By Claire Ballor
He’s not hard to notice. His clothing gives him away in an instant. But anyone who knows him knows that Father Thomas is much more than his habit. He wears it proudly and it suits him well, but Father Thomas is still Bryan Joseph Esposito at heart, an ordinary guy from Omaha, Nebraska who plays guitar and loves to run.
If you haven’t had an interaction with Father Thomas, you’ve at least seen him walking around campus in his distinguishable Cistercian habit with his distinguishable smile to match. But if there’s one thing you should know about him, you should know that there is much more to this man than meets the eye. I sat down with Father Thomas to get to know the man behind the habit and to hear a bit about his own personal journey to the priesthood.
“I think people have a misconception that those who follow a life in the church are just cookie cutter models of holiness or faith that never encounter difficulties or trials,” Esposito said. “My guess is that people assume that life has always been peachy keen for us and that we’ve always been guided on this rose-laced path to religious life. That’s simply not true.”
He didn’t always want to be a priest, in fact, he tried to fight the calling for a while.
“I had a hunch already at the age of 12 or so that I might be called. In high school the feeling didn’t grow much because I didn’t want it to. I was a normal kid in high school. I dated and I didn’t want to give my life away in that sense. Sports was life, girls were life. Even in college I tried to avoid the issue as long as possible.”
He credits a lot of his spiritual guidance to Father Denis, the abbot at Cistercian Abbey, whom he befriended while pursuing his undergraduate degree at the University of Dallas. It wasn’t until he attended a retreat at the abbey his senior year that he finally committed himself to the religious life: “It was then that I just knew. There was nothing logical about it; it was just this intuition and certainty that I belonged here. And my initial response was a one word answer to God; ‘Fine’.”
Esposito is no stranger to commitment. His insight into the necessary conviction needed to make life decisions is particularly applicable to youth today.
“People always talk about a fear of commitment, an aversion to making some final decision, whether about life, their vocation or whatever else. The notion of fear is central to that and it is a really inhibiting one. Fear can often lead us to minimize our talents or waste them on something that is less good than what you could do and so it has to be eliminated from the decision process.”
Esposito also explained why he often turns to humor in his interactions with the people around him.
“Joy is the most misunderstood or ignored virtue. I think that’s why humor is such a helpful tool to reach people. It suspends their reality for just a second and makes them think. The little joy that they get in smiling gives me great joy and it provides a spark of hope, however small it might be.”
In the same thread of humor, Father Thomas took the opportunity to share a daily struggle of his in regard to his habit. “The sweat factor is unbelievable. What I would love is to get Under Armour or Nike to sponsor a summer habit made of that wicking material. This cotton/polyester blend is a burden on me, quite literally.” As for how often he washes the two habits he owns, he put it quite bluntly: “I won’t tell you, in case you were wondering. I prefer to keep that confidential, between myself and my creator.”
Esposito may no longer be a UD student, but we are still blessed to have him and his joy around campus and as a professor in the theology department. If you see him walking around, take a moment to say hello. And take a moment to ask how often he washes his habits; maybe you can get the answer out of him.