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Man of faith dies saving disabled son

Friends and family Tuesday mourned the sudden loss of a man they had counted on for years as a loyal friend, volunteer, and above all devoted father and husband.

Thomas S. Vander Woude, 66, died Monday in an accident at his home in Prince William County. He drowned while trying to save his youngest son, Joseph, who had fallen into a septic tank.

"For all of the good that he did, he took no credit for it, but gave the credit to others and to the intercession of the Blessed Mother." Bob Laird

Joseph, 20, who has Down syndrome, was hospitalized Tuesday and was expected to make a full recovery, according to Father Francis Peffley, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Gainesville, where the Vander Woudes are members.

Vander Woude is the father of Father Thomas P. Vander Woude, pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish in Alexandria. Vander Woude and his wife, Mary Ellen, had seven sons.

“Tom was a most humble man,” said longtime friend Bob Laird, executive director of Divine Mercy Care and practice administrator of Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax. “For all of the good that he did, he took no credit for it, but gave the credit to others and to the intercession of the Blessed Mother. He dedicated his entire life to his family and his faith. This dedication cost him his life saving his son.”

Anne Carroll, director of Seton School in Manassas, said the Vander Woudes moved to the area from Georgia in the early 1980s so their children could attend a solid Catholic school. While six of his sons made their way through the school, Vander Woude served on the school’s board of directors and coached varsity basketball and soccer. As late as last year, Vander Woude was coaching a junior varsity team for his son, Dan, Seton’s athletic director.

“As a coach, he was excellent but was also a real mentor and real role model,” Carroll said. “Whenever anything needed to be done around the school he was there. He and his wife kept the school going (in the early years) — he was building things and his wife was in the chapel praying.”

After retiring as a commercial airline pilot six years ago, Vander Woude worked as the athletic director at Christendom College in Front Royal until last year when his son, Chris, took over.

“He was a great man, a devout Roman Catholic and great friend of the college,” said Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell. “He sent his children here and made an incredible contribution to not only our athletics program, but also the larger life of the community here. Our hearts go out to his family at this time. He will be deeply missed.”

Vander Woude was also a dedicated volunteer at his parish.

Father Peffley said Vander Woude was responsible for training altar servers at Holy Trinity, two dozen of whom attended morning Mass Tuesday after hearing the news of his death.

“He did everything. I worked with him every day for the last seven years,” Father Peffley said. “For six-and-a-half years, (Thomas and Mary Ellen) set up for (Sunday) Mass at Brentsville High School. They arrived early to set up and stayed late to take down afterwards. He would do anything I needed help with around the parish.”

In addition to his work with the college and his parish, Vander Woude and his wife were one of the first natural family planning (NFP) teaching couples to work with the Couple to Couple League in the Arlington Diocese, according to Laird. Vander Woude was famous for the annual Marian celebrations held at the family’s home in May. “His May picnics were infamous,” Laird said. “It was sort of like an open invitation, and there were hundreds of people there. I think they stopped after awhile because they just got too big.” Carroll said a Holy Hour for Vander Woude Monday at the school drew a standing-room-only crowd. Classes will be canceled the day of the funeral to allow students to attend.

A Mass was celebrated at Christendom Tuesday for Vander Woude and his family.

Visitation will be held Sept. 14 at Holy Trinity Church, 8213 Linton Hall Rd., Gainesville, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. A funeral Mass will be held Sept. 15 at Holy Trinity at 10:30 a.m.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2008