One of my jobs is to write obituaries. You know: "somebody has to do it." But it does give one a chance to emphasize what's best about our confreres and to present the attractive face of religious life to the world.
So on my return from hiking on Saturday, I was informed by Fr. Provincial of Bro. Frank Tilton's death overnite, and by supper I'd got a good draft done, further refined on Sunday when I got more input from Fr. Provincial.
Here's the result:
Brother Frank Tilton, S.D.B., died at the Oakland Care Center in Oakland, N.J., on the morning of May 2, 2009. He was 82 years old and belonged to the Salesian community of Don Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, N.J.
A Marine Corps veteran of the landing on Okinawa on April 1, 1945, as well as of other action in the Pacific Theater, Bro. Frank discovered his vocation five years later after he had returned to his home town of Berlin, N.H., where he was born on May 15, 1926, to Frank and Catherine (McGee) Tilton. After returning from the war, he finished high school and worked as a water safety instructor and lifeguard.
Having seen an ad for the Salesians in a Catholic magazine, Frank inquired and was invited to visit the Salesian trade school in Paterson, N.J. He knew right away that this community and way of life was for him. He applied and was accepted as an aspirant for the Salesian brotherhood at Don Bosco Seminary in Newton, N.J. He completed his year of novitiate in 1951-1952 in Newton and made his first profession of religious vows on Sept. 8, 1952.
Bro. Frank’s talents were put right to use as a phys ed teacher at Don Bosco Tech in Paterson. During the next ten years he brought his skills to several Salesian works: the parishes in Birmingham, Ala., the parishes and youth centers in Port Chester, N.Y., and Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y.
He was one of the founders of the Salesian ministry in Birmingham, where he served from 1955 to 1959 and where the civil rights movement made a lasting impact on him, a movement that he supported on behalf of the Salesians’ black parishioners by using segregated “Negro” rest rooms, drinking from “Negro” water fountains, and sitting in back of public buses.
Bro. Frank began a long stint back in Paterson in 1962, teaching phys ed, health, and driver’s ed and coaching various sports—which he regarded as the happiest years of his life. He estimated that he trained about a thousand boys in Paterson to drive. After 20 years he moved on to Don Bosco Tech in Boston, where he taught lifesaving in addition to phys ed for 16 years.
When the Boston school was closed, Bro. Frank transferred in 1998 to Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., to serve as the attendance officer, which still allowed him to interact with young people both in the office and through occasional visits to classes to speak of either his war experiences or his vocation. He continued those services until poor health compelled him to retire in 2007.
During all those years Bro. Frank spent his summers in various camps: Camp Savio in West Milford, N.J. (many of whose alumni became priests or religious), Camp Don Bosco in East Barrington, N.H., and Mary Help of Christians Camp in Tampa, among others. The Salesians’ current provincial, Fr. James Heuser recalls his own first meeting with Bro. Frank at the Camp Savio waterfront: “I was ten years old when I attended Camp Savio in the summer of 1966. Bro. Frank Tilton was one of the first Salesians I met. He was the camp water safety instructor and lifeguard at the lake, and gave me swimming lessons.” Bro. Frank lifeguarded in Tampa almost 20 years, continuing until he was 80. He was famous for keeping the pool in tip-top shape and the campers in good, safe order.
“I’ve been blessed,” Bro. Frank told an interviewer in 2004. “These have been very happy years. I’ve always been able to do what I wanted—help young people in physical education classes, summer camps, boys clubs, coaching.” He believed that his life and the lives of many young men were enriched by his vocation and his own salvation made a little more secure.
Bro. Frank was a Salesian brother for more than 56 years. Unlike most brothers of his generation, he did not teach in a printing, woodworking, or auto mechanics shop. In the words of Fr. Heuser, “He spent his Salesian life primarily among the young in the playground. His ‘shop’ [was] the playground in its various forms: the school gyms where he taught phys ed; the basketball courts, baseball fields and swimming pools where he coached; the camp lakes where he lifeguarded.”
When Bro. Frank suffered a breakdown of his health around the middle of 2007, writes Fr. Heuser, a brother “whose mission for so many years was characterized by physical activity, was rendered immobile…. He bore his illness with great courage, cheerful with visitors, and grateful for any kindness shown him by nurses and staff. To my mind, as a reliable soldier, he somehow accepted that this was his duty now.”
Bro. Frank is survived by a sister, Patricia Sinibaldi, of Gorham, N.H. Two brothers, Robert and Donald, pre-deceased him. A nephew, Fr. Daniel Sinibaldi, is pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Woodsville, N.H. He is also survived by nephews Patrick Sinabaldi, Michael Tilton, and Gary Tilton and niece Donna Moulton.
Funeral ArrangementsThe wake and Mass of Christian Burial for Bro. Frank Tilton will take place at Don Bosco Prep H.S., 492 N. Franklin Tpk., Ramsey, N.J. 07446.
Reception of the body in the school chapel: Monday, May 4, 10:00 a.m.
Wake: May 4, 2:00 to 5:00 and 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Rosary 5:00 p.m. Prayer service 8:00 p.m.
Funeral Mass with the student body in the gymnasium: Tuesday, May 5, 9:00 a.m., followed by burial in the Salesian Cemetery, Goshen, N.Y., at 11:00 a.m.