FAIRHAVEN — Father Thomas McElroy, ss.cc., an ordained member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary-United States Province, passed away on Friday, October 6, 2017, at his home at Damien Residence in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
Fr. Tom, who had valiantly battled cancer for the past four years, was born to Thomas and Margaret (O'Loughlin) McElroy on February 12, 1940 in Providence, Rhode Island. In addition to his SSCC family, he is survived by his sister, Maureen Habershaw and her husband Joe, and his twin brother Robert McElroy and his wife Ellen as well as many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. He was pre-deceased by his two brothers, William McElroy and Paul McElroy.
Fr. Tom, who recently celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Ordination, has been a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts for over 57 years, having entered the novitiate in Fairhaven in 1960 at the age of 20. He professed his first vows on September 14, 1961 in Fairhaven, and was ordained to the priesthood on June 7, 1967 at Queen of Peace Seminary in Jaffrey, New Hampshire.
During his more than fifty years as a priest, Fr. Tom served his community in a wide range of ministries. After beginning his career in an inner-city parish in Rochester, New York in 1967, he was assigned to Queen of Peace Church in Harlingen, Texas in 1970. A mission parish founded by his community in the Diocese of Brownsville, TX, he served the people along the Mexican/American border there for five years.
From 1975 to 1983, Fr. Tom was assigned to the Formation Team at the Sacred Hearts House of Theology in Washington, D.C. During his ministry there, he did extensive work with military families in the DC/Virginia area where he formed life-long friendships, continuing to give a retreat to a group there every year for over 35 consecutive years.
In 1983, he became pastor at Our Lady of the Assumption in New Bedford. He later served as pastor at St. Francis Xavier in Acushnet and St. Joseph in Fairhaven. A respected retreat master, in 1987 he was twice appointed Director of the Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham, Massachusetts. During the 10 years he spent there, he also continued to travel in his Preaching Ministry spreading the "Word of God" locally, nationally and internationally.
In 1991, seeing a great need in Wareham and the surrounding communities, he and Fr. Gabriel Healy, ss.cc., founded the Family Pantry-Damien's Place as an outreach of the Retreat Center. Today, more than 25 years later, Damien's Pantry feeds over 2,500 people each month. Fr. Tom remained active in the pantry until only several weeks ago when he passed the responsibility on to one of his SSCC brothers.
When illness finally forced him to step down as pastor of St. Joseph's in 2014, that did not stop Fr. Tom from continuing to find a way to stay involved with the poor and marginalized, part of the Congregation's mission in which he so strongly believed. He began a Prison Ministry at Dartmouth House of Corrections going there every week to offer Mass and "walk a spiritual journey" with the men and women incarcerated there.
A Funeral Mass will be celebrated for Father McElroy at St. Joseph's Church, 74 Spring Street, Fairhaven, Massachusetts on Saturday, October 14, 2017, at 11:00 AM followed by burial in the Sacred Hearts Community Cemetery. Visiting hours will take place at St. Joseph's Church prior to the funeral on Saturday, beginning at 9:00 AM.
The Congregation of the Sacred Hearts and Fr. Tom's family wishes to extend sincere thanks to the staff at Damien Residence and the Fairhaven Community Nurse and Hospice for the love and care given to Fr. Tom and to the personnel at Fairhaven Funeral Home (www.hathawayfunerals.com) for their kindness in assisting with final arrangements. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Sacred Hearts Community at Damien Residence in Fairhaven.