"Father Tompson's projects are living a life of their own," says Fr. James Carter, pastor of Church of the Immaculate Conception, also called Jesuit Church, which Tompson led until his death in April. "They're a living monument, not something cast in stone you can walk away from."
Fr. Harry Tompson, S.J., set up far-reaching programs to combat social ills -- challenging work that is now being tackled by those who strive to achieve the full potential of his life's mission. Perhaps most ambitious of Tompson's projects was the creation of The Good Shepherd School for at-risk children, which has an ultimate goal of an endowment of $10 million. Tompson's flock is hard at work to ensure the school's long-term health.
"When you visit the school, you feel like you're transported to another planet," says Carter. "The building looks great, and the children all appear eager and well-dressed, bright and beautiful. This was all accomplished by the work of this parish, through volunteers and funding. Though run by an outstanding staff of professional educators, what sets this school apart is the high level of involvement by private citizens."
As evident in the support given to the school, the Jesuit Church parish is a powerful and determined group, and Tompson is credited with forming this congregation. "He increased our numbers dramatically," says Carter. "He had a following when he got here, from his time at St. Pius, Jesuit [High School] and the Manresa retreat. He revitalized an urban parish that had been languishing for quite some time."
Jesuit Church now has a list of 2,000 parishioners and friends. Of the 900 parishioners, only nine live within the parish boundaries (essentially the Central Business District), a testament to Tompson's ability to attract citizens from across metro New Orleans. With this parish, Tompson raised $2 million for a major renovation project that would improve the church with a new roof, paint work and an overall refurbishing. "The structure was very dark and somber in its original concept," says Carter. "Tompson and the architect were faithful to the original concept, but were able to brighten it up."
Jesuit Church parishioner Craig Cuccia is credited for leading the charge on much of the work of Tompson's LSF Foundation, which includes Kid's Cafe as well as job training offered through Sweet T's, the St. John Francis Regis Hospitality Training Program, and Cafe Reconcile. Cuccia co-founded the LSF Foundation and is the only full-time representative of that group on-site. The project is a success, one that Cuccia is determined to continue despite the loss of Tompson.
"The community has totally embraced it," Cuccia says. "People are coming back into the neighborhood. We've got everyone from federal judges to neighborhood folks -- the mayor even popped in. It's starting to blossom."
Another defining period of Tompson's career is his five-year stint as director of the Manresa Retreat House, a Jesuit retreat in Convent that offers its all-male visitors a weekend of spiritual meditation centered around silence, private prayer, conferences and faith-sharing.
"Tompson was very popular as a retreat speaker," says Fr. Anthony Ostini, S.J., Manresa's current director. "Men still speak of how powerful he was with his message."
Shortly after he arrived in 1989, Tompson discovered the building had a flaw that threatened collapse of the entire structure, and he presided over reconstruction of the facility. He helped keep Manresa's constant operation at full capacity of 1,200 annual men -- a success that allowed for increasing the number of visitors not able to leave donations, achieving Manresa's goal of reaching men who can't afford the cost.
Documenting Tompson's life achievements is a daunting task, but one that Vincent Liberto believes must be completed. Liberto, assistant director for development for the New Orleans Province for the Society of Jesus, is collecting photos and essays for the forthcoming book A Shepherd for New Orleans: Essays in Honor of Rev. Harry W. Tompson, S.J. Liberto hopes to finalize the work by April 5, the anniversary of Tompson's death, with all proceeds from the book benefiting The Good Shepherd School. (For more information on the book, visit the Web site www.harrytompson.org.)
"There was something really special about the guy that just transcended time and place," Liberto says. "A pilgrim ... should have one foot on the ground and one foot up at the same time moving toward something. Father Harry lived that Jesuit ideal until the end."
At Cafe Reconcile, Cuccia speaks for many who are continuing Tompson's work. "It's just a blessing to be part of something that was in his vision, and to be there and try to do my part," he says. "In this, you experience all of his wisdom, knowledge and courage."
\Additional reporting by Eileen Loh-Harrist