Thomas(aka TJ) Ph------ has his arm around Cardinal George's shoulders in a 2012 photo I took celebrating the Cardinal's visit. Thomas is at college and Cardinal George is at home with Christ.
At Leo in 2010, He was Thomas. At St. Cajetan's, prior to admission to this rock of manhood on 79th Street, my daughter and her pals called their classmate TJ.
TJ? Like he was right out of some Disney Afternoon Special and wore Bev Rat Northface clothing and accessories.
Thomas was what PC educators might call . . .willful. Here at Leo, we'd say JUG fodder at best . . .usually a pain in the ass. It was during Thomas' freshman year that my daughter informed me that one of her classmates from St. Cajetan grammar school, a largely white Catholic elementary school in Morgan Park, was attending Leo.
"Dad, do you know TJ?"
"Yeah, TJ Ph-------! He's real funny and was Jack Collins buddy"
I know a Thomas Ph------! Wait. Thomas, Mr. Y'all Street Ph-------is TJ? TJ?"
That was all I needed.
I am, like Thomas aka TJ, a dedicated . . .pain in the ass. Like TJ. . .er Thomas, I needed an epiphany. I got mine from Father John Gavin O.S.A. in 1966. I was mopping the locker room as punishment for one of my recent academic, or social crimes and misdemeanors, when the red-headed athlete priest wandered in reading his Divine Office in full Augustinian habit. He closed the breviary and smiled brightly, " Hickey, you know how you always are?"
" Yes, Father."
" Don't be that way."
With that, he opened his tract and walked quietly away. I was a chang . . .modified man.
Thomas was bright, funny, tardy, absent and any where near an occassion of sin, In short, Thomas was for his freshman and sophomore years at Leo High School a typical Leo guy. He was the diamond in the rough, the first draft, and unlicked cub, who, after several metaphorical lickings, chin wags with his elders and betters on his way to becoming a superior young man.
It helped to know of Thomas's BevRat sobriquet. The next day shouted out my friend Thomas in the act of 'just playing!'
His blood went cold, in the manner of all men caught out in the hard truth of whom they really be.
" How you know that?"
"Clare told me. Well, Lookee here, White Boy! You wear FUBU here and about, or do you really wear Northface, a rolled brimmed green White Sox Cap and watch Hannah Montana? Man, it'd go hard on a gent who is all Cheef Keef and such."
"Please, Mr. Hickey don't let that get out. Man, I'm Thomas!
"And so it shall stay under the following conditions . . ."
You see, these kids need street cred, even though they are far from street. Their families send them to Leo High School to avoid the street and all that it stands for, but the kids still need to get here from Roseland, Grand Crossing, Englewood and Canaryville. They pass gang territories and need to put up a front. Or, they think that they do. All they need is to believe in themselves.
All they need to do is be a good guy. Respect women, the elderly, their faith, their traditions and the rules.
Thomas remained a scamp, but a great guy. He was a fearless D-Back for the Lions and a great boxer and his GPA shot up to where it needed to be for college.
Watch Thomas on this video. He is boxer in the dreds wearing black gear. BTW - Leo boxing coach Mike Joyce is a cousin of Cardinal George.
Thomas is a sophomore at Missou, now. After an epiphany, Thomas was on his way.
In 2010, he sidled up to Leo President Dan McGrath at an open house where eight white boys attended with their folks. " Mr. McGrath, we going to get all those white boys?"
President McGrath, replied, " Well Thomas, it won't be for lack of trying,"
" Good. This school needs some diversity!"
We got it. White boys and Mexican kids thickened the cultural stew at Leo High School and Thomas was the most open-handed greeter in his junior and senior years. He took the lead in making these urban pioneers welcome.
In 2012, Francis Cardinal George spent the day with the Leo gents. We do not put on a dog and pony show. Take us as we are! Cardinal George had a ball and graced our boys. Thomas plunged in to make Cardinal George as welcome as flowers of May.
Thomas is at college, but visits every time he is home. Cardinal George is a home with Christ and visits Grace upon this wonderful school for tender-hearted tough guys.