Updated: Msgr. Thomas Kane, a builder of parishes and schools and a carpenter who crafted altars, dies at 93
Aug 28, 2020
(This article is updated with a link to the live stream Funeral Mass for Msgr. Kane on Aug. 29, so people can view the Mass from home.)
Msgr. Thomas Kane – a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington for 68 years who served at more than 10 parishes and was a skilled carpenter who built wooden altars and other furniture for Catholic churches and chapels throughout the Washington area – died on Aug. 21 at the age of 93. He had been living in retirement at Grace House in Silver Spring. At the time of his death, he was the archdiocese’s longest serving priest.
“Msgr. Kane was a builder. He founded schools, built churches but most of all built communities and families dedicated to the Lord he served so faithfully as a priest,” said Washington Auxiliary Bishop Michael Fisher, who noted that the veteran priest knew his grandparents and assisted in his parents’ marriage preparation. “Msgr. Kane was special to me and my family… To me personally, he was a friend, mentor and example of what a priest is called to be. I will greatly miss him and look forward to gathering around whatever table he builds for our Father’s house.”
Over the years, Msgr. Kane was the founding pastor of St. Nicholas Parish in Laurel, Maryland from 1968-72, and worked with parishioners to build the church there. In 1994, he served as the coordinator of the building program at Mary of Nazareth School in Darnestown when it opened as the first new parish elementary school in the archdiocese in 30 years. Then in 2004, he likewise greeted the first students arriving at the new St. Patrick School in Rockville, another building project that he oversaw as the pastor of that parish.
In a 2005 interview, Msgr. Kane noted “there are many parts to the priesthood and each would be a career on its own.” He said the priest has to be a theologian, a preacher, a teacher, a finance officer, a youth worker, a marriage counselor, a bereavement counselor, a drug and alcohol counselor, a plant maintenance manager, a contractor and a fundraiser.
But he added that all of those different jobs involve “doing the work of Christ and building His Church.”
His 50th anniversary Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Rockville in 2002 opened with bells tolling in the tower adjoining the church – another of his building projects. The congregation was filled with his family members from throughout the Washington area and from across the United States, and also with people who had become his extended family over the years -- parishioners from many parts of Maryland and Washington, D.C., whom he had served as their parish priest.
“I know every one of you,” he said. “One of the great joys of the priesthood is to love them (the people you serve) and to have them love you in return.”
Services for Msgr. Kane will be held at St. Patrick Parish, the last parish where he served as pastor before retiring in 2005 after leading that community for 20 years. The viewing will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday Aug. 28 and from 10 to 10:45 a.m. Saturday Aug. 29. Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory will celebrate Msgr. Kane’s Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. on Aug. 29. Due to space limitations because of COVID-19 restrictions on the size of public gatherings, the gym will be open for an overflow crowd after the church is filled to its allowed capacity, and the Funeral Mass will be live streamed so people can view it at home. The link for the live streamed Mass is:
The homilist for the Funeral Mass will be Msgr. Charles Parry, St. Patrick’s pastor who earlier led Sacred Heart Parish in Bowie, where Msgr. Kane assisted at weekend Masses for several years following his retirement. Sacred Heart Parish hosted Msgr. Kane’s 60th anniversary Mass in 2012, followed by a parish picnic.
In an earlier interview, Msgr. Parry described his longtime friend as “a mentor as to how to be a good pastor and a beautiful example of what it is to be a priest and give your whole life to the Lord and to the Church.”
The son of the late William and Mae Kane, the future priest was born in Washington, D.C., and baptized at St. Peter’s Parish on Capitol Hill. He attended Nativity School in Washington after his family moved to that neighborhood. Inspired by the example of the parish priests and the Franciscan sisters serving that parish, he entered the seminary during his high school years, attending St. Charles College in Catonsville and St. Mary Seminary in Baltimore.
His devout Catholic family had “a deep respect for the priesthood,” he said in a 2016 interview, adding, “I still have great respect for priests.”
After his 1952 ordination to the priesthood, Father Kane was assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Rockville, which he later remembered was more like a country parish then, before it later became a large suburban parish.
Then the next year, he was assigned to St. Bernard’s in Riverdale, which was still a new parish. He helped start groups like the teen club, sodality and Cana club for married couples there.
From 1962-68, he served as administrator of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Silver Spring, where he said parishioners had deep respect for the roots of that parish, which dated to colonial times. After his Funeral Mass, his interment will follow at St. John’s historic cemetery.
After becoming the first pastor of the new St. Nicholas Parish in Laurel in 1968, then-Father Kane worked with the founding families there to build a church of their own, after that community had Masses in the rectory, in people’s homes, in a local movie theater, at a nearby Hot Shoppes restaurant and at the Laurel Shopping Center.
The first Mass at the new St. Nicholas Church “was just a glorious day,” Msgr. Kane remembered later. “The people were so proud of what they had,” he said, adding that many of those families remained close friends 50 years later.
From 1972-79, Msgr. Kane served as pastor of Assumption Parish in Washington, and then he led Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in the nation’s capital from 1979-81. He later said he was inspired by the faith and goodness of the people at those two city parishes. Assumption Parish operated a food pantry and clothes closet for the poor in the neighborhood, a program that later was renamed as the Pope Francis Outreach Center.
