A rabbi and a priest become great friends while communicating messages of tolerance and faith throughout the nation as “The God Squad.”
No, it’s not the opening of a silly joke. It’s a true story about Monsignor Thomas Hartman, known to his friends and followers as “Father Tom.” Father Tom left us last week at age 69 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He and I often crossed paths through the years; his involvement with media and his savvy public relations skills brought us together on several projects. I can’t name a warmer, smarter and more open-minded man.
Although the “God Squad” became nationally-known, Rabbi Gellman and Monsignor Hartman were primarily local celebrities. Father Tom’s life was quite amazing. After serving at a Long Island parish and hosting religious radio programs, he became director of Telecare, the Rockville Centre diocesan television station. When News 12 Long Island invited Father Tom to talk about holidays, he invited Rabbi Gellman to join him. Later, as “The God Squad,” the two reached 15 million cable viewers a week via Telecare.
Father Tom and Rabbi Gellman children’s book, “How Do You Spell God?” became an award-winning HBO animated special. They appeared on numerous TV and radio shows, won four Emmys, wrote several books and a weekly Newsday column. Father Tom had a cameo role in “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” a film starring Barbra Streisand, raised millions of dollars for AIDS and Parkinson’s research, and helped found the nonprofit food bank Island Harvest. He also once received the Public Relations Professionals of Long Island’s “Long Island Achievement Award.”
Father Tom signed my copy of the duo’s first book, “Where Does God Live?” For me, its most memorable passage challenged us to think about God as living at the top of a mountain. We all want to reach him, but there’s no single, correct way to get to the top of the mountain. This lovely, simple parable of religious tolerance has stayed with me through my adult life.
Thanks, and rest in peace, Father Tom. It was wonderful knowing you. Your thoughts?