RENEW International

Msgr. Thomas A. Kleissler – An Outstanding Catholic Leader

Msgr. Thomas A. Kleissler – An Outstanding Catholic Leader
Msgr. Tom Kleissler, a warm, visionary, passionate priest, is the heart and soul of RENEW International – a Catholic ministry organization that has touched well over 25 million people not just in our country, but in 23 other countries worldwide.

Ordained in 1957, five years before Vatican II, Fr. Tom has always had an incredible vision for the Church and a determination to make the world a better place.

From his early days as a priest, he felt it was important for a priest to be a part of his people. Fr. Tom, who is highly respected in the Archdiocese of Newark as a priest’s priest, has constantly been a witness of living Christ’s gospel.

Tom before RENEW
Tom was born on June 12, 1931 and lived in the unique Irish Catholic neighborhood known as Vailsburg in Newark, New Jersey. 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 600 adults to join small communities. Within these weekly, faith-filled gatherings in the living rooms of the families of the parish, Tom forged many significant relationships with those to whom he ministered. This mutual sharing would be the formative experience in Fr. Tom’s 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 loving perseverance, the community grew. By 1979, parishioners who were working with Fr. Tom in small groups, went to City Hall to confront officials about missing money and demanded drug-infested, abandoned buildings in the neighborhood be demolished. And they were!

The Beginnings of RENEW International
With the blessing of Archbishop Peter L. Gerety, Fr. Tom joined forces with Msgr. Tom 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.

RENEW’s success in Newark was incredible! This virtual explosion of the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit began to spread beyond the borders of Newark, the sixth largest diocese in the United States with over 1.3 million Catholics.

By 1980, inquiries came from other dioceses across the country, ultimately resulting in 130 dioceses in the United States participating in RENEW. And as it spread, Fr. Tom 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 followed suit. In 1981, 14 dioceses in Canada began RENEW. This incredible success only made Fr. Tom work harder. Tom devoted every waking minute to helping millions of lay people renew their faith in Christ.

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.

Tom’s Love for the Poor and International Peace
From an early age, Tom’s heart was on fire to help people in all the places around the world. And yet, during his early priesthood he served the Church right at home in New Jersey.

Yet, the Spirit works in mysterious ways. So when calls started coming in to RENEW’s office from dioceses halfway around the world, Fr. Tom naturally answered their calls, and RENEW answered their prayers.

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 enthusiastically spread the Good News. Recognizing the universal desire for the affirming message of Jesus Christ, Tom has spent decades helping bishops, priests, religious sisters and brothers, and parishioners in settings grand and humble prepare for the RENEW process. He then was present spiritually and physically to guide them along the way.

Much has been said about the explosive growth of the Church in the developing world. With Tom’s gentle 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 strenghthening 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. Tom’s commitment will always be for RENEW to go where we are needed to serve the spiritual needs of people at any inconvenience or cost.

Fr. Tom—Looking Ahead
After almost 30 years promulgating RENEW’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 40 US dioceses and ARISE Together in Christ is successfully revitalizing parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston. Tom and his team are meeting young people where they live and meet 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.

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