How much does Thomas F. Van Dzura love his three children?
So much that the die-hard New York Jets fan became a runner like his sons and wife; not just any runner, but a runner who is willing to run a "princess half marathon" at Walt Disney World after just a year on what his wife calls "the couch to 5K plan."
But more importantly, Van Dzura shows his love for his children by putting them and their mother–his wife, Brenda–first, and with her by supporting them in all their endeavors, by offering unconditional love and passing on to them the Catholic faith.
"My faith is very important to me," said the chief financial officer for the Society of St. Edmund and principles of accounting instructor at St. Michael's College in Colchester.
He enjoys "the best of both worlds" being a father and working for the Edmundites and the college they founded.
A 1989 graduate of St. Michael's, Van Dzura met his future wife there when he was a senior; they married in 1993. He worked in accounting positions in New Hampshire and in Montpelier before becoming controller for the Edmundites in 2000 and CFO in 2007.
As a student, faith was "part of the fabric" of the New Jersey native's life. "It wasn't just going to Mass and receiving the sacraments. My faith helped determine what I wanted to do in life," he said. "I can't imagine going through life absent that faith. It is a source of strength and motivation."
Van Dzura considers being a husband, father, advisor to the Society of St. Edmund and teacher all as his vocations; he is thankful he can live them.
His family time is precious to him, and he acknowledges he felt somewhat le_ out when his wife and sons ran together. Though their events were fun for him to watch, he wanted to participate with them; so last year he decided this year would be his first half marathon. "I knew how much running meant to them. I thought they'd be thrilled and excited for me to become part of it."
And they were.
His son, Darren, a member of the Essex High School Class of 2016, learned from his father the importance of fun. "Enjoy what you do and never be afraid to try something new," he said.
"I was inspired by them and wanted to be part of that" sport, Van Dzura said.
In fact, his sons often inspire him. "I wish I were more like them as an adolescent: comfortable in their own skin and believing everyone they encounter has something meaningful to contribute," he explained. "They are not always worried about what other people think as long as they are doing the right thing and setting a good example."
He described them as "very giving, very unselfish and very compassionate."
The best things he has done for his sons are to love and support them unconditionally, help them make good choices and mentor them.
The oldest of four children–he has three younger sisters–Van Dzura learned from his father how to be patient and forgiving. (John "Jack" Van Dzura died in 2006.) He also learned from him how to discipline his children in a loving way and to show them affection. "Not a day goes by that at least one of the boys doesn't say 'I love you Dad,'" he said.
His son, Joseph, an Essex High School sophomore, hopes to emulate his compassion, kindness and patience.
Van Dzura's maternal grandfather, Frank Smith of New Jersey, is another of his important role models. When Van Dzura was in college, "Grandpa Smith" used to send him notes, sometimes with a little cash for an ice cream. He'd always include "Knowledge is power" in his missive. Now he does that for Kyle.
Smith is a man of strong faith, attends daily Mass and puts his wife and daughters before him.
Emulating him, Van Dzura puts his wife, his sons, his faith and his relationship with God and Jesus first.
One of the greatest compliments he ever received came from his grandfather who told him if he had had a son, he would want him to be just like Van Dzura.
Other important influences in his life are members of the Society of St. Edmund who model "unselfish service to others" and "evangelize by reaching out through things like education," he said.
Van Dzura would have given serious thought to the possibility of becoming an Edmundite if he had not met and fallen in love with Brenda.
A resident of Essex Junction, Van Dzura, 48, is a member of St. Pius X Church in Essex Center and a former chair of the parish Finance Council. He enjoys reading–mostly biographies, business and sports–and spending time with his family.
Darren enjoys time with his father going to movies and taking family trips. "What's great about my dad is that no matter what we are doing we find a way to enjoy it," he said.
"Tom puts his children and their interests before his own," his wife said. "I often see parents pushing their children towards the parent's interests. Not the case with Tom. He has always encouraged our boys to 'be themselves' and to do what makes them happy."
In fact, son Kyle, a rising junior at Providence College, said the most important lesson he learned from his father is to "always be true to myself."
"My dad will always go out of his way to make sure that I am happy, even if that means putting me ahead of himself," he continued. "What really makes my dad a great dad, though, is that he follows his own path. He knows what it takes to be a great dad and proves that every day. Just by being himself, he is the best dad a kid could ask for."
Van Dzura has been a member of the high school band boosters and a Cub Scout leader, and he has chaperoned the boys' cross-country team. "He helps out in whatever way he can, all to be supportive of his children," Mrs. Van Dzura said. "The boys know they can come to him about anything. He has a goofy sense of humor, which all the boys have inherited."
Van Dzura–who with his wife has presented a talk on marriage for a Leap retreat for young people at St. Anne's Shrine in Isle LaMotte–always thanks God in prayer for the blessing of his wife and children; he prays for their health and happiness and for the health and well being of all his family, friends and members of the Society of St. Edmund. He also prays for those who are suffering and those who are lonely, isolated, sad and lacking faith.
"He shows me what it means to be selfless, to be thankful for what you have and to thank God for all of the blessings in our lives," Kyle said.
As he looks ahead, Van Dzura wants to focus on continuing to be a good husband and father, continuing to communicate with this family, continuing to be self aware and continuing to be patient.
He'll also continue his running efforts: This Father's Day he will be in Worcester, Mass., running a half marathon with his wife and one son while the other two sons are working at Camp Fatima, a Catholic camp in New Hampshire where all of his sons work.
"I take every day as a blessing," he said. "I savor it. I don't wish it to go by fast."
Article and photo by Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.