—struggling with the grief of losing [Father] George, while trying to meet the needs of the liturgical and spiritual life of our students without a full time chaplain. I think a new chaplain will bring stability and new energy and ideas to our liturgical, spiritual, social, and intellectual life here at Manhattan College,” he said.
What first drew Franks to apply for the position at MC was the strong sense of community he found on campus when leading a handful of Sunday liturgies last year.
“In those brief moments there was a great sense of support and care among the students and faculty that I met and a sense of family that went well beyond the function of school. I could see the five core Lasallian principles embodied in the community and saw a great blessing in the opportunity to be a part of this on campus,” Franks said.
According to the Manhattan College press release posed on the college’s website, Franks was previously the pastor of the Roman Catholic Church of Holy Cross and Saint John the Baptist in midtown Manhattan for the past two years.
Prior to the merger of the two churches, he was the pastor of Saint John the Baptist from 2011 to 2015 and was parochial vicar from 2008 to 2011. He entered the Capuchin order in 1998 and was ordained into the priesthood in 2008.
Franks is described as kind, smart and great at his job by both Ahern and Reidy, and is also not afraid to climb out of his comfort zone.
Once, on a dare from some of the friars in Franks’ community he went to auditions that were being held in New York City for the game show Jeopardy in 2001.
“To my surprise, after the whole process I was selected for the show. I was all set to head out to California for taping when I was asked to go to Costa Rica with our community and missed the season’s filming dates. I never had a chance to get on the show, but am often reminded that I should give it another shot,” he said.
His brief television experiences don’t end there. Several years ago, someone stopped by the church in the middle of the day and asked him to help with a television program.
“I was sent over to a studio in Brooklyn to answer some questions for the taping of Nurse Jackie. It turned out they had a scene for a season finale involving the Anointing of the Sick and they wanted to make things as authentic as possible. I ended up meeting Edie Falco, setting the scene and working with the cast and crew throughout the week,” Franks said.
As Franks steps into his new role as chaplain, he has one message for the students of Manhattan College.
“Among Franciscans, the greeting ‘Peace and All Good’ is often used and dates back to our founding by St. Francis of Assisi. In beginning this journey as Chaplain of Manhattan College I extend that as a wish for our Lasallian community. As the world sadly so often experiences the opposite, I hope that we can find peace for ourselves, share it with one another, and know the goodness of God in all we do,” he said.