Father remembered for heroic final act

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An overflowing crowd of mourners attended the funeral mass Monday of Thomas Steven Vander Woude, a Gainesville man who spent his life serving others and serving God. Holy Trinity Church, which has 1,200 seats, was so full that many mourners had to listen from the church lobby or watch the Mass on a screen in St. Anthony's Hall.

Vander Woude passed away last Monday while saving the life of his youngest son. Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, had fallen into a septic tank outside the home. Vander Woude jumped into the tank to push Joseph up and keep his head above the muck. Vander Woude died in his attempt to save his son. Joseph was hospitalized with double pneumonia, but is expected to make a full recovery. He was in attendance at Monday's Mass.

Father Thomas P. Vander Woude, the oldest of Vander Woude's seven sons and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish in Alexandria, was the main celebrant. Mass was concelebrated by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde, Father Francis Peffley, pastor of Holy Trinity; Father Jerry Wooten, parochial vicar of Holy Trinity; Father Jack Fullen, a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in residence in the diocese, and more than 70 other priests who are friends of the Vander Woude family.

There was also a procession of more than 60 altar boys, most of whom were trained by Vander Woude himself.

In his homily, Father Vander Woude thanked everyone in attendance for all the generosity the family had received, and spoke about how the Church can provide comfort for those mourning his father's death.

"Just like the Lord gave my Dad the grace to save my brother, He also gives us the grace to deal with the results," Father Vander Woude said.

Father Peffley spoke about the "incredible legacy" Vander Woude left behind with his sons and 24 grandchildren. He also compared Vander Woude to St. Joseph, since he seemed to always be in the background willing to do everything that needed to be done.

Before saying the prayers of commendation, Bishop Loverde called Vander Woude's last act "saintly" and encouraged all attendees to not only pray for Vander Woude, but to pray to him for intercession.

Bishop Loverde also spoke about how faith will help Vander Woude's friends and family get past the tragedy.

"Faith enables us to move ahead, to hold on to each other and to walk with hope," Bishop Loverde said.

He added that Vander Woude should be remembered as a model of inspiration, because he was willing to lay down his life for another person.

"His last act of self-giving was just the crown on a whole life of self-giving," Bishop Loverde said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2008