The Lumen Christi Institute staff is greatly saddened by the passing of our director and founder Thomas Levergood on August 6, 2021.
Condolences can be left with the Pomierski Funeral home HERE.
The Funeral Mass livestream recording can be viewed HERE.
I received, just a few days ago, the sad news that Thomas Levergood, the founder and director of the Lumen Christi Institute, had died. I had known Thomas for almost thirty years, and I was on the board of directors for Lumen Christi in its earliest years. An endeavor to bring the vibrancy of the Catholic intellectual life to the University of Chicago and subsequently to other universities around the country, Lumen Christi is Thomas Levergood’s powerful and important legacy. As his many friends would undoubtedly attest, Thomas was a fine academic, a brilliant intellectual impresario, and a wonderful Catholic eccentric. I will forever savor the time we spent together. May he rest in peace.
Jennifer Frey's Tribute
I met Thomas Levergood in 2010 here in Hyde Park. Gavin House didn’t exist, Lumen Christi was still working out of an office in one of those protestant churches on Woodlawn, and I think Thomas had a room at Calvert House too, if memory serves. I can’t remember how exactly I got on Thomas’s radar, but I had just moved to Chicago with my husband, who was starting a TT job in the philosophy department. I was trying to write my dissertation and had just given birth to our third child, also named Thomas, and I had no childcare and no job. I was vulnerable, to put it mildly, and wondering how on earth I was going to finish my PhD. Thomas immediately asked me to come work for him and he promised me that he was supportive of women crazy enough to have three kids under five while still in an elite graduate program.
True to his word, Thomas supported me well, better than I could have ever hoped. He, more than anyone else, made me feel at home in Hyde Park. He, more than anyone else, believed in my potential for success in academia. Over the next three years, Thomas gave me incredible latitude to organize and participate in events on campus, and he allowed me to take over and help expand the summer seminar program. Thanks to Thomas Levergood, I’ve had dinners and incredible conversations with the likes of Marilynne Robinson, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Gilles Emery (to name only a few), I’ve studied Milosz with Adam Zagajewski and Guardini with Robert Wilken, I’ve hosted a workshop in Rome on philosophy and I’ve met too many cardinals and bishops for me to name them all. And Thomas allowed me to do all of this as my family continued to grow. He encouraged me to bring my infants with me to all Lumen Christi events, including the very fancy ones and the events abroad. He never flinched when they did baby things like scream or poop. He loved it and I loved him for it.
Many of my closest friends and collaborators are people I first met through Thomas Levergood, under the auspices of Lumen Christi. It’s astonishing, really, the extent to which Lumen Christi has shaped both my personal story and professional life. Without Thomas, I might have still had a career in academia, but not one as fulfilling or rich as I have now.
I think one of Thomas’s lasting impacts on my life is that he really encouraged me to become more integrated as an intellectual. He took me in as an analytic philosopher who happened to be Catholic and forced me to think about how my faith could become a part of my intellectual life and not simply something I practiced in the private sphere. I am grateful to him for that encouragement, and for the countless examples of such integration he brought into my life, because without it I surely would have went in a different, more familiar direction. Because of Thomas, I do consider myself a Catholic intellectual, as in love with and devoted to this tradition as he was, and without apology.
Thomas Levergood was a visionary. He saw the ways that universities were failing to live up to their missions and he saw the need for an institute like Lumen Christi, an institute grounded explicitly in the search for Christian wisdom as the center of higher learning. The need for Lumen Christi is greater now than ever before, and one of the many reasons that the loss of Thomas is so hard to bear. But it is up to those of us who loved Thomas and owe him so much to carry his great legacy forward. I hope and pray that we will, in loving memory of him.
- Professor Jennifer Frey (Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina), delivered at the wake held for Thomas at Gavin House, August 13th, 2021.
I first met Thomas sometime in the early to mid-1990s when Thomas was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and I was the Director of Vocations for the Jesuits in Chicago. At the time, Thomas was worshipping as an Episcopalian, but he was interested in deepening his prayer life, converting to Catholicism and seriously exploring the possibility of entering religious life. I connected him with a Jesuit classicist, Fr. Ted Tracy, S.J., who served as Thomas’s spiritual director for several years. At an Easter vigil at Calvert house, Thomas was received into the Catholic Church by Fr. Paul Mueller, S.J., a fellow graduate student at the U of C. Thomas had many dreams at that time: to complete a doctorate, to become a priest, and to found a project which was to become the Lumen Christi Institute in 1997. I have firmly believed for over 25 years that Thomas discerned well and followed God’s will for him in focusing his energies on his dream of founding the Lumen Christi Institute. In Matthew 7:16 Jesus says: “By their fruits you will know them.” Indeed, the “fruits” of Thomas’s life and mission are indeed “sweet” and abundant. Most importantly, countless people have grown closer to Jesus Christ and have drawn life from the Catholic spiritual and intellectual tradition thanks to Thomas’s vision for the Lumen Christi Institute.
The mission of the Lumen Christi Institute is to make the Catholic intellectual tradition “a vital part of today’s university.” The mission statement continues:
The Lumen Christi Institute’s programs enrich academic communities at the University of Chicago, across the nation, and throughout the world with the insights of Catholic thought, in order to engage our secular culture in dialogue and ultimately to renew our civilization by forming leaders for a global society in need of Christian wisdom.
To have known Thomas, is to have known that he lived and breathed the mission of LCI with every fiber of his being. Thomas had the uncanny ability to be both an optimist and a realist at the same time. He was also a “driver,” as are most successful founders. While those of us who were privileged to serve as board members of the Institute often feared that some of Thomas’s ideas and initiatives amounted to “mission creep,” at the same time, we also recognized that Thomas could focus his energies and accomplish amazing things in the service of the mission. Thomas dreamed big, and often would “shoot for the stars” when it came to programming for the Institute. Thomas’s vision was long-range: while he began with a desire to share the Catholic tradition with U of C students and faculty, he moved on to providing summer seminar programming for graduates students from other universities, and, in recent years, LCI began some new and promising programming for high school students to open their minds, hearts and spirits to the importance of engaging the dialogue between science and religion in the Catholic tradition. Some of the “fruits” of Thomas’s mission can also be seen in the places which have emulated the mission of LCI, such as the Newman Institute in Sweden founded in 2001, and the Collegium Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture founded in 2013 alongside the University of Pennsylvania.
In closing, and on a personal note, I am deeply grateful for the myriad of ways in which Thomas and LCI have cultivated strong relationships with many Jesuits, and for providing a wonderful home for the ministry of Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J., in the last chapter of his life. Thomas enjoyed nothing more than gathering around a table with faith-filled friends for a good meal, with good wine, and stimulating intellectual conversation. May our Lord welcome Thomas to the celestial banquet on “God’s holy mountain” which never ends. Well done, good and faithful servant!
- Fr. Brian G. Paulson, SJ (President, The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States; former Lumen Christi Institute board member)