In Memoriam: Brother Thomas Levi, FSC

Brother Thomas Levi, FSC, who was a De La Salle Christian Brother for 71 years, and president of Saint Mary's College of California from 1950 to 1956, died at Mont La Salle, in Napa, California on October 14, 2004. He was 88 years old.

Brother Thomas was born in Porter, Montana on July 25, 1916 to Thomas J. Levi and Catherine Sullivan. He attended Saint Mary's College High School and joined the Brothers of the San Francisco District in 1933. He earned a bachelor's degree from Saint Mary's in 1945.

In the course of his life, Brother Thomas served in almost every capacity available to a Brother. He taught in several high schools and also was counselor, dean, and prefect. He was principal of Sacred Heart High School in San Francisco in the late 1950s and held the same post at La Salle High School in Milwaukie, Oregon. Before his retirement in 1995, Brother Thomas was assistant to the president at Saint Mary's College High School in Berkeley. For a short time in the mid-1960s, Brother Thomas also was assistant superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno. He spent five years in the public relations work of the Christian Brothers Winery in Napa. At various times during his life, Brother Thomas also was director of the District's Juniorate and its Novitiate, as well as director and sub-director of Brother communities.

When Brother Thomas became president of Saint Mary's College, he was one of the youngest to serve in that office up to that time. His tenure coincided with the Korean War, and in January 1951, the College announced the discontinuation of intercollegiate football and baseball, partly because of a decrease in the student population. Yet, Brother Thomas earned a reputation for his administrative gifts. He founded the College's Board of Regents, and he helped found the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). In 1955, the College began an experiment with "great idea" courses for freshmen, conducted by Professor James L. Hagerty and Brother S. Robert Smith, FSC, that was the forerunner of today's Integral Program. Brother Thomas also helped start a program to assist women religious in finishing their teaching degrees and improve Catholic education in the elementary and secondary schools.

"He was really the first really modern president of Saint Mary's college. He was one of the finest administrators I've ever known and one of the finest men I've ever known," said Brother Richard Lemberg, FSC, coordinator of instructional services at the College library. "He was a born leader, and he inspired confidence in everybody around him."

Brother Richard, who began his teaching career under Brother Thomas at La Salle High School, also remembers being an unsuspecting victim of one Brother Thomas' pranks:

"One night," Brother Richard recalled, "Brother Thomas had a dinner to go to, but he came to me and said, 'Richard, the diocese is having a special dinner and I just can't make it. Why don't you go in my place?' It sounded like a great idea to me. I was very excited about attending a black-tie dinner, and enjoying an excellent meal!

"When I got there, I learned that it was a dinner in solidarity with the poor and hungry of the world. All I got was a glass of water and a bowl of rice! When I got home, who meets me in the car port but Brother Thomas himself, wearing a big smile on his face."

"Brother Thomas Levi was a well-respected gentleman whose dedication toward students was unflagging," said Brother Craig J. Franz, FSC, president of Saint Mary's College. "His steady comportment, engaging style, and prescient vision made him an effective and beloved administrator. In my capacity as the College's president, almost half a century after he held this same office, I found that Brother Thomas never missed an opportunity to pen an encouraging word or pick up the phone to offer a supportive comment, knowing so well the enormous demands of this most challenging position. His generous friendship -- at these moments and others -- significantly enhanced my life. I shall miss him deeply."

-- by Joseph Wakelee-Lynch
College Communications