Friends, community remember Father Tom as caring, active and loving person
Steamboat Springs — There is no question that Monsignor Tom Dentici leaves behind a long list of big accomplishments after more than 60 years as an ordained priest for the Roman Catholic Church, but according to those who knew him best, it was the little things that made him special.
Dentici, better know as Father Tom, died July 17 after living with congestive heart failure for several years. His body may have failed, but the power of his words, his passion for caring and the impact on the people of this community always stayed true.
“He married people in this community, he baptized children and he was there for funerals,” longtime friend Barb Shipley said. “But he did so much more than that. He would stop and say ‘hi’ to you on a street corner and an hour later you would walk away changed. I would walk away knowing that somebody cared about me.”
Shipley, who knew Father Tom for 31 years, said it didn’t matter to Father Tom what a person believed, he always was willing to listen and always searching for ways to help everyone he met.
“He was an amazing listener,” Shipley said. “He would always listen first and then he would figure out what he could do to help, what he could do for that person.”
Shipley said that Father Tom didn’t have any living “blood relatives” in Steamboat Springs. His father, Sal Dentici, a concert violinist, died in 1992 at age 88.
But the family he received through his service could fill the largest nave in any church. Father Tom drew parishioners from Aspen and Vail — where he also had worked — and in Steamboat, his “family” filled the pews of the Holy Name Catholic Church every Sunday. He also was a fixture at St. Martin of Tours in Oak Creek.
“His family was his parish,” said Gail Haight, who, along with her husband, helped Father Tom on the final days of his journey.
Gail said Father Tom was terrific person, who enjoyed good food and celebrating holidays and other personal landmarks with the members of his parish.
“He loved good food and he loved celebrating with friends and their families.”
Barb will share her love for Father Tom during a 10 a.m. service Saturday at Our Lady of Peace in Sliverthorne. There also was a 6:30 p.m. rosary at the Holy Name Parish on Oak Street on Friday evening.
His impact on local communities
Father Tom came to Steamboat Springs in 1983, and it didn’t take long for him to have an impact. He spent 10 years as the pastor at the Holy Name Parish in Steamboat Springs and at St. Martin of Tours in Oak Creek. He helped inspire the idea and establishment LIFT-UP of Routt County Food Bank and always was concerned about taking care of the poor in often well-to-do communities.
“He was connected to a lot of people with means, but he never let that change him,” longtime friend Father Tom McCormick said. “He always led a very simple life.”
Father Tom was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up. He attended Niagara University and Seminary at Our Lady of Angels in New York. He also studied at Columbia and Fordham universities, Saint John’s in Minnesota and Pontifical North American College in Rome.
He was ordained a priest at the dioceses of Trenton in New Jersey on May 30, 1953.
“During his lifetime, the idea of what it meant to be a priest really changed,” McCormick said.
But Father Tom did not. Raised during the Great Depression, he never forgot what is needed to help the poor, and he believed in protecting life at all stages and guiding young people to good choices.
“He had extraordinary energy and heart,” friend Jo Lauter said. “People would come to see him because of his open heartiness and love.
“He cared for everyone without exception. He always gave the same unconditional love that is the basis of the Christian faith.”
He was dedicated to providing affordable housing as well as helping people with the everyday cost of life. He helped establish the first Catholic Charities’ offices on the Western Slope. He also guided 13 parishes on the Western Slope and passed along the message of the archediocese.
“He was the priest for priests,” McCormick said.
He spent his first 25 years of service in New Jersey, where he served as a pastor at several parishes, spent time teaching medical ethics at a hospital and later was appointed as diocese’s Office of Family Life director.
He also was the founding pastor of St. Roberts Bellarmine Parish in Freehold, New York. It was a parish that Father Tom always stayed connected to — even after leaving — and one that was devastated by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
Father Tom moved west in the 1980s where he found his place in the mountains of Colorado. He first landed at St. Benedict’s Monastery, where he spent four years living as a Trappist monk.
“He once told me that it was the monks who taught him how to pray,” Steamboat Father Ernest Bayer said.
But eventually, Father Tom discerned that his time as a monk was over, and he wanted to get back to the people of the parishes. He first served at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aspen before coming to Steamboat in 1983.
He never lost sight of the need to help the poor and even blessed Tom’s Door, a charitable organization that provides services to those in challenging financial circumstances in the Aspen area.
Father Tom spent 10 years in Steamboat Springs before heading to Vail. But when Father Ernest Bayer arrived in Steamboat Springs in 2005, one of the first things he did was reach out to the former pastor. Bayer invited Father Tom to come back to Steamboat in 2007 as pastor emeritus.
Bayer said that Father Tom loved the mountains, stayed active by Alpine and Nordic skiing, hiking and walking around town. The former high school track star embraced the mountain lifestyle and used it to connect with his parish and the community.
The past several years, his health had limited what he could do, and last year he moved to the Doak Walker Care Center, where his health continued to decline. He died at age 85.
Bayer said Father Tom was enthusiastic about the new church, but when the recession hit in 2011, he was more concerned about how the poor were fairing in Steamboat Springs.
He inspired the idea and helped start “Operation Good Shepard” to help the poor in Routt County, and in the process, he helped the parishioners understand what was really important.
“I’m going to miss him forever,” Lauter said. “But I expect to meet him again someday, and I’m not sad.”
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