Courtesy of Boston College
Fr. Thomas D. Stegman, S.J., an eminently respected New Testament scholar and beloved former dean of the School of Theology and Ministry (STM) at Boston College, passed away on April 8, 2023 after a courageous battle with glioblastoma. He was 60.
From 2016 to 2022, Fr. Stegman led the School of Theology and Ministry—an internationally renowned institution for theological scholarship and the intellectual and pastoral formation of priests, religious, and lay women and men. He stepped down from the deanship at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year to focus on his health.
During his tenure, the STM rose to the upper echelon of the global rankings in theology, divinity, and religious studies, placing in the top 10 in the prestigious QS Global Survey. The school also established the Spirituality Studies Program; the Committee on Race and Ethnicity (CORE) to advance racial justice, diversity, equity and inclusion; and Formacíon Continua, which offers continuing education courses and webinars in Spanish for tens of thousands of learners worldwide. He also helped to establish two endowed chairs at the STM: the Clifford and Kitz Chair in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the Henry R. Cavalieri Visiting Jesuit Professorship, to attract and retain the best faculty in the field.
Fr. Stegman’s distinguished teaching career began at the former Weston Jesuit School of Theology in 2003. He was one of the original faculty members to teach at the STM when the school opened in 2008, serving as a professor of New Testament and Professor Ordinarius. He also served as chair of the ecclesiastical faculty at STM prior to being named dean.
Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley praised Fr. Stegman for his leadership and unwavering dedication to the students, faculty, and staff of the STM.
“Working alongside and learning from Tom Stegman during his six years as dean will long remain one of the great blessings of my time as provost,” said Quigley. “He was an exemplary colleague, committed to his work as teacher, administrator, and priest. Tom’s fellow deans and I came to admire him greatly, and we will all continue to treasure the lessons he taught us about leadership, service, and faith.”
A much-admired figure in Simboli Hall—which houses the school’s administrative offices and classrooms—Fr. Stegman drew praise and gratitude from his STM colleagues for creating a close-knit, caring, and welcoming community.
“It would be difficult to overstate just how loved and respected Tom was in the STM community and how centrally he figured in its life during the many years he served as a faculty member and as dean,” said STM Dean Michael C. McCarthy, S.J. “In one of my last conversations with Tom, I told him how grateful I am that he left the STM in such wonderful shape. His legacy here is tremendous, but one of the greatest gifts he left us was an example of how a Christian may approach diminishment and death: with an abiding faith and trust in God and hope in the resurrection. At least for me personally, that is the greatest gift he gave me.”
Added Colleen Griffith, faculty director of spiritual studies and professor of the practice at the STM, “Dean Stegman’s love for the School of Theology and Ministry and his commitment to its flourishing were unwavering. His courage and faithful witness to the gospel were an inspiration to STM faculty, staff, and students. He led our school with integrity and fairness, embodying the highest of Jesuit ideals. His wisdom and grace are lasting gifts to our community.”
Michael Boughton, S.J., rector of the Saint Peter Faber Jesuit Community where Fr. Stegman resided during his years at Boston College, offered similar praise.
“In the many rich facets of Fr Tom Stegman’s life, his foundation has always been being a disciple of Jesus Christ,” said Fr. Boughton. “He learned this as a boy in Nebraska; it has nourished his Jesuit life and priestly ministry; it shaped his New Testament scholarship, writing and teaching; it taught him how to journey as brother, companion, and friend; it sustained him for over three-and-a-half years in his battle with brain cancer. As for so many other people, it has been a great privilege for me to come to know and love this good and faithful friend of Jesus.”
Fr. Stegman’s scholarship was focused on the New Testament, with a specialty in the letters of St. Paul. An author and editor, Fr. Stegman’s publications include Opening the Door of Faith: Encountering Jesus and His Call to Discipleship; Written for Our Instruction: Theological and Spiritual Riches in Romans; Texts Less Traveled: Exploring Hebrews, the Catholic Epistles, and Revelation; The Paulist Biblical Commentary; and Opportunity for No Little Instruction: Biblical Essays in Honor of Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. and Richard J. Clifford, S.J.
Last April, the School of Theology and Ministry held an event celebrating Fr. Stegman’s leadership, research, teaching, and contributions to theological education. At the event, Chris Donovan M.T.S. ’06, Th.M. ’18, one of the hundreds of students he taught and mentored throughout his career, recalled what it was like to be taught by Fr. Stegman:
“Through Tom’s meticulous scholarship and extraordinary ability as a teacher, he guided us through the most challenging texts, revealing cultural contexts [and] the use of literary devices and metaphors, that once understood and appreciated, opened the door to an encounter in freedom with the spirit of love and faithfulness in Scripture,” said Donovan. “Like a beautiful icon, Tom reflects the image and draws us into the Spirit of Christ.”
Fr. Stegman said he never aspired to be dean, and that he agreed with his late friend, colleague, and former teacher Daniel Harrington, S.J., that they had “the best job in the world” studying, teaching, and writing about sacred Scripture. Fr. Stegman however, said he grew to love the job much more than he anticipated, adding that he thought there was “nothing more important than being part of a school that trains Jesuits, those from other religious orders, and laypeople to do ministry work.”
After Fr. Stegman was diagnosed with glioblastoma in 2019, he spoke openly about his illness, including at a 2021 Agape Latte appearance and in a 2022 Boston College Magazine podcast.
In the BCM podcast, when asked if he ever gets angry with God about his health, he offered the following: “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.”
His grace and strong faith served as sources of inspiration and solace for many of his friends and colleagues.
“I want to bear faithful witness to our hope in the Resurrection from the dead,” he said in his Agape Latte address. “I have found our faith so consoling to me. We believe that death is not the end, but the beginning. As a priest, as somebody who teaches New Testament, the Resurrection is the fundamental tenet and belief. I want to bear a faithful witness to it in my life, not just my words.”
Fr. Stegman was raised in Holdrege, Neb. A talented high school baseball player, he was inducted into the Phelps County (Nebraska) Sports Hall of Fame and later coached junior varsity baseball at Creighton Preparatory School in Omaha. He remained an ardent sports fan his entire life, and particularly enjoyed following the St. Louis Cardinals and Green Bay Packers.
He studied mathematics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, but he left after his first year to attend St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, summa cum laude. He joined the Jesuits in 1985. He graduated with a master’s degree in philosophy from Marquette University, and both an M.Div. and S.T.L. from Weston Jesuit School of Theology. He earned a doctorate in New Testament studies from Emory University, under the direction of renowned theologian Luke Timothy Johnson. He was ordained in 1995.
A member of the USA Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Stegman represented his province at the 2012 Procurators Congregation in Nairobi and at the 36th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in Rome, where he had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis.
He was also a member of the Catholic Biblical Association and Society of Biblical Literature, and held visiting chairs at Marquette and Creighton universities.