Our Founder, Thomas E. Durkin, Jr. - In Memorandum
Born in Newark, N.J., in 1924, Tom was the first of the six children of Thomas Edward Durkin, Sr., a member of the Newark Police Department, and Mary Ward, an Irish immigrant who, at age 13, came from rural Galway to America and worked as a domestic. To the very end of a life bursting with professional achievement and accolades, his first – and to his mind, finest – goal was to emulate and honor his parents. This he did over many decades playing many roles: as the exemplar of the tough-but-tender Irish patriarch; as a low-key but high-energy philanthropist; as a legend in the practice of law. After attending Sacred Heart School in Vailsburg, Tom went on to St. Benedict’s Prep. Within days of graduating, in 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving out World War II in the Pacific theater.
In 1955, having graduated from Fordham University and Fordham School of Law, he founded what would grow into the prominent law firm of Durkin & Durkin and went on to litigate some of the most noted criminal cases of his time; he argued on several occasions before the U.S. Supreme Court. Elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1957, his influence in state politics extended far beyond his tenure in office. Over the decades, his rare combination of legal brilliance and personal humility enabled him to serve as a uniquely trusted counselor to Catholic prelates, political figures, law enforcement leaders, and an innumerable host of ordinary people in need of his help. All throughout, Tom devoted boundless time, energy and expertise to numerous charities, particularly those involving the Catholic Church and the service of the visually impaired.
As befits a man who marched in every Newark St. Patrick’s Day parade from 1939 to 2013, except the ones he missed on account of World War II, Tom was named “Irishman of the Year” by the Brian Boru Association in 1968. Decades later, when Tom was too humble to accept the title of grand marshal for himself, the parade was dedicated to the Durkin family in his honor. Throughout his tenure as Archbishop of New York, John Cardinal O’Connor often drew upon his close personal and professional relationship with Tom. But it was at the behest of another cherished friend, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, then Archbishop of Newark, that Pope John Paul II created him a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory.
In 1997, cited as a generous and exceptional person of faith, Tom received the Medal of St. Benedict’s, the Prep to which he sent all five of his sons and to which he remained actively devoted until the day he died. The first recipient of the Thomas E. Durkin, Jr. Scholarship graduated from St. Benedict’s in 2013, exactly 70 years after the Gray Bee in whose honor it was endowed. In 2009, Seton Hall Law Center – alma mater of the four of his seven children who followed him into the practice of law – awarded him the St. Thomas More Medal for outstanding contributions to the law, the community and the Catholic Church. Although Tom received many more such accolades in public, their sum total would not measure a fraction of the good and great deeds he did in private. And all that he did for friends, friends of friends, acquaintances and total strangers did not compare to what he did for his family, for whom he truly lived and in whose collective embrace he died on January 1, 2014.