Thomas Plassmann, OFM
Father Thomas Bernard Plassmann, O. F. M., was a giant. His frame of 6í4 and weight of 235 lbs contributed to this label, but there have been great cowards of much larger dimensions. Thomas Plassmann was a giant because of his heart, mind, and his faith. His eyes could light a fire and his voice could sooth the soul. He was a great intellect, fluent in over 19 languages, author of several religious books, and countless numbers of pamphlets and articles. As Thomas Merton so rightfully said in his Seven Storey Mountain, "He was the picture of benevolence."
Father Tom, as he came to be known, was born, Bernard Plassmann in Avenwedde, Westphalia, Germany on March 19th 1879. At the age of 15 he ventured to America as a follower of St. Francis. Plassmann stayed briefly in New York City before being sent to study at Quincy College. After Quincy he was headed to Collegio Apollinaris in Rome, then to Washington D.C. where he would receive his PhD and the religious name, Thomas. Fr. Tom was now ready to make his impact at St. Bonaventure.
Arriving in 1910, Fr. Plassmann began his reign as one of the most well known Franciscan educators. He taught several languages and theology courses at St Bonaventureís College and Seminary. In 1919 Fr. Tom founded the Franciscan Educational Conference and served as its president till 1947. The conference was devoted to upholding the reputation and creditability that comes with a Franciscan education. A year later, in 1920, Fr. Tom would be named President of St. Bonaventureís College, a post in which he would serve until 1949. In those 29 years Fr. Tom would change St. Bonaventure from a small local school into a world-renowned University.
The 20ís were a decade of prosperity for Plassmann and his College. He would be named Visitor General to the Franciscan Provinces in Canada, Devereux Hall would be built, and the St. Bonaventure Railroad (small 300 yard railroad) would be completed. But in 1930 St Bonaventureís College was devastated by fires that ravaged buildings such as the St Bonaventure Monastery, Seminary, Church, and Lynch Hall. With the Depression at its worst and the College in shambles many would have called it quits, but Fr. Tom would not let his dream of a "bigger and better Bonaventure" die. Plassmann would hold building fundraisers and collect millions in donations in order to see his dream come true. Nicknamed ĎGodís Pickpocketí, Plassmann would dot the campus with buildings such as Friedsam Memorial Library, Hickey Dinning Hall, and De La Roche Hall while raising the student body from 300 to over 2,200. Later, in 1951 Fr. Tomís pride and joy, Christ the King Seminary (now Francis Hall), was constructed to which he was named rector in 1952.
Plassmannís religious accomplishments appear endless. He first entered the Franciscan order in 1898 and was ordained a priest in 1906. In 1946 Plassman was named Visitor General to the Franciscan Province in Germany following WWII, where he returned back to his homeland in order to serve as Auxiliary Chaplain to U. S. forces in Germany and spread his benevolence. Plassmann was also named Visitor General to three Franciscan Provinces in Mexico in 1954. But the most well known honor Plassmann received was during his Golden Jubilee Celebration. While being honored as a devout Franciscan for 50 years, he was also given a rare Papal honor, The Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal symbolizing Papal appreciation and signifying him as a great Religious figurehead.
Father Tom is the epitome of St. Bonaventure University. This devoted Franciscan not only changed the face of a small Southern Tier community, but he changed the face of Franciscan education. From the buildings that stand on campus to the camaraderie of the students, everything holds the essence of Father Tom. If nothing else, Father Tom should be remembered for his Cíest la Vie attitude. Make the best of what you have, even in times of disaster. Even as he lay on his deathbed hearing the prayers for the dying he lifted his eyes and uttered, "Now, letís all have drink." Father Tomas Plassmann was a benevolent giant.
By Sean Dwyer, intern Spring 2003, edited by Dennis Frank, Archivist
For more biographical material visit the Plassmann area of the Merton web site.
The Archives houses the Plassmann papers.
His list of writings is impressive.
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Last updated: 05/02/11