When he was a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Thom Field had a feeling one afternoon that he was being “called,” being called to the ministry and not to a career in engineering.
He came from a devout Protestant family in Greenwich and had a strong education in the faith. His Sunday school teacher at Second Congregational Church was Claude Kirchner, a celebrity of children’s TV in the 1950s, and as a teenager his youth minister at the First Presbyterian Church was Bud Collyer, host of “Beat the Clock” and “To Tell the Truth.”
“They were both devout men,” Thom recalls. “Collyer was able to go beyond the religious and could understand teenagers’ lives and advise us on important things.”
Although there were many spiritual influences in his life, the one that stands out the most was his high school classmate Anita Caporale, the woman he later married who led him to the Catholic faith.
Today, Thom Field is an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Weston and president of the Serra Club of Bridgeport, a group committed to supporting seminarians and encouraging vocations to the religious life.
“During my upbringing, I was truly a Christian, but I didn’t have a lot of exposure to other faiths,” he recalled. “A couple of my classmates were Jewish, but I didn’t understand faiths outside of Christianity. When I got to college, I had the feeling that someone was calling to me, and I started to entertain the idea of becoming a Protestant minister and struggled with that for the better part of my freshman year.”
He walked the path to the Church many years, and throughout that time, he had Anita as an example of what it means to be a Catholic committed to Christ. They first met in the choir during sophomore year and had math and science classes together.
“We never dated in high school although we knew each other from the chorus,” Thom said. “I always thought she was beautiful, but I was pretty shy and never asked her out.”“I thought he was a terrific person and a good guy,” Anita recalled. “I sat in the first row, and Thom would walk in every day and say, ‘Hi, beautiful!’”
However, when she invited him to her 16th birthday party in her senior year, he spent the entire evening talking with another girl. Then, Thom went off to Rensselaer, and Anita went to the University of Connecticut, where she majored in chemistry and French with a pre-med focus. Later, she switched to physical medicine.
In 1967, they reconnected and Anita began writing to Thom after he joined the Navy.
At the Naval electronic school, he graduated first in the class and was recognized for heroism in 1970 while he was with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. He served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal as part of an anti-submarine helicopter squadron that rescued a man who had fallen overboard. Along with his other crew members, he received the Sikorsky ‘S’ pin, which was pinned on them by Igor Sikorsky himself.
“We continued to date and then fell in love,” Anita recalled. “I was so sure this was it. We loved each other, but he was leaving for an eight-month tour.”
During that time, Anita planned their wedding, and Thom bought a ring to surprise her. When he returned in July 1970, her parents set up a Christmas tree to observe Christmas in July. Among her gifts was a pair of shoes. She reached into a shoe that didn’t fit and pulled out the ring. They were married October 17, 1970 at St. Roch Church in Greenwich.
“I think the most important thing for us is that we never felt coming into marriage from different religions was a stumbling block,” Anita said. “The unifying force was we both believed in Christ. Christ was a great unifying force. His father was a very devout Presbyterian, and his mother and aunt would even come to the Catholic church with us.”
“I had no problem with that because I was learning more and more about the Catholic faith, and I came to the realization that I was becoming more faithful than I was as a Protestant,” Thom said. “I learned about the Sacraments and the saints, and it was a deeper faith than I had…but I didn’t convert.” And Anita never pressured him.
In June 1971, his tour ended, and in March of the next year, they moved to Connecticut, where their son Christopher was born. Thom began studying accounting at the University of Bridgeport and he was hired by Price Waterhouse even before graduation.
The job took them to Paris for several years. Then, they moved back to the United States and settled in Weston. They began attending St. Francis of Assisi Parish. Although Thom was a regular fixture in church, he never converted to Catholicism.
One day in 1994, he was asked to become an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist.
“By that time, I had been going to Mass with Anita for over 20 years and people presumed I was Catholic,” he said.
He looked at Anita and asked, “What am I going to do? I’m not Catholic.”
“Thom, you’re on your own on this one,” she told him.
That evening he joined the RCIA program. Today, after 25 years as a Catholic, he is forever grateful to Ralph Palumbo for pushing him in that direction by asking him to be an extraordinary minister.
At the Easter Vigil Mass in 1995, he received the Eucharist and Confirmation and was accepted into the Catholic Church. It was one of most memorable occasions in his life.
“I was nervous,” he recalled. “Everybody was surprised and smiling. Once the ceremony was over, Monsignor Grieco asked everyone to applaud.”
He assumed many responsibilities in the parish, and several years ago, he and Anita, who are both members of Serra, began teaching RCIA classes. As a project for the parish, they also create calendars for Advent and Lent, which have daily scriptural readings.
Anita, who after a career in physical therapy went on to study to become a gerontologist, has been a lay Franciscan for 20 years and belongs to the St. Mary of the Angels fraternity that meets at the Convent of Sr. Birgitta in Darien on the fourth Sunday of every month.
Looking back on his faith journey, Thom says, “Anita inspired me. She never applied pressure. We raised our children in the Catholic faith, and her dedication to that faith truly encouraged me to continue to attend Mass and become part of the Church. If I had been married to a less faithful Catholic woman, I might never have converted.”
The appreciation is reciprocal. Anita says, “He is such an amazing Christian.” She tells the story of when she was at a low point in her faith and considered leaving the Church. “My faith was at an ebb, but he would not let me deny the Church and he brought me along.”
Their journey together has not been without tragedy. Two years ago, their daughter, Amanda, died of a heart disorder at 41, leaving behind her husband Heath and 6-year-old son Gunner.
Amanda was always a joyful and upbeat person, Anita said. When she lived in New Jersey, Amanda had a clown ministry and was known as “Sunshine.”
On Mother’s Day 2018, she gave Anita a plaque that said, “With God all things are possible,” and Anita gave her a mother’s locket.
“I always wanted one of these,” she told her mother, adding, “Mom, if anything ever happens to me, please make sure Gunner gets everything I want for him.” Anita promised her they would do that. Two weeks later, she passed away.
And they kept that promise. Today, their young grandson lives with Thom and Anita and goes to church with them every Sunday.
By Joe Pisani