Coming from one Niles to another

Published 5:41 pm Wednesday, December 19, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – He's a die-hard Cubs fan, loves gardening, enjoys a small town atmosphere and has high hopes for Saint Mark Catholic Church. The Rev. Thomas King, CSC, became the new pastor at the church on Oct. 1 and is excited to share his enthusiasm, sense of humor and upbeat personality.
"I thoroughly enjoy it here. I've only been here a short time, but the people are so giving, generous and they reach out to others. I have never seen a community so willing to help out," King said.
King took over for Father Joseph Koma, who retired after 14 years at Saint Mark.
"I was asked to come to Niles because Father Koma was retiring. At that time I had considered retiring myself," the 65-year-old said. "But I met with Father and he was so gracious and kind and told me very good things about being here. I couldn't deny. Plus there is a desperate need for priests right now so I have considered this another journey in my life and I am thrilled."
And journeys are nothing new to King.
He was born during World War II as his father was in the military. He grew up in Chicago and moved to the small town of Deerfield, Ill., in 1951.
"At that time there were only 3,100 residents in that town. Today there are over 27,000," Kind said.
He fondly remembers working in the farm fields, going on hayrides and taking trips to the local drug store to buy the pink and yellow candy dots and the small plastic bottles filled with tasty liquids.
He also remembers the phrase his father always used.
"He would always say 'Car's leaving in 10 minutes so don't be late for the Lord,' and he meant that. If we weren't ready, he would leave. He took the Lord very seriously. My parents were very dutiful and responsible Catholics," King said.
His father served as an usher and his mother was in the church choir.
King went to Notre Dame High School in Niles, Ill., which may be one small sign as to how he ended up in Niles, Mich.
"Pretty coincidental," he joked.
King admitted that he first thought about a vocation of priesthood in high school.
"The teachers had a lot of influence on me. They were very responsible, dedicated, very uplifting and they really inspired me," he said.
After graduating high school, King decided to go to the seminary at the University of Notre Dame where he studied novitiate, theology and psychology. He also studied at Holy Cross College in Washington, D.C.
King never realized his next journey would last 37 years.
"I began teaching at the high school level for freshmen, juniors and seniors. I taught one year of sophomores and boy, let me tell you, there is nothing in God's creation like a high school sophomore. The are anti-authority, think they are independent and very opinionated. That one year was enough for me," he said.
King also coached the high school baseball team and served as athletic director for five years.
"We had 1,250 boys in the school and 800 of them played sports. It was a lot to handle, but I did it," he said.
King eventually went back to the University of Notre Dame to finish his masters and work on a Ph.D.
"It was then that I was asked to be a rector in the dorms at Notre Dame for just one year … 18 years later I retired from the being a rector," he said
After that ended, King took on another teaching adventure, this time at the college level. He taught seven semesters at Notre Dame and found his place at Holy Cross, where he spent 27 years.
"That's when I realized that teaching is what I was put on this earth for. I woke up every morning excited about teaching students," he said.
King added that he feels Holy Cross is a remarkable place that is growing, but he hopes it doesn't lose the small-school atmosphere.
But the journey didn't end there. King became the pastor at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Perish in South Bend, Ind. After seven years, he came to Niles.
"I love Niles. I grew up in a small town. I like the small downtown, I like to have dinner at the Nugget, I like the fact that the streets are not completely plowed after a large snowfall. I like the Christmas lights. It looks like a picture you would see on a postcard," he said.
King is excited to bring new activities to the church, and also keep the old ones going.
"The bake sales are wonderful, I want to have spaghetti dinners, fish frys, a hog roast and I want everyone in the community to have a place to come together and meet. The days of secluded distinct churches are gone. People should mix and be able to meet on the same grounds regardless of their beliefs and that's what I hope for this church. That is our contribution to the city and the people of the community in general," King said.
This spring, King hopes to plant a rose garden on the grounds of the church, as he enjoys gardening. He was also excited, yet surprised, to see the amount of Cubs and Irish fans.
"Being in Michigan, I would have thought there would have been Michigan Wolverine flags and Detroit Tigers Stickers everywhere. But it's all Chicago and Notre Dame. I could not believe it," he said.
King is looking forward to this next journey.