Father Gills retires after a ministry that took him around the world and around the Archdiocese of Baltimore - Catholic Review (2024)

Note: Six priests of the Archdiocese of Baltimore will be retiring July 1. The Review profiles the six as their parishes bid them farewell. Click here to read more retirement profiles.

Father Gills retires after a ministry that took him around the world and around the Archdiocese of Baltimore - Catholic Review (1)

Whether celebrating Mass on the hood of a Humvee in a war zone or inside a clear-glass church near Deep Creek Lake looking out to the mountains of Western Maryland, Father Thomas Gills sought to convey the same sense of the sacred.

“Father Tom has a way of expressing God’s love for us despite our sinfulness,” said Peter Ogden, a former pastoral council president at St. Peter the Apostle, Oakland/St. Peter at the Lake, McHenry, where Father Gills has been pastor for five years.

“He lets us know that we are all called to serve the church and that we all have gifts to serve the church,” Ogden said, noting that his own current pursuit of the permanent diaconate was encouraged by Father Gills. “It’s not a passive thing. It’s supposed to be intentional. It’s supposed to be purposeful.”

After nearly four decades in the priesthood, Father Gills retired from active ministry July 1. He plans to live in Little Orleans in Western Maryland in his retirement and will continue to offer ministry in whatever ways he may be called, he said.

“I’ll continue running, hiking, biking, boating, camping and traveling,” he said, “but, most of all, I will remember that I am a priest forever and I plan to live the rest of my life accordingly.”

Raised at St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in Rosedale, where his grandmother took him to daily Mass, Father Gills was telling everyone from the time he was 3 that he was going to be a “pwiest” one day. Second only to his love for God was his love for his country, he said.

Father Gills enlisted in the U.S. Navy not long after graduating from Eastern Vocational Technical High School in Essex, serving as a computer programmer in the Navy. Following the completion of his duties, he entered St. Mary’s Seminary in Roland Park and was ordained to the priesthood in 1986.

After serving strictly in parish ministry, Father Gills became a military chaplain with the U.S. Air Force and was an Air Force Reserve Chaplain for about a decade. While assigned as pastor of St. Charles Borromeo in Pikesville, he was then called to active duty following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

As a military chaplain, Father Gills served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also stationed in Germany, Italy, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The chaplain was stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah from 2003 to 2007, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska from 2007 to 2011 and the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio from 2016 to 2018. He worked with cadets as a chaplain at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado from 2011 to 2016.

Serving in war zones was powerful, Father Gills said, especially when he prayed with young casualties at Balad Air Base in Iraq, some of whom lost limbs in battle. The priest said he tried to give them a sense of hope.

“Whether or not I agreed with why we were in a war zone, I knew that there were Catholics and others there who needed spiritual guidance,” he said.

Father Gills retires after a ministry that took him around the world and around the Archdiocese of Baltimore - Catholic Review (2)

Father Gills became pastor of St. Peter the Apostle/St. Peter at the Lake in 2019, one year after retiring as a military chaplain. The faith community has more than 300 registered families and sees a large surge in attendance during the summer season when visitors come to Western Maryland to vacation in the mountains and at Deep Creek Lake.

“Mountain Maryland truly is God’s beautiful and unique creation,” Father Gills said, “and it attracts people from all walks of life. They come here to enjoy the splendor, but also to praise and thank God in the celebration of the holy Eucharist and the other sacraments.”

Father Gills noted that he directed the staff to never refer to those worshiping with the parish from elsewhere as “tourists” or “visitors.”

“We always call them our ‘e-fam’ – our extended family,” he said. “We provide their spiritual home away from home.”

Deacon Jon Hess said Father Gills has always made everyone feel welcome. His warm, engaging presence helped attract more people back to the church, the deacon said, and those increased numbers put the parish on more secure financial footing than when the pastor arrived.

“People are coming back and, to me, that’s the best testament to his leadership,” said Deacon Hess, business manager and director of religious education.

Deacon Hess said his friend’s personal touch is grounded in a positive outlook.

“He’s certainly a very holy man – and that comes out in the liturgies,” Deacon Hess said. “More than anybody I’ve ever known, he has a desire to always give blessings. Anything that happens, he’s ready to pray and say, ‘Let’s thank God’ or ‘let’s pray to God for this.’”

Ogden described Father Gills as a gifted and relatable homilist who deftly highlights stories involving everyone from Babe Ruth to World War II heroes.

“He ties their different experiences – spiritually or otherwise – into the readings for the day,” Ogden said. “He’s very effective because he makes his point usually from two or three different perspectives.”

Father Gills, 70, said he has deeply enjoyed his priesthood and was inspired by those he served. He encouraged anyone thinking about a religious vocation to pray for guidance and empowerment. Once a decision is reached, he said, “give all you have to give and then help build God’s kingdom wherever you’re called to do so.”

“Ministering in parishes and on military installations, as well as in war zones, gave me the opportunity to excel in what I was called to do – and that is to serve the faithful in the name of Christ and to reach out to those who are not familiar with Christ and bring them his love, forgiveness and healing,” Father Gills said.

Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org

Also see: Father Thomas Gills, retired Air Force chaplain, recalls ‘powerful ministry’ to wounded and dying

Father Gills retires after a ministry that took him around the world and around the Archdiocese of Baltimore - Catholic Review (3)

Father Thomas Gills

Born: Jan. 21, 1954

Home Parish: St. Clement Mary Hofbauer, Rosedale

Seminary: St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Roland Park

Priestly ordination: May 10, 1986

Assignments: St. Louis, Clarksville (1986-90), associate pastor; St. Mary, Hagerstown (1990-95), associate pastor; Our Lady of the Fields, Millersville (1995-2000), associate pastor; St. Charles Borromeo, Pikesville (2000-02), pastor; U.S. Air Force (2002-18), chaplain; St. Michael, Clearspring; St. Patrick, Little Orleans; St. Mary, Hagerstown (2018-19), assisting priest; St. Peter the Apostle, Oakland (2019-24), pastor

Quote: “Ministering in parishes and on military installations, as well as in war zones, gave me the opportunity to excel in what I was called to do – and that is to serve the faithful in the name of Christ and to reach out to those who are not familiar with Christ and bring them his love, forgiveness and healing.”

Also see

Father Foley, pastor to retired priests, set to retire himself

‘Unflappable’ pastor who shepherded major parish projects ready to retire

Approaching retirement, Monsignor Barker reflects on shepherding one of the largest parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore

Founding pastor of Frederick parish to retire

Brother to teacher to pastor: Father Franken’s long and varied vocation

Father Edward Hendricks, trailblazer in pastoral planning, will remain in Western Maryland for retirement

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Father Gills retires after a ministry that took him around the world and around the Archdiocese of Baltimore - Catholic Review (2024)

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