A funeral Mass for Vincentian Father Tom Nelson was celebrated Oct. 14 at the Church of the Risen Christ in Denver. Father Nelson died Oct. 5 in Denver at the age of 83. He lived a long life dedicated to serving poor and marginalized people.
A memorial Mass will be celebrated at noon, Saturday, Nov. 16, at St. Vincent de Paul Church, 1408 S. Tenth St. in St. Louis.
Father Nelson was born in St. Louis in 1936, one of five children of Robert and Mary Nelson. He found his vocation as a Catholic priest after a 10-plus-year career in the business world. In 1975, he was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In 1982, he joined the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), a community of Catholic priests and brothers committed to evangelizing people who live in poverty and to the formation of clergy and laity to serve the same mission.
Father Nelson taught at St. Thomas Seminary, Denver; Cardinal Glennon College, St. Louis; Good Shepherd Seminary, Maralal, Kenya; Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, St. Louis; and DePaul Center, Nairobi, Kenya. Wherever he worked, he involved himself in community work where he could serve the Vincentian mission.
In St. Louis, Father Nelson worked with Karen House, a Catholic Worker House; and with the Handicapped Encounter Christ program, bringing abled and disabled people together for retreats and social interaction. Twenty-five years ago, Father Nelson moved to Denver to as founding chaplain of the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, an organization that brings young adults to Denver to spend a year of direct service with the poor and homeless, live in community and engage in spiritual formation and prayer centered on the preferential option for the poor. He worked with the Denver Catholic Worker House and soup kitchen; helped to found a Rocky Mountain Handicapped Encounter Christ group; and worked with other groups serving people who are poor and marginalized. He also was chaplain for the Native American Catholic Community of St. Kateri.
In Denver, Father Nelson’s interest in interreligious dialogue and spirituality led him to teach a course in the Christian contemplative tradition at the Naropa Institute, a Buddhist university in Boulder. He also regularly led retreats for religious and lay groups around the country. He said he was guided by St. Vincent de Paul, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.
He is survived by two sisters, Patricia Reinarman and Mary Margaret Rankin; and a brother, Joe Nelson.