Member Spotlight: Tom Fodi, hospice chaplain

Samaritan staff  ·  Feb 01, 2017

If you’re going through a difficult time, Tom Fodi is the kind of guy who will come alongside you.

Tom’s resume shows a tendency toward that: He was a U.S. Air Force chaplain for seven years, started a home care business during which he ministered to people, and now tends to the dying and their families as a hospice chaplain.

“In the Gospels, you can watch Jesus come alongside everyday people at difficult times in their lives,” Tom says.

Chaplaincy is not the extent of his ministry, though. He’s also lead minister of The Hills Church in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, and a borough councilman in Bellevue, Pennsylvania, both suburbs of Pittsburgh.

Tom ended up serving Christ in these positions despite his original plan of attending Virginia Military Institute and having a military career. One of the conditions for being able to date Erin, the woman who would become his wife, was to attend church weekly. He became a believer in Christ as a result and “salivated” for more.

“I just gave up everything and went to Bible college,” Tom says. “I wanted to pack a lifetime of Sunday school into a college education.”

He received his preaching degree from what was then Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tennessee, and was ordained in 2005, but he ended up in the military anyway as a chaplain from 2006-2013. His time in the USAF included a lengthy deployment to Iraq in 2011.

That Middle East crisis led to something of a crisis in faith for Tom.

“I went into the military with a standard, patriotic, red, white, and blue, America’s ‘God’s country,’ conservative view of America’s involvement in the world,” Tom says. “After being in Iraq, I found myself more libertarian, not interventionist. It changed me. I really found that it benefited my faith.”

Tom says he had to make his political beliefs consistent with his faith, “to clarify what God’s role in the world is.”

“There was a lot of growth in me, asking questions I don’t think I really wanted to ask of myself because I wanted to be patriotic,” he says. “There were a lot of psychological, spiritual, and emotional changes.”

Those changes, as well as a growing family, also changed his mind about being a “career military guy” like his father-in-law, who was a “full-bird colonel” in the Air Force. Tom decided it was time to move on.

“Admitting that to my father-in-law was hard, too,” Tom says. “I projected his expectations upon me.”

After leaving the Air Force, Tom worked for some churches, all of them long-established congregations. There he met members of the “Greatest Generation.”

“You end up with a lot of people who are elderly,” Tom says. “I felt an affinity for that generation that came as kind of a gift.”

He heard complaints about health care systems among seniors, especially those who were receiving home care as a way to stay independent. Home care services provide basic helps to the elderly like cleaning, running errands, bathing, and dressing.

“I didn’t even know this world existed,” Tom says. “I didn’t know who to recommend.”

As changes were being made in Tom’s congregation, The Hills Church, an opportunity was opened for him to start a business that would support the church work he was doing, “to provide senior care that comes with a pastor’s heart.”

“I found we weren’t treating that generation as we should be,” he says. “It’s an epidemic around the country, not just here in Pittsburgh. One of our early slogans was ‘The Greatest Generation Deserves to be Treated Like the Greatest Generation.’”

Still serving as lead pastor of The Hills, Tom started Dignity Home Care Professionals in fall 2014 by doing the care himself, “helping to make sure they ate meals, took medications, anything I could do to help.” Demand increased so that he had to hire staff, and soon he was managing hours, payroll, banking, and bills. And it wasn’t going well for him.

“I realized I am more of a pastoral caregiver,” Tom says. “I’m not really good at managing. It was starting to eat away at me. It was becoming more stressful than it should be, even causing potential medical concerns.”

After realizing that, he turned over the day-to-day operation of Dignity to business partners, although he’s still part owner.

Almost immediately after Tom and Erin decided it was time for something to change, a hospice service he was familiar with announced it was looking for another chaplain. He applied and was quickly offered the position. Although he’s only been serving in that role for a couple of months, he has found it fulfilling.

And less stressful.

“My blood pressure has come down,” he says. “My daughter made the comment that she saw me smile again for the first time in some time. I feel like God has really taken care of us in that regard.”

He is using Tom to take care of others in his new role as well, and to spread the Gospel.

“I think the difference between chaplaincy and church is there’s a little more approachability for people outside the faith in the chaplaincy,” Tom says. “It allows me to plant seeds of faith.”

In recently tending to the family of a woman suffering from dementia, Tom was able to “spend time with family members who would have never darkened the door of my church. They’re willing to hear me and allow me to impact their lives. I find that to be a powerful opportunity.”

Emphasizing that he’s not criticizing pastors, Tom says that churches can’t be “changers” in the community “by just throwing on more and more church programs.”

“It’s by being out in the world and coming across people who need God,” Tom says.

Another way Tom does that is by serving on Bellevue’s borough council.

“I’ve always been passionate about the servant nature of politics,” Tom says.

Inspired by America’s Founding Fathers, Tom says that “I’m willing to serve and willing to lay my life and sacred honor on the line.”

He attended meetings at first because he wanted to know what his local government was doing, and he found it wasn’t doing much. He gathered a group of like-minded people “who were passionate about the town and wanted it to become the next best thing by encouraging people to run for office.”

He ended up being one of those people, got elected, and now is considering a run for mayor.

“It’s not so much to me about politics as about serving my community,” he says. “I speak to my principles and advocate what’s best for my community.”