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Feb. 3, 2005 • Volume 13 Number 10

Rev. Thomas Richard Heath (photo courtesy of Donal Turrentine)

'Proud Refrain' Author Dies in Africa

A memorial Mass will be celebrated on Feb. 12 at 1 p.m. in St. Mary's Chapel for for Rev. Thomas Richard Heath, OP '43, who as a Boston College student evoked "tower, bell and tree" in the beloved BC poem "Proud Refrain," and who won renown as a preacher and teacher during years as a Dominican missionary in Africa.

Fr. Heath died of injuries suffered when he was beaten in a robbery earlier this month at his religious house in Kisumu, northwest of Nairobi. He was 84.

He had served 13 years in Kenya, after 10 years in South Africa and Lesotho, and was remembered as a mentor to generations of young priests.

"Fr. Thomas was a faithful servant of God," Rev. Benedict Croell, OP, a brother missionary friar in Kenya, told the Vatican agency Fides.

"Men and women, religious and laity, looked to him as the wisest of counselors in their spiritual journey. His own Dominican brothers venerated him as an outstanding example of fidelity in their contemplative way of life, and a most joyful and compassionate member of their community."

At Boston College, a poem Fr. Heath wrote as an undergraduate in the early 1940s has become a treasured part of campus lore. The poem, "Proud Refrain," written for the BC literary magazine The Stylus, poignantly captured the sentiments of many a young BC man heading off to the Second World War:

What are you dreaming, soldier,

What is it you see?

A tall gray Gothic tower,

And a linden tree.

You speak so sadly, soldier,

Sad and wistfully . . .

I cannot hear the tower bell

In the swirling sea.

What meaning has it, soldier,

A tower, bell, and tree?

Nothing, nothing - only once

It meant my life to me.

Interviewed in 1991 by Boston College Magazine, Fr. Heath recalled that he had written the poem on the kitchen table of his Somerville home. "I don't think any one event inspired it; it overflowed from my love for BC and for my classmates, some of whom had already been called up, and most of whom soon would be.

"No, I was not on a troop ship or on an island in the Pacific or on my way to the European theater. I was home. But I was, I suppose, living in spirit with the BC men of the Class of '42, including my brother John, who served on submarines on the South China Sea. The poem just poured out."

A Somerville native, Fr. Heath was born on June 19, 1920, and was a 1943 graduate of Boston College. He made his religious profession on May 28, 1944, and was ordained a priest June 10, 1950.

He was one of three brothers who became Dominican priests.

Fr. Heath had a sister, Leslie, in Winchester and on visits would offer Mass at St. Mary's Parish there, according to BC Adj. Assoc. Prof. Richard McGowan, SJ, who is attached to the Winchester parish.

Fr. McGowan recalled saying the 6:45 a.m. Mass with Fr. Heath when the Dominican was in town.

"It was interesting when he would come 'home,' because for him, home was Africa," said Fr. McGowan. "He was a hard worker, very prayerful, and a credit to Boston College."

In addition to his sister Leslie, Fr. Heath leaves another sister, Sister Mary Heath, at the Maryknoll Center, and a brother, Rev. Mark Heath, of Columbus, Ohio.

A funeral Mass for Fr. Heath was celebrated Jan. 18 at St. Theresa's Cathedral in Kibuye, Kenya.

A tribute to Fr. Heath has been posted at equivocalcatharsis.com/articles/fathertomheath.htm.

-Mark Sullivan

Material from Zenit News Agency and Catholic World News was used in this report.

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