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Rev. Tom Royer

January 27, 1935 January 4, 2024
Rev. Tom Royer
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Obituary for Rev. Tom Royer

The Rev. Thomas Royer, longtime pastor of St. Mary Church in Champaign (Jan. 27, 1935 – Jan. 4, 2024).

Father Tom, as he preferred to be called, grew up in Canton, Ill., the third youngest of nine siblings. He credited his parents with being a model of Catholic virtue in action. He attended St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota and was ordained in 1960, serving then as associate pastor at parishes in Peoria, Danville, Champaign and Chillicothe, 1960-1973. Sermons on the Vietnam War and Civil Rights, beginning with these early ministries, became a hallmark of his 64-year commitment to peace and justice.

In 1972, Father Tom began working with the communications office of the Peoria Diocese while he studied for his M.S. degrees in radio/tv (1972) and journalism (1978) at the University of Illinois. Hosting a Sunday-morning show on WCIA, Dialogue in Faith, led him to greater study of national and global politics. This led to his being invited by the Emergency Relief Fund for Bangladesh to accompany seventy journalists and humanitarian workers to Calcutta to report on the refugee crisis. There he met Mother Theresa and filmed her daily work.

That trip's moral engagement with the global issues of economic inequality, racism and militarism increased both his awareness of and connection with contemporary Catholic activists including Thomas Merton, Daniel Berrigan, Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa. They remained important role models throughout his life.

In 1973, Father Tom was appointed pastor at St. Mary in Champaign, a position he held until his retirement in 2010 while simultaneously serving as pastor at St. Joseph in Ivesdale (1989-2001) and St. Boniface in Seymour (2001-2005).

As pastor at St. Mary, Father Tom created a parish Committee on justice and peace to consider how the parish could live up to Pope John the XXIII's call to build just societies for true peace. The result was St. Mary's formal participation in local peace initiatives including the Champaign-Urbana Ecumenical Sanctuary, the Champaign-Urbana Peace Initiative, and the Catholic Worker.

In Nov. 1989, Father Tom visited missions in Atitlan and Barillas, Guatemala where priests he knew from seminary and from Peoria were working. Shortly after that trip he took his first trip to El Salvador with Bishop Tom Gumbleton of Detroit. Both experiences raised his awareness of the impact of U.S. militarism on the poor. St. Mary's parish elected to enter into a sister relationship with parishes in Calavera in El Salvador. Parishioners, especially Kathy Fries, were critical to the success of the missions. Along with small delegations, Father Tom visited the communities twenty-eight times over the following years and avidly raised funds for medical aid, schooling, nutrition programs and other needs.

Throughout his life, Father Tom remained strongly committed to principles of peace and justice both locally and internationally. He became concerned about the conditions of Palestinians during a sabbatical in Jerusalem. He visited Cuba with Pastors for Peace and advocated for the end of U.S. economic sanctions. He demonstrated in favor of closing the School of the Americas, a U.S. Army site where foreign militaries received counterinsurgency and interrogation training. He supported the ordination of women. He advocated for the homeless, most controversially by opening the parish grounds to the Safe Haven Community. He urged the Bishop to support LGBQT+ youth, and spoke out against immigrant detention practices.

Father Tom frequently expressed gratitude for the support of fellow religious, most especially Father George Remm and Father Dennis Smolarski, SJ, (who generously served for Father Tom when he traveled). He was joined in his activism by many parishioners from diverse communities. During Father Tom's tenure at St. Mary church services included prayers sung and spoken in Korean, Spanish, Tagalog and Q'anjob'al, the Mayan language spoken by many in the Guatemalan community in Champaign.

Toward the end of his life, Father Tom spoke of having two families. His family in Calavera had given him the great gift of faith in humankind by showing him that humans can preserve hope, dignity and kindness despite the ordeals they suffer. Of his family of birth – mother, father and siblings – Father Tom said, "I had the greatest thing any child could have, I knew I was loved."

He is survived by his sister Margaret (Gerald) Stawick of Indianapolis and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, and seven siblings, Patricia Dorich, Colette McCarey, Rita Swindall, John Royer, William Royer, James Royer and Joseph Royer.

A memorial Mass will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 24, 2024, at St. Mary Church, Champaign. A reception for all will follow in the parish Romero Center. The burial Mass will be held at 11 a.m. April 23, 2024, at St. Mary Church, Canton.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to FACES (Faith in Action with El Salvador)

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