LEFT: Fellow priests serve as pallbearers, carrying the coffin of Monsignor Tom Wallace down the aisle at St. Paul the Apostle, Chino Hills, at the Feb. 6 Mass of Resurrection. TOP RIGHT: Cardinal Robert McElroy from the Diocese of San Diego, who attended seminary with Msgr. Wallace, speaks at the Mass of Resurrection. BOTTOM RIGHT: A close-up of Msgr. Wallace's coffin is seen.
By Anneliese Esparza
The faithful of the Diocese of San Bernardino came out in large numbers to honor the late Monsignor Tom Wallace at his funeral services on Feb. 5 and 6, a sign of just how big of an impact the much-beloved priest had on so many.
“We lost a good priest. We lost a happy priest. We lost one who listened to us and cared about what we were saying,” said Bishop Emeritus Gerald Barnes during the vigil service at Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral, San Bernardino, on Feb. 5. “We lost one who respected us, who loved us, whose smile was disarming. He was one that made us feel special, because he was special. He was totally there for us.”
“Fr. Tom saw [the light of Christ] in each of us. Some of us didn’t know we had it. But he saw it, and we saw it in him,” added Bishop Barnes.
Msgr. Wallace, who passed away in his sleep on Jan. 22, had touched many across the Diocese in his 40 years of priestly ministry with his signature smile, gift for genuine connection, humility and habit of addressing all he encountered as “saint.”
Father David Andel, JCL, who gave the homily at the Mass of Resurrection on Feb. 6, said that the foundation for all these qualities of Msgr. Wallace was his Christ-like love and tenderness. The Mass was held at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Chino Hills.
“Pope Francis wrote in Joy of the Gospel that the world needs a revolution in tenderness. If you’re wondering what that revolution in tenderness might look like, I think Msgr. Wallace gave us a great example of what it looks like in practice, on a day-to-day basis,” said Fr. Andel.
Fr. Andel highlighted Msgr. Wallace’s commitment to serving others hands-on. “He always stepped in to help. Whether it was sweeping the church parking lot himself, mowing his mom’s lawn for many years and fixing up her house, emptying the dishwasher, covering Mass and confessions for his brother priests, painting a wall, holding the door open for you, carrying something, paying for something, like Christ, who came to serve and not to be served, Msgr. Wallace really only thought first about you, about us,” he said.
A few years ago, Msgr. Wallace became the first priest in our Diocese (other than Bishop Barnes) that had celebrated Mass at every church, chapel and mission in the Diocese. “He was really proud of that. And it happened simply because he was willing to help anyone, anywhere, at any time,” said Fr. Andel.
“Maybe Msgr. Wallace’s greatest and most divine characteristic was his unwavering faith in you. Msgr. Wallace believed in you, in your goodness and holiness, more than you believed in your goodness and holiness ... We didn’t see sainthood in ourselves. Far from it. But Msgr. Wallace saw what we couldn’t,” said Fr. Andel.
The funeral Mass had the distinction of being concelebrated by three prelates: Bishop Barnes, Bishop Alberto Rojas and Cardinal Robert McElroy of the Diocese of San Diego, who had attended seminary with Msgr. Wallace in the 1970s.
Cardinal McElroy said that while the rigorous academics of the seminary didn’t come naturally to Msgr. Wallace, he was anchored by his conviction that he was called to serve God’s people by becoming a priest. “When Tom entered the doors of the seminary, the level of holiness rose 50 percent. It was clear to all this was a remarkable man filled with God’s grace,” said Cardinal McElroy.
“He was a man of kindness, a man of prayer, a man utterly devoted to becoming a priest for service to others,” he added.
In addition to Bishop Barnes, Bishop Rojas and Cardinal McElroy, dozens of priests from all corners of the Diocese turned out to concelebrate Mass in honor of their fellow priest. Several priests said that Msgr. Wallace showed what it meant to truly be a holy, Christ-like priest.
“[Msgr. Wallace] has been a great source of inspiration to me. He’s very humble, always ready to help. A good, good man,” said Father James McLaughlin, Pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in La Quinta. He served with Msgr. Wallace for a year at St. Joseph, Barstow several years ago and has interacted with him often since then.
Similarly inspired by Msgr. Wallace was Father Andres Rivera, a new priest (ordained May 2022) who had first interacted with Msgr. Wallace during his time working in the Communications Department at the Diocesan Pastoral Center before joining seminary.
“I think what really stuck with me is the level of attention that he gave to us within the interaction ... just the ambiance that he provided through his interaction, the listening, the caring, the gentle way that he spoke. That is something that I think I would like to emulate in my interactions with parishioners and with people of faith and people who are not even of the same faith, because that’s how you bring people closer to God,” shared Fr. Rivera, who is currently Parochial Vicar at St. Peter & St. Paul, Alta Loma.
While Bishop Rojas only had known Msgr. Wallace for a few years, he said that the priest made an impact on him ever since he walked in the door with his joyful smile and addressed the Bishop as “St. Albert.”
“I’ve been so edified and moved in many different ways by his life. What a joyful person he was ... he was really a beautiful man,” said Bishop Rojas. “His legacy is going to last very long. I hope that we continue to learn from him, because I think somebody like him would work best for the Church today.”
Following the funeral Mass, mourners traveled to Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery, Colton, to witness Msgr. Wallace being laid in his final resting place. Afterwards, a reception was hosted at St. Adelaide, Highland.
Msgr. Wallace meant something different to all who attended the funeral services. To his fellow priests, he was someone who demonstrated what Jesus envisioned when he instituted the priesthood. To his family members, he was a brother or uncle. To many, he was the beloved parish priest who had baptized their children, celebrated their weddings, heard their confessions and given them First Communion.
To others, he was a priest that had made a big impact in just a brief interaction. One of those at the funeral who had been touched by Msgr. Wallace despite not knowing him well was Mercedes Muñoz from St. Oscar Romero, Eastvale.
Muñoz shared that a few weeks ago, Msgr. Wallace visited her parish to cover a Mass. Her grandson, who is an altar server, recounted to her later how Msgr. Wallace had put his arm around his shoulder, looked into his eyes and said, “I see a halo over your head. You’re going to be a great priest one day.”
“I was touched by him and so was my grandson,” said Muñoz.
Added fellow St. Oscar Romero parishioner Andy Lynch, “He just had this beautiful smile. And even when he’d say, ‘God be with you,’ it was like he really truly meant it.”
Msgr. Wallace didn’t just talk about the love of God, he embodied it, radiated it, brought it to life. As Fr. Andel said during his homily, all of Msgr. Wallace’s best characteristics – his joy, his mercy, his kindness, his forgiveness – are only a taste of what God is like.
“God is more merciful, more optimistic, more kind, more welcoming, more forgiving, smiles more often, and is even happier to see you than Fr. Tom. And that’s why when you saw him, you got a glimpse of what God is truly like. And it’s a kinder, gentler, more tender God than we usually imagine,” said Fr. Andel.