“The church is doing what it’s supposed to do” with that outreach, the longtime priest said.
Msgr. Kane served as the archdiocese’s Secretary for Clergy, Religious Men and Secular Institutes from 1981-85 and was named a monsignor in 1984. He served several terms on the Senate of Priests and founded the St. John Vianney House for priests in Kensington, designed to offer them a place for continuing spiritual development and mutual support.
While he served as pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Rockville from 1985 to 2005, he coordinated the efforts to build first Mary of Nazareth School in 1994, and then St. Patrick’s School 10 years later.
“You know the benefit of Catholic schools from your own experience,” he said. “You had the incentive knowing what a Catholic school can do for a community.”
The priest made a cross for St. Patrick School’s lobby and a pedestal for a statue of Mary in each classroom. To honor the late priest, people are invited to make a donation to the Msgr. Thomas A. Kane Scholarship Fund at St. Patrick’s School.
Msgr. Kane’s skill in carpentry left a mark at parishes throughout the archdiocese. “He’s our carpenter, our (St.) Joseph in residence,” said Sara Blauvelt, who was interviewed in 2002 after the priest’s 50th anniversary Mass, when she was serving as a secretary at St. Patrick’s. Now Blauvelt serves as the archdiocese’s director for catechesis.
Over the years, Msgr. Kane designed and executed several new or renovated church sanctuaries, and personally crafted 10 altars at area Catholic churches and chapels. He also crafted pulpits, baptismal fonts, crosiers, chalices and crosses.
In his retirement, the priest continued his carpentry in his workshop, where he had a picture of Jesus as a carpenter on display. He once joked that Jesus “didn’t have power tools, which makes Him an even greater hero of mine.”
A sailing enthusiast, the priest also built row boats and motor boats. One notable project was the 16-foot by 8-foot wooden conference table at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Hyattsville that has been used by the past four archbishops of Washington while meeting with their senior staff and other officials. Msgr. Kane said that large table “would be the place to hide in case of a nuclear attack.”
Msgr. Kane was also known for his devotion to the Blessed Mother, and for many years organized the archdiocese’s annual October pilgrimage to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and he also coordinated the archdiocese’s early involvement in the March for Life.
In 1994, the priest received the Patronal Medal sponsored by the Catholic University of America and the National Shrine, where he was commended for leading the annual Marian pilgrimage and for his work in the building program for the new Mary of Nazareth School.
“I think of Msgr. Kane whenever I want to undertake a special project,” said Cardinal James Hickey, then the archbishop of Washington. “He’s a take-charge man. He gets things done for the archdiocese.”
After that ceremony, Msgr. Kane said his devotion to Mary was “inseparable” from his identity as a priest. In his homily, he praised Mary’s example of loving acceptance of God’s will.
A hallmark of Msgr. Kane’s priesthood was what he called his “church steps ministry,” when he greeted people after every Mass with a smile, chatted with them and promised to pray for loved ones who were sick or facing other challenges.
In an interview for his 50th anniversary, he noted how the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church was traumatic for the lay people and for faithful priests alike. “What do they think about us now?” he asked.
That question, in his case, was answered at his anniversary Mass, when the congregation, joined by about two dozen of his brother priests, gave him two standing ovations.
A 2012 profile of the retired priest noted how the chalice and Communion plate he used at the daily Masses in his chapel at home were etched with the names of his six brothers and sisters, their spouses and his nieces and nephews, and his mother’s engagement and wedding rings were inside the base of his chalice. At each Mass, in addition to praying for family members’ birthdays or anniversaries, he also would pray for his brother priests on the anniversaries of their deaths.
Msgr. Kane’s survivors include his siblings William Kane, Mary Ellen McAuliffe Keily, Bernadette Mitchell, Joseph Kane and Elizabeth Ann Rogers and their living spouses. He was predeceased in death by his parents and by his brother Eugene Kane. The priest is also survived by 69 nieces, nephews and their spouses, 108 great nieces, nephews and their spouses, and 20 great grand nieces and nephews.
In his last interview with the Catholic Standard, Msgr. Kane in 2016 marveled at how honored he felt to participate in Pope Francis’s Canonization Mass for St. Junipero Serra outside the National Shrine that previous year. “He’s the high priest of us all,” said Msgr. Kane, who was then living at the Cardinal O’Boyle Residence for retired priests in Washington. He added, “The oneness of the priesthood is a bond we all feel, young and old, retired and just ordained.”
Reflecting on his nearly seven decades as a priest, Msgr. Kane smiled and said, “It’s been a good run.”
The priesthood, he said, had provided him with a lifetime of blessings and special memories at each stop along the way. “You saw the faith in action. People lived it at each parish,” he said.
Msgr. Kane said that in his retirement, just as in all his years as a priest, celebrating Mass remained the highlight and central work of his priesthood, bringing people to Christ and Christ to people through the Eucharist.
“That (the Mass) is what you’re there for. That’s the summary of what we’re doing and what we’re about,” he said.
After Msgr. Kane’s Funeral Mass, the five large bells in the tower at St. Patrick’s Church will ring, to honor the priest’s life and ministry.
(This article includes reporting by Richard Szczepanowski and Anna Weaver.)