Msgr. Thomas Hartman, half of TV and radio’s “God Squad” and the longtime head of the Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Telecare cable TV station, died Feb. 16 of complications from Parkinson’s disease, from which he had been suffering since 1999. He was 69.
A funeral Mass was celebrated Feb. 20 at St. Aidan Church, Williston Park, L.I., his boyhood parish, followed by burial at Holy Rood Cemetery, Westbury, L.I.
Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre said Msgr. Hartman was “a good and holy priest” of the diocese who “touched many lives, healed many hearts and used his considerable gifts to bring people to a deeper sense of God in their lives.”
He credited the priest for making Telecare “into a nationally recognized leader in Catholic television.”
Lived Long Calvary
In recent years, Msgr. Hartman “lived a long Calvary because of Parkinson’s disease, which over time left him bedridden,” Bishop Murphy said in a statement. “Through it all even to these last days, he remained serene because his trust was always in the Lord who loved him and now welcomes him into his eternal home.”
Msgr. Hartman was the Catholic half of “The God Squad” with Rabbi Marc Gellman. The two met during an appearance on a Long Island cable news program about the links between Easter and Passover. They appeared regularly on ABC’s “Good Morning America” as well as shock jock Don Imus’ syndicated radio program.
The pair made up to 150 speeches a year in their heyday in the late 1990s, wrote several books together, won four Emmy Awards for their TV work, and received a Peabody Award for an HBO animated special based on their children’s book “How Do You Spell God?”
Ordained in 1971, Msgr. Hartman was recruited to assist a New York television station with its coverage of St. John Paul II’s 1979 visit to New York City.
He took over Telecare in 1981 from a priest who was leaving ordained ministry and had recommended him for the job. It was a job he held for 24 years until Parkinson’s took too great a toll on his health.
Once he went public with the diagnosis in 2003, Msgr. Hartman started a foundation to raise money to find a cure for Parkinson’s, often working with other high-profile Parkinson’s victims, including the Rev. Billy Graham and actor Michael J. Fox.
Msgr. Hartman had done the same the decade prior for those afflicted with AIDS. When his brother Gerard died from AIDS in 1995, he raised $6 million and helped establish Christa House in Uniondale, a hospice for AIDS sufferers.
In 2004, Msgr. Hartman was honored by the Tri-State Catholic Committee on Radio and Television, which serves the New York metropolitan area, for his ministry as a “priest communicator.” By then, he had noticed that Parkinson’s was weakening his throat muscles, causing trembling in his hands and walking with a limp, and despite a daily regimen of exercise and 28 pills a day, he was exhausted at the end of the day.
Msgr. Hartman was born in Jamaica, Queens.
In 1970, he received a master of divinity degree from Our Lady of Angels Seminary in Albany and a doctor of ministry degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif., in 1979.
His early pastoral assignments in the Rockville Centre Diocese included serving as a priest at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Elmont, L.I., and a chaplain for the Nassau County Police Department.
Msgr. Hartman is survived by his mother, a brother, three sisters, and his uncle, Msgr. John Hartman, pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart, East Glendale.