It was the summer before my freshman year at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary, and I was helping my pastor prepare for a wedding at my home parish of Our Lady of Hope in Washington, Indiana. He was talking to me about seminary life and in walks an older man who I recognized from one of my visits to Bruté. His name was Fr. Tom Widner. He was the celebrant of the wedding that was to take place. He looked at me and said, “Oh yes, I know you. You’re coming to Bruté this year, right?” I told him that was the plan and that I was excited to be heading off to seminary, to which he responded in a laughing manner, “Just you wait, Tyler. You are in for a treat!” I certainly was. I would soon come to find out that Fr. Tom was my appointed spiritual director. We built a very good relationship in as well as outside of spiritual direction.
A group of us would often go to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Fr. Tom would always try and be a part of that. He certainly liked to dine with us at a local Italian restaurant where he enjoyed telling stories of days when he was in seminary. I must say some of his stories where very peculiar; he liked to keep us on our toes. We also had a lot of similarities as funny as this may sound. I recall one time I was standing in a dark doorway with my winter hat and coat on, and one guy came up behind and said, “Okay Fr. Tom, ready to go?” They were surprised when I turned around. It must have been the hat. Another time during our seminary Christmas gift exchange, someone “mistakenly” got Fr. Tom and I the same gift. Everyone thought that was the funniest thing for some reason, but the real funny moment was when he came down to judge the gingerbread houses in his Jesuit cassock and a Santa Claus hat. I think the whole seminary was shocked by that one.
Fr. Tom was always interested in talking about things going on in our world. He was a very cultured man who loved music, art, and literature. Above all though, he had a deep love for Christ and the work he was doing at the seminary. He was always there to provide direction and give counsel to anyone in need. At any time, day or night, a seminarian struggling with some issue or who just needed to talk could be confident in knowing that Fr. Tom would be there for them. I can say that my experience of having him as a spiritual director made this all the clearer. I could always count on being comforted by him but at the same time, he did something even more important; Fr. Tom challenged me. He would help me through some very difficult times which allowed me to grow in my own spiritual life. I can honestly say that Fr. Tom has been one of the most influential people in my life and I can confidently say he has been for others as well. One thing Fr. Tom made clear to all of us here is that no matter where we are in life, what we are doing, or who we are with, Jesus is our center. Without Christ in our lives, we will go nowhere. Fr. Tom showed us the importance of a Christ-centered life based in the sacraments and prayer.
The Bruté community has been blessed all these years to have Fr. Tom lead us in spirituality and be here as a great mentor and guide. I have been blessed to know Fr. Tom and am so very thankful for the love and kindness he showed to me and many others here at Bruté.
May Fr. Tom, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Tyler Underhill is a seminarian for the Diocese of Evansville and is a member of the Class of 2020.