Father Tom Anderson

On July 1, Yankton’s St. Benedict Parish welcomed a new pastor, Father Tom Anderson, originally of Pierre. Anderson has been a priest for 13 years and was most recently assigned to Redfield and Mellette.

“I tell people, coming to Yankton is, in some ways, a little bit like coming home,” Anderson said. “Because I love being near the water in the summertