Obituary: Father Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, New Testament scholar, professor, BC dean
On Holy Saturday, April 8, 2023, the courageous and faith-filled struggle with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, which Father Thomas D. Stegman, SJ, waged for the past several years ended with his death at Campion Center, Weston.
Father Stegman was born in Newton, Kansas on Jan. 7, 1963, son of Dennis and Karol (Pfeifer) Stegman. His parents live in Elkhorn, Neb. He was one of their four children: two other sons Michael, of Columbus, Neb.; and Mark, of Omaha, Neb.; and a daughter Patricia Hasty, also of Elkhorn.
He was raised in a tight-knit family and community in Holdrege, Neb., and attended local schools there. He was a standout baseball player and was inducted into the Phelps County Athletic Hall of Fame.
He began his undergraduate education as a Cornhusker at the main campus of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, majoring in mathematics. After one year in Lincoln, he was on the East Coast as a seminarian for the Diocese of Lincoln studying at St. Charles Borromeo College Seminary, Philadelphia, Penn. An outstanding student, he was the valedictorian of his graduating class in 1985.
He entered the Society of Jesus in 1985, a member of the then Wisconsin Province. He followed the Jesuit formation program extending over the next 10 years, including a novitiate in St. Paul, Minn.; philosophy studies at Marquette University, Milwaukee; and theological studies at Weston School of Theology in Cambridge.
Archbishop John R. Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis ordained him to the priesthood on June 9, 1995, at St. Luke Church, St. Paul, Minn. Very soon, he was back in Cambridge completing advanced studies there and then undertaking New Testament studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. (1996-2003).
Newly minted with a Ph.D. in New Testament, he was back in Cambridge in 2003 as professor of New Testament at Weston School of Theology. In 2008, Weston merged into Boston College and the Boston College School Theology and Ministry (BCSTM) was inaugurated. From 2008 to 2016, he was on that faculty and also on the ecclesiastical faculty of the BCSTM.
The esteem and respect of his fellow faculty and the leadership he showed both within and without BCSTM brought him the additional job as dean of BCSTM. He was dean from 2016 to 2022, when his health demanded his retirement.
In December of 2022, he moved to the Health Care Facility of the Jesuits at Weston, Mass.
The glioblastoma was incurable but manageable and in spite of surgeries, various treatments, many experimental, Father Stegman was determined to make the most of every day he could.
Here in the archdiocese, he was weekend assistant first at Sacred Hearts, Malden, and then at Blessed Mother of the Morning Star Parish, covering parts of Chelsea, Everett, Malden, and Revere. He was also a familiar presence for the priests and religious of the archdiocese making himself available for Days of Recollection in several of the regions and for religious communities of women and men. His apparent love of Sacred Scripture, his own spiritual life, and a genuine desire to be of service endeared him to parishioners, priests, and religious.
He was the retreat master for the Boston Priests Retreat in February 2022 at Bethany Center in Lutz, Florida. He was already experiencing some recurrence of the cancer, but conveyed an incredible fighting spirit but also a sincere acceptance of his human frailty. His presentations to the priests mixed a deep appreciation of his hero, St. Paul, and also his own personal struggles. His impact on the priests at the retreat remains.
All who knew him, esteemed him, worked with him, and benefitted from his academic brilliance, pastoral sense, and priestly zeal and ministry, agree that his life was too short. Faced with the question about perhaps being angry with God about his life, his own testament answers it best.
"Not for one second. I have lived a blessed life. I have received so many blessings through the Society of Jesus in terms of the education I have been given, the health care I have received through our benefactors. I have been able to travel as a Jesuit. I have so much to be grateful for. I can go back to many times where I can see God was leading me through circumstances, through people. If I had to go tomorrow, I would be able to look back at a very rich, full life. No, I'm not angry with God, because God has been so good to me."
Father Stegman's funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Ignatius Loyola Church, Newton, on April 20, 2023. The principal celebrant was Father Michael Boughton, SJ, the rector of the Faber Jesuit Community; concelebrating were the homilist Father John Baldovin, SJ, fellow faculty member at BCSTM, and Father Stegman's successor as dean at BCTSM, Father Michael McCarthy, SJ. Several archdiocesan priests also concelebrated, including Father John Sheridan, pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena, Charlestown (Father Stegman had previously assisted Father Sheridan at Blessed Mother of the Morning Star); and Father Walter Carreiro, pastor of Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Wilmington.
Father Stegman's family members came from Nebraska as did many friends and collaborators locally and nationally.
Merrimack Regional Bishop Robert Hennessey was also present, presiding in choir and delivering the Final Commendation at the conclusion of the funeral Mass.
Father Baldovin spoke of his fellow Jesuit and friend: "Tom Stegman was a truly wonderful man and friend. He was an admirable Jesuit, priest, and scholar. Besides his obvious love of the Packers and the Cardinals, his great passion was Sacred Scripture and sharing the riches of the Bible with as many people as he could -- students, fellow priests, religious, people in the parishes he served, and children as well. Tom had a great capacity for friendship and a transparent faith in God. His living with brain cancer over these past three and a half years was remarkable and edifying. Now he rests in God's peace."
Father Stegman was buried in the Jesuit Cemetery, Weston.