Stay in Tom Romano’s circle long enough and the chances are pretty decent you’ll see a church being built around him.
First, he’ll tell you the story of his baptism in 1950 at Annunciation Catholic Church in Arcadia. The church was under construction, and Mountain View Dairy Farm was adjacent to the construction site. They would clear the barn and set up chairs every Sunday for Mass. There’s a photograph of Tom receiving the sacrament of Baptism with cows in the background.
Years later, Tom was recruited to chair a committee raising funds to build the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels which opened in 2002. He couldn’t turn down that chance.
“Two churches in a lifetime? I never thought of that,” Romano said with a laugh when the subject was brought up. “That’s pretty interesting when you think about having that opportunity in the span of 50 years, to have the core values that would allow me to do that.”
In addition to churches built around him, Tom has also served on the campaigns for St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre and the Queen of Angels Center for Priestly formation. He is especially proud to have served as president of the Board of Directors for Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy where his daughters attended high school.
It is more than fitting to find him honored with the Cardinal’s Award after his wife, Margie, was recognized in 2012. The two, who recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, share many outreach opportunities as they attend St. Philip the Apostle Church in Pasadena.
“We look at our lives and realize the blessings we have,” says Margie, who with Tom are the parents of three daughters – Renee, Gina and Nicole. With their husbands, Mark, Tim and Sam they have blessed them with seven grandchildren. “We are both so proud of our children. We see them continuing on with their service. It has been through Tom’s leadership we have a wonderful family and legacy and that to me is what life is all about. My husband has been an amazing example of that over the years.”
About 20 years ago, Tom and Margie joined the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem whose ministry is to support the Christians in the Holy Land. Recognizing the great need, they have been actively involved in the Order.
Not long after that, the two were part of a group with Allen and Kathleen Lund and Bill and Helen Close that urged Cardinal Roger Mahony to start the Los Angeles Catholic Prayer Breakfast. They have seen it grow over the last 17 years from 800 participants in 2005 to more than 2,000 each year.
Tom calls the Prayer Breakfast’s impact as “an opportunity to gather as Catholics in Los Angeles, not only to celebrate the Mass and pray the rosary but to hear the messages from faith-based speakers.”
One of those speakers was former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz in 2015. Holtz explained how just months earlier, a fire caused by a lightning strike destroyed his Florida home and much of his belongings. It left his wife, Beth, distraught.
“He told her, ‘Honey, there’s nothing in that house that we could take to heaven,’ and that hit me like a rock,” said Romano, who has built a successful career as a State Farm Insurance agent. “At the end of the day, he’s right. It brought everything back to center and really struck me about what is important. When a client suffers a loss, I often remind them how fortunate they are that they were not harmed or killed. We can replace cars and homes, but not them.”
Tom, also on the board of the Catholic Education Foundation, admits he merely followed the examples of his parents’ deep dive into parish activities. His father was a member of the Holy Name Society and Knights of Columbus, while his mother was in the St Anne’s Guild. Both parents were actively involved each year with the annual parish festival. Tom, at a young age worked beside his parents at the festival, paving the way for early volunteerism.
His family and friends notice how his Catholic faith is at the foundation of his personal and professional ethics.
“He’s rock solid in how he cares for his customers and his friends,” says Mike Smith, whose family’s legacy of car dealerships helped them in many philanthropic endeavors themselves. “Service is at the top of Tom’s list and he doesn’t do it showingly. I might use the words of St. Francis: ‘Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.’ His actions speak more volumes.”
Sr. Regina Marie Gorman of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, calls Romano “one of these ordinary people that seems to have a pair of glasses which the lens he looks at is goodness. I wish every community had a Tom Romano.”
Sr. Regina, a 2013 Cardinal’s Award honoree, said that in the 20 years she has known Tom Romano as a neighbor, “he chooses to do the good right in front of him whether anyone saw it or not. Faithfully. Steadily. Quietly. I’m not exaggerating. If you are around Tom Romano for any length of time, you will be reassured that Jesus is alive and active in Los Angeles.”
And, perhaps, another house of worship is under construction.