Obituary: Father Thomas Oates, pastor, missionary, clergy personnel director
A priest of the archdiocese since his Feb. 2, 1963, ordination at Holy Cross Cathedral by Richard Cardinal Cushing, Father Thomas F. Oates died at Regina Cleri Residence for Senior Priests on Oct. 27, 2023. He had been in residence there since 2015, and in the last several months, he had been experiencing declining health.
Born in Brookline on Jan. 2, 1938, he was the only son of the late Thomas and Mary (Folan) Oates; he had five sisters, four survive him: Sister Mary (Mary Norbert) Oates, CSJ who lives at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse, Brighton; Eileen W. Latimer, Schenectady, N.Y.; Clare M. Oates and Dorothy A. Doyle both of Weston; he was predeceased by his sister, Patricia Coates. He was educated in local schools -- the Heath School, in Brookline’s Chestnut Hill area, and St. Columbkille High School, Brighton -- prior to entering the archdiocesan seminaries first at Cardinal O’Connell in Jamaica Plain, and then to St. John, Brighton.
Following his ordination, he received his first parish assignment as an assistant at Most Blessed Sacrament, Wakefield. In 1968, he was assigned as an assistant at St. Augustine Parish, South Boston. Four years later, he was assigned to a particularly challenging ministry as chaplain of the Apostolate to the D Street Project in South Boston with residence at Sts. Peter and Paul Rectory. During this assignment, he was also the coordinator of Juvenile Court Chaplains of the archdiocese.
In June 1974, Humberto Cardinal Medairos named him an assistant director of the office of Clergy Personnel. For the next 12 years, with a one year exception, he served in that office, which required diplomacy and particular care for the priests of the archdiocese. It was not infrequently noted that the job required being able to get the right fit between parishes and priests, and sometimes ending up "fitting" square pegs in round holes. The 12-year span included two terms (1974-1978; 1979-1983) as assistant director and an abbreviated term as director (1983-1986).
In the in-between year (1978-1979), he was associate at Immaculate Conception, Weymouth. During his personnel office years, he resided at St. Anthony of Padua, Allston, (1974-1975); St. Thomas Aquinas, Jamaica Plain, (1975-1978); and St Bernard, Newton, (1979-1986).
Following his clergy personnel assignments, he was granted a sabbatical for three months at the renewal program at the Pontifical North American College at Rome.
Bernard Cardinal Law named him pastor of St. William Parish in Boston's Dorchester section in June 1986. He served the parish for almost a decade during which time he was also episcopal vicar in the Central Region's Vicariate II (1993-1995).
At just about the age when many of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle priests would be returning to the archdiocese following years in Bolivia, Ecuador, or Peru, Father Oates signed up for the Society in 1995 and stayed in South America for the next 17 years. The single longest assignment of his very varied priestly ministry.
When he returned to the archdiocese in 2012, he was readily available to assist in parishes and was an especially welcome member of the preaching band (read fundraising mission appeals) on behalf of the St. James Society.
Even from his "retirement" at Regina Cleri, he remained willing and available for coverage in parishes and for the mission appeals.
Father Oates's funeral Mass was to be celebrated on Nov. 3, 2023, at the church where he celebrated his First Mass more than 60 years ago, St. Lawrence, Brookline.
Cardinal O'Malley was scheduled to be the principal celebrant, and among those indicating their presence as concelebrants were Merrimack Regional Bishop Robert F. Hennessey; Msgr. Kevin J. O'Leary, rector of the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Cross; Father Robert T. Kickham, secretary of Cardinal O'Malley; Father Robert E. Casey, Gate of Heaven and St. Brigid, South Boston; Father John Nichols and Father Henry Nichols, both of Regina Cleri; Father John Unni, who had been a parochial vicar of Father Oates at St. William, Dorchester, was to be the homilist.
Following the funeral Mass, Father Oates was buried with his parents in St. Joseph Cemetery, West Roxbury.