When Northland parish leader Father Pat Tobin got the call from Mother Teresa in 1968 to come to India for a retreat with 800 sisters, he thought the sister had misdialed.
“I couldn’t believe it. I just said, ‘You must have the wrong number,’” Tobin recalled, his disbelief fresh still even after having conducted nearly four decades worth of spiritual retreats stemming from Mother Teresa’s request.
Tobin spoke as a newly minted recipient of the Pinnacle Award, an award recognizing a significant charity benefactor and an established record of community service from the Northland Community Foundation.
Aside from being a prominent Catholic leader in the Northland, Tobin is also a founding member of the Harvesters food pantry, which was created in 1979.
But his interest in helping others goes back further. As a new priest, Tobin dove head first into an effort to relocate Cuban refugees in the early ’60s.
While Tobin was new immigrant advocacy, he said the most important part of his work there was making himself a student of the Cubans. Tobin made five trips to Cuba before they arrived. He dedicated himself to understanding who the immigrants were and what kind of skills they’d have to rely on once in the United States.
“I just learned from them,” he said.
Tobin helped arrange for 120 Cuban families to resettle in Kansas City. He recently had a reunion with the group and reported that 94 percent of the immigrants are college graduates.
Tobin said his parents were the earliest inspiration he had for service.
“They made religion come alive because of others,” he said.
His other inspiration: Mother Teresa.
Tobin described the beatified leader as “a real jewel” who impressed on him the importance of living a life directed to the benefit of others.
“She believed unless a life is lived for others it’s not really worthwhile,” Tobin said. “Living a life for others and making life better for other people ... how really powerful that is.”
While in conversation with Mother Teresa, Tobin revealed that he had a growing concern for Kansas City’s poor and their access to food, a challenge he said was especially incensing given that nearly half of the nation’s food was being wasted.
Tobin said the Mother Teresa urged him to adopt that as his challenge.
He began storing excess food in his garage, a stockpile that eventually outgrew his premises prompting him to lease a warehouse, the first iteration of the modern-day Harvesters.
“It just grew by leaps and bounds,” Tobin said.
Today, Tobin is a resident with Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home in Raytown and retains an associate pastor title with St. Therese Parish.