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Year for Priests: ‘Father Tom’s Bread’ is a gift of comfort

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

By Mary Caffrey Knapke

ST. MARYS DEANERY — On a recent morning at the St. Charles Senior Living Community in Carthagena, Precious Blood Father Tom Beischel placed flour, yeast, dry milk, butter, water and grain in a well-used bread machine. A few hours later, loaf number 2,317 was ready to be sliced and eaten.
 
Since 1992 Father Beischel has baked bread to share with the people around him. He has never sold a loaf and estimates that he’s given away 95 percent of what he’s made. The 83-year-old priest moved to St. Charles in 2008, and there he shares bread with his neighbors, staff members and visitors.


 
“It’s just become a nice hobby,” Father Beischel said. “I intend to bake until I can’t do it anymore.”
 
He began baking bread when he saw a catalog for King Arthur Flour. He ordered a bread pan, flour and yeast and made six loaves by hand. But when he discovered he needed to be home at the right time to knead the dough, “well, that bread pan sat there after that,” he said. A short time later, he spotted a bread machine for sale. “Now all I had to do was put it in there and press the button, and three-and-a-half hours later, boy, you can smell it.”
 

 Father Tom Beischel
Father Tom Beischel poses in his custom apron with his bread machine and a  recent creation. (CT/Mary Caffrey Knapke)

A thick stack of notepaper contains the name of each recipient of those thousands of loaves. Vic Cassano, founder of the local Cassano’s pizza franchise, received the second loaf. Fellow priests, former classmates and other friends fill the pages of Father Beischel’s log. Even failures are included.

“My first catalog said, ‘Every now and then, you will have a mistake. If you do, just throw it out, but be careful when you throw it. You may hurt someone.’ Those bad ones are about this high,” he said, holding his fingers about an inch apart, “and hard as a rock.”
 
He bakes when the mood strikes him, or if someone has requested a loaf. After trying several varieties, such as rye, cinnamon raisin, white, whole wheat and pumpernickel, Father Beischel discovered that multi-grain was the most popular. It is the one he now makes most often, and he has the recipe memorized.
 
When he served as chaplain of a Dayton-area Knights of Columbus council, one of the group members designed a logo for “Father Tom’s Bread” and had an apron and labels custom made. A label is now included with each loaf.
 
“Bread is the most common food throughout the world. Everybody has bread of some type or another,” Father Beischel said. “Communion is referred to as the ‘bread of life.’ And Jesus made himself present in the bread and the wine, which becomes truly His body and blood. So there’s a connection between bread and the priesthood.”
 
Father Beischel was raised in Cincinnati as one of nine children. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and then returned home to work in his family’s construction business. His younger brother, who would later become Father Richard Beischel, was already in the seminary.
 
“After I got out of the Army, I would visit Dick and boy, he was so happy,” Father Beischel said. His brother’s happiness in the seminary inspired him to travel to Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., to speak with a priest there. “He said, ‘Tom, you ought to give the priesthood consideration. Otherwise, when you’re 83, you’ll wonder if you should’ve been a priest. But don’t make a hasty decision. Go sleep on it, and come back and tell me in the morning.’”
 
On Aug. 1, 1949, Father Beischel entered the Missionaries of the Precious Blood community; he was ordained June 1, 1958. Eight years later, he was about to receive a new assignment when he asked if he could try hospital work. “The provincial said, ‘If you don’t like it after three months, let me know.’ But I was in it from ’66 to 2003,” he said.
 
For 37 years Father Beischel served as a hospital chaplain, providing spiritual comfort to the sick and dying and their families. He spent five years at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima; 10 years at Providence Hospital (now Mercy Hospital Mt. Airy) in Cincinnati; 19 years at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton; and three years at the Dayton Heart Hospital.
 
“I hope I’ve got a personality that can be very caring but also a little bit of a sense of humor to bring peace and tranquility in a hospital setting,” Father Beischel said. “That’s what made it fulfilling for me, was to know that I was comforting others spiritually.”
 
Although he is retired from chaplaincy, perhaps it is that sense of comforting and caring for others that inspires him to keep baking and keep sharing his creations.

Mary Caffrey Knapke can be reached at [email protected].

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