Msgr. Thomas Kleissler Marks 50 Years of Priesthood
RENEW International President Celebrates in his First Parish
Park Ridge, NJ – Friends, family, colleagues, and parishioners came together to celebrate fifty years of priesthood of Msgr. Thomas A. Kleissler at his Golden Jubilee celebration at Our Lady of Mercy church in Park Ridge, New Jersey on May 20, 2007. In addition to his many years as a diocesan parish priest, Msgr. Kleissler is well known as the President of RENEW International, a Catholic ministry organization that has touched well over 25 million people in the United States and in 23 other countries worldwide through its processes of spiritual renewal.
Remarked Sr. Terry Rickard, OP, Director of RENEW International, “Fr. Tom is the heart and soul of RENEW International. He approaches his priesthood with a determination to make the world a better place. From his early days as a priest, he always felt it was important for a priest to be a part of his people.”
Over 20 priests from around the world came to concelebrate with Msgr. Kleissler. Archbishop Peter L. Gerety offered a blessing and reflections on the gift of Msgr. Kleissler's priesthood to the Church at home in Newark and abroad.
Roots before RENEW
Thomas A. Kleissler was born on June 12, 1931 and lived in the unique Irish Catholic neighborhood known as Vailsburg in Newark, New Jersey. He was raised by Edwin and Elizabeth Kleissler and was one of four brothers. Tom’s active childhood fostered a love for sports, especially Seton Hall basketball.
But Tom’s love of the Lord came first. He entered the seminary in freshman year of high school and completed his formation twelve years later. During this time, the seeds for RENEW’s mission were just starting to be planted.
His first assignment was Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Park Ridge, New Jersey. With missionary zeal and youthful enthusiasm, he personally visited every home in his parish. He encouraged more than six hundred adults to join small communities. Within these weekly, faith-filled gatherings in the living rooms of the families of the parish, Fr. Tom, as he became known, forged many significant relationships with those to whom he ministered. This mutual sharing would be the formative experience in his development as a young priest, and in the faith journey of the young couples.
In 1973, Fr. Tom was asked to become administrator of St. Ann’s Parish in inner-city Newark. At his first Sunday Mass there, only one parishioner attended. In time, with perseverance, the parish community grew. By 1979, RENEW parishioners went to City Hall to confront officials about missing money and to demand that drug-infested, abandoned buildings in the neighborhood be demolished.
The Beginnings of RENEW International
Msgr. Kleissler is best known within the Catholic Church as a co-founder of RENEW International. In 1976, with the blessing of then-Archbishop Peter L. Gerety, Msgr. Kleissler joined forces with Msgr. Thomas Ivory, and began to collaborate on what later became the RENEW process. From the very beginning, Tom Kleissler had a vision of a renewed Church—with laypersons deeply involved in parish, civic, and global issues and saw the parish as a community made up of many small communities.
Many parishes in the archdiocese of Newark adopted the RENEW process. Through word of mouth, inquiries came from other dioceses across the country, ultimately resulting in 130 dioceses in the United States participating in RENEW. And as it spread, the process of spiritual renewal helped thousands and thousands of people develop a stronger faith, a better relationship with God, and a better understanding of what it means to be Catholic.
Other countries soon followed suit. In 1981, fourteen dioceses in Canada began RENEW. Archbishop Gerety, years later, said that “RENEW is one of the best programs for the renewal of the Catholic Church that has ever been devised!” Cardinal Theodore McCarrick has characterized RENEW as a gift to the global church from the Archdiocese of Newark.
Archbishop John J. Myers, Newark’s current archbishop, supports RENEW International’s mission of evangelization and faith formation, encouraging other bishops to work in collaboration with RENEW International to achieve their pastoral goals.
Love for the Poor and International Peace
From an early age, Tom wanted to serve people in places around the world. And yet, during his early priesthood he served the Church right at home in New Jersey. Ultimately, his prayers were answered when calls started coming in to RENEW International’s office from dioceses halfway around the world.
From the towns and cities of Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, England, and Ireland to the villages of South Africa, Honduras, and the Philippines, Fr. Tom has traveled across the globe to spread the Good News, in recognition of the universal desire for the affirming message of Jesus Christ.
Fr. Tom’s commitment has always been to go where needed to serve the spiritual needs of people at any inconvenience or risk. With his persistence, small faith communities in countries like Nigeria, El Salvador, and India have literally transformed their conflict and poverty-ridden areas into hopeful ground for planting peace and strengthening parishes.
Today, the former Communist regime of Slovakia and the genocide-stricken African republic of Burundi are just two of RENEW International’s most recent global efforts.
Fr. Tom—Looking Ahead
After almost 30 years promulgating RENEW International’s ministry in the United States and around the world, Tom only works harder, never resting on his laurels. One of his incredible gifts is scouting new talent. He searches all over the world for lay leaders, and he empowers them, as baptized Christians, to take their rightful place in the Church. In a model for the Church, he brings together lay people, religious, and clergy to work collaboratively, using their gifts and talents to foster evangelization, spiritual renewal, and adult faith formation.
What gives Fr. Tom energy is seeing a wealth of new opportunities to serve. RENEW International’s new adult faith formation process, Why Catholic?, has spread to over 30 US dioceses. Kleissler and his team are meeting young people where they live and gather through Campus RENEW and Theology on Tap, working with the burgeoning Hispanic population, using new techniques and technology. Msgr. Thomas Kleissler, a visionary leader, continually puts RENEW International at the forefront of serving the Church at home and abroad.