Please remember in your prayers Father Greg Tolaas

Please remember in your prayers Father Greg Tolaas, 47, the former spiritual director of St. John Vianney Seminary and former director of campus ministry at the University of St. Thomas. He died Sunday afternoon, Sept. 7, at Fairview-University Medical Center in Minneapolis from complications that followed a lung and kidney transplant last June.

Tolaas, who had cystic fibrosis, was part of the St. Thomas community for more than two decades, as a student or as a priest. For the past six years he has been pastor at St. Philip Catholic Church in Minneapolis.

Father Greg Tolaas gives a homily in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas. The picture was taken in 1994 when Father Tolaas was director of campus ministry here.

Visitation will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, at St. Philip, 2507 Bryant Ave. North, Minneapolis. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 12, at the Basilica of St. Mary, 88 North 17th St., also in Minneapolis.

A full notice will appear in the newspapers tomorrow, and you also can find information on the Caringbridge Web site. This site has been used throughout Tolaas’ illness to provide updates on his condition, and to allow friends to send him greetings. The funeral information also will be available by calling (612) 588-8599.

“Father Tolaas made a lasting impression on the University of St. Thomas community,” commented Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas. “He was an effective pastoral leader and counselor, a strong advocate for the dignity and worth of all people, a superb preacher and a very decent human being. Our condolences to his family and to his parish.”

Tolaas grew up not far from St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus. Of the six children in his family, he and three others were born with cystic fibrosis. His sister Patti Jo died when she was 9, and his sister Mary died at 22. When Tolaas was 10, his mother died from complications of childbirth.

Tolaas graduated from Hill-Murray High School in 1974 and was a member of the St. John Vianney Seminary community while a student at St. Thomas. After graduating from St. Thomas he taught first graders for a year at Nativity School, and then entered the St. Paul Seminary. He earned master’s degrees in dogmatic theology and divinity and was ordained in 1983.

After two years as a parish priest, he returned to the St. Thomas campus as spiritual director at St. John Vianney. He went on to serve as the university’s director of campus ministry from 1990 to 1997.

When he left St. Thomas in 1997, the university’s student newspaper, The Aquin, published an editorial with the headline, “Father Tolaas’ legacy will be a tough act to follow.” In presenting him its Distinguished Service Award, the university said in a citation that “The Aquin headline was correct: yours is a legacy that stirs the soul and honors the most cherished Catholic traditions of this university.”

Tolaas left St. Thomas because he wanted to serve the church in a hard-pressed inner-city parish. By all accounts he brought great vitality to St. Philip. As Star Tribune columnist Doug Grow wrote last December: “Found to have cystic fibrosis when he was only a few weeks old, Tolaas always has managed to soar. He was a star at the University of St. Thomas, where he was director of campus ministry. He moved to struggling St. Philip in 1997, reviving the parish from a place where maybe 40 showed up for Masses to a vibrant place where masses now draw upwards of 500 people.”

In its editorial about Tolaas, The Aquin editorial noted that “Anyone who has never heard one of his homilies has missed something. He has a way of driving home his point and making his message interesting. His sense of humor envelops his thoughts, and his charisma is contagious.

“Tolaas has exemplified the best of the Catholic community. He has been a man with a consistent presence, and he deserves our praise,” The Aquin said.

In a 1990 interview for the St. Thomas magazine, he told a reporter that “If I died tomorrow, I’d be able to look back and say ‘what tremendous opportunities I’ve had.’ The losses, the joys, the gift of life, have taught me much. No one gets more than one day at a time; some people just pretend they do.”

You can read Doug Grow’s tribute to Tolaas in today’s Star Tribune or the obituary that appeared in Monday’s Star Tribune. Stephen Scott of the St. Paul Pioneer Press also wrote a tribute to Tolaas.