A Lighthearted Spirit on the Hilltop: An Interview with Fr. Terry Tompkins
by Michael Khong
If you happen to meet Fr. Terry, you would describe him as a funny man with a loving and caring spirit. He is also a source of encouragement for seminarians on the Hilltop. For instance, Romple Emwalu, a seminarian from the Diocese of Honolulu, is very grateful to Fr. Terry: "He encouraged me when I was suffering a spiritual battle and helped me to recognize my shortcomings. He also seems to understand what I have been going through."
Following his silver sacerdotal anniversary - twenty-five years of serving as a priest - Fr. Terry's diocese offered him some sabbatical time. During this time, he spent several months driving across the country and seeing how great the United States is. In August of 2007, he came to Mount Angel Seminary for studies and relaxation.
Fr. Terry said, "I had a wonderful time on the Hilltop, and I was allowed to sit in on any courses that I wanted." While he was here, a few people started wondering if he would like to become a faculty member at Mount Angel Seminary. They asked him, "Have you ever considered becoming a formation director?" Fr. Terry had never thought about it before; however, he took it into consideration.
When the fall semester ended, he went back to his diocese to serve as an acting pastor for six months until a new pastor arrived. At the same time, the idea of working at the seminary kept coming back. "The more I thought and prayed about it, the more I was drawn to it," said Fr. Terry.
With a great desire to work at the seminary and eager to serve God's people, he did not hesitate to inform his bishop about his desire to work in the seminary environment as a formation director. As a former rector of a seminary himself, Fr. Terry's bishop appreciated the value and importance of this specialized ministry. Therefore, he agreed to loan Fr. Terry to Mount Angel Seminary for three to six years.
Fr. Terry believes that his being a formation director expresses our journey towards God: "I have learned that all of us are pilgrims who are making our way along and hopefully in the direction of the promise land." Fr. Terry continued, "As much as I offer guidance to the seminarians, they in return inspire and challenge me toward wholeness and holiness."
The fifth of seven children, Fr. Terry was born to John and Ann Tompkins in Oakland, California. He was raised in a traditional devout Irish Catholic family with four sisters and two brothers.
According to Fr. Terry, his vocation came about at the end of the eighth grade when he wanted to enter the seminary because both of his brothers were already in the seminary. His parents and some priests, who happened to be friends of his family, decided that it would be better for him if he waited until after high school to join the seminary.
He attended Bishop O'Dowd High School and spent time studying theology at the Catholic University of San Francisco. He graduated with a B.A. and engaged in extensive graduate level criminology studies. After graduation, he put aside the idea of the priesthood, and he began work as a Teamster for five years while he was working towards his Master's degree.
Before he entered Mount Angel Seminary, he was dating a girl named Hanna for a couple years, and they were very close to being engaged, but he could not get the possibility of the priesthood out of his head. He always felt a distinct and persistent call from the Lord.
With the full support of Hanna, he decided he had to come to Mount Angel Seminary to discern his vocation. Fr. Terry said, "Hanna was so generous in this regard because she could picture us being married, but she wisely knew that I had to go to the seminary to discern my vocation to the priesthood. I am glad I came to the seminary; my question was answered, and I knew early on I was on the right path."
He was ordained to the priesthood on November 27, 1982, for the Diocese of Oakland. After his ordination, he served as an associate pastor and pastor in local parishes for 25 years. In the fall of 2008, Fr. Terry became a faculty member at Mount Angel Seminary. He serves as a formation director and as an assistant professor of Religious Studies.