Thomas Levergood, the executive director and cofounder of the Lumen Christi Institute, passed away on August 6 after a brief battle with cancer. The following tribute is adapted from remarks given at Levergood’s wake by the theologian Bernard McGinn.
Like everyone else, I was not only deeply saddened, but truly shocked by the suddenness of Thomas’s death. Some few short weeks before we had been talking about his plans for the upcoming year at Lumen Christi; then word reached us that he had had a serious operation and was recuperating. I was able to see him several times in the weeks that followed, and my wife Pat and I also had a visit when he was in rehabilitation. The last time I saw him was at the University of Chicago Medical Center the Sunday before his passing. It seems to me almost incomprehensible that I will no longer run into him on the streets near Gavin House as he strolls along puffing on his pipe with his dog, the faithful Bossuet, by his side.
Thomas took at least one course with me during his time as a student at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought between 1991 and 1996. Where I really got to know him, however, was through the foundation and development of the Lumen Christi Institute beginning in about 1996 or 1997. Thomas liked to blame me for the existence of Lumen Christi, but that is at best only half right. It is true that in the mid-1990s, the then-chaplain of Calvert House, Fr. Willard Jabusch, got a bee in his bonnet about creating a Catholic Studies program at the University of Chicago. He asked me what I thought, and I know he also consulted with several other Catholic faculty. I did my best to discourage the idea. Whatever one may think of such programs, I argued that the University of Chicago was not a good venue for such an initiative. However, I was fully supportive of the idea that more needed to be done on campus to highlight and disseminate the riches of the Catholic intellectual and spiritual heritage, so I suggested to Fr. Jabusch that perhaps some kind of center or institute might be established that would bring noted Catholic scholars to the university community for lectures, programs, and even courses. I believe similar views were also expressed by David Tracy, Jean-Luc Marion, and other faculty whom Fr. Jabusch consulted.
Paul J. Griffiths, who was at that time on the Divinity School faculty, also agreed, and he took on much of the delicate role of helping create and advise the nascent Lumen Christi Institute, an intellectual entity that was at the university, but not of the university, in the sense that it was fully independent, although designed to collaborate with the University programs when this was possible. I describe this task as a delicate one, which it was, because there were some at the university who were suspicious of Lumen Christi and its intentions.
Right from the start, Griffiths turned to Thomas Levergood to do much of the fundraising, organizing, and planning for the institute, so it was quite fitting that during the formative years between 1997 and 1999 Thomas bore the title of “founder and associate director.” To be sure, the institute would never have become such a great success story without the signal efforts of many, especially the members of the board of trustees, as well as those of us who served on the Academic Advisory Committee. But Thomas Levergood was the major engine that powered the whole effort. From 1999 to the present he served as the executive director while Lumen Christi continued to grow and flourish, emerging as a major voice in contemporary Catholic intellectual life. Its success can be measured in many ways, not least in the effect its programs have had on the current generation of Catholic students, scholars, and leaders.