For Father Tomaz Gomide, retiring from the Corpus Christi parish after 39 years of service was like saying goodbye to a large family whose emotional lives he had shared as a spiritual mentor.
“I became part of the family. I laughed with them. I cried with them,” Gomide said in reflecting on the experience. “If I had it to start over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. People in Mineola were so nice to me. They gave me more than I expected.”
Over the years, he ministered to generations of families, marrying couples, baptizing their children, marrying their children and presiding at the funerals of those children’s parents. A world traveler, he has also visited the graves of Corpus Christi parishioners who are buried in their native Portugal.
At age 72, the normal retirement age for priests in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, Gomide said he wanted to retire because the paperwork he handled at Corpus Christi had become “a nightmare.”
He came to Corpus Christi after serving for a year at a parish in Coney Island. A native of Brazil, he said the diocese sent him to Mineola in 1976, five years after he was ordained, because Gomide was fluent in Portuguese. But he went through a period of adjusting to the Portuguese American culture.
“When I came to Mineola, I came with a Brazilian mentality. Portuguese are different than Brazilians,” he said, adding that there were differences in the spirit of the Catholic liturgy in Brazil and the U.S.
A priest Gomide had met while in Brooklyn told him then-Monsignor Thomas Daly at Corpus Christi was looking for a Portuguese priest, and told Daly about Gomide. After arriving in the parish, he quickly developed a deep respect for his new pastor.
“To work with Monsignor Daly was a blessing. He was a remarkable priest and a remarkable man,” Gomide said.
He also formed a bond with the three other priests in the parish including Father John Dunne, who eventually became a bishop. The priests became like brothers, he said, sharing meals and leisure time together.
“It was almost heaven on earth. They were the best years of my life,” Gomide said.
In those days, he said Corpus Christi was a much larger parish where the five o’clock mass on Saturday drew a standing room only crowd. Consistent with his mission in the parish, he began saying mass in Portuguese regularly.
“Father Tomaz has been a constant presence for the Portuguese community and the Catholic Church for the best part of the last 40 years. His ability to say mass in Portuguese and serve the Portuguese has been so important to the community over the years and we’ve come to regard him as part of our family,” said state Sen. Jack Martins, who served as an altar boy for Father Tomaz in years past.
Gomide said Martins’ family, which was very active at Corpus Christi, helped champion the initiative to establish a Portuguese-language mass. Martins said Father Tomaz’s commitment to Mineola aided the development of the Portuguese community in Mineola over the years.
Gomide said his first thoughts of priesthood occurred when he was attending boarding school in Brazil, where he was taught by priests of the Norbertine Order of Belgium. The priests were strict but fair and one became a family friend, dining regularly at the Gomide household.
He made his final decision to take his vows for the priesthood after completing a theology course in Sao Paolo. He was advised by one priest to not immediately request ordination, so Gomide volunteered at a parish there for two years prior to being ordained. “In the seminary, I was a little rebel,” Gomide said, smiling.
He had a gift for languages, teaching Latin and Italian as a tutor to pay for his education. Gomide also raised and sold rabbits. He had already earned a philosophy degree studying at the Jesuit University in Sao Paolo before entering the seminary. The two years of volunteer work confirmed the vocation Gomide felt to become a priest.
“I used to help in the parish with the Boy Scouts. It was my involvement with the parish that informed my decision to be a priest,” Gomide said.
He enjoyed parish life and thoroughly enjoyed the seminary, where he sang Gregorian chant, played piano and trumpet in a band. “The time I spent in the seminary was a beautiful time in my life. The friendships among us were wonderful,” Gomide recalled.
While doing parish volunteer work, he was selected to study for a law degree at the University of Sao Paolo. Gomide had his first taste of U.S. culture, when he earned a scholarship to take a political science course at Harvard University in the summer of 1969 while he was studying theology.
“I was facing a different atmosphere. I was not prepared for that.” But he was certain he wanted to return.
After his ordination in 1971, Gomide was appointed to be youth coordinator for 50 parishes in the Sao Paolo area and was regularly harassed by the police during what was a time of a repressive dictatorship in Brazil. “The police were after me, but I never had any problems,” Gomide said.
After three years as a priest, the Cardinal of Sao Paolo sent him to Rome, Italy to study, which enabled him to learn Italian. His experience there included having a private audience with Pope Paul VI. A priest in Sao Paolo then secured Gomide an assignment to the parish in Coney Island while he simultaneously studied for a masters degree in international law at New York University, after studying English at NYU to prepare for the law school.
“After doing a year at NYU, I was fried,” he said.
Gomide was so exhausted, he told his mother he was going to discontinue his studies and return to Brazil. But she told him, “Fight. Do not carry a defeat with you through life.”
So Gomide persisted in his studies and also spent a summer studying at the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
He would face a personal fight of a very different kind 14 years into his ministry at Corpus Christi, when he was afflicted with depression and anxiety attacks that prevented him from conducting his ministerial duties for two months. Gomide worked through that with the help of a psychiatrist at the diocese, and told parishioners what had happened when he returned. He subsequently helped some of them with similar emotional problems.
“I always say to people ‘There is a hell because I was there’,” Gomide said.
In retirement, he’s found a new freedom, walking three miles a day, something his doctor had been advising him to do for years. He also looks forward to continue traveling around the world, something that has been an antidote for his depression.
The Portuguese Society of Mineola gave him a gala send-off on July 26 and presented him a plaque to honor his service for the Portuguese Lions Club of New York, which he co-founded.
But Gomide isn’t going far. He is intent on actively working at his vocation on Long Island and is looking forward to doing volunteer hospital work. He also wants to start playing piano and trumpet again.
On one recent Sunday morning, he said two masses in Spanish—one in Westbury, where he lives, and another in a parish in Farmingville, where he had started doing service while at Corpus Christi.
“I am available in any parish when they need me,” Gomide said. “I like what I do.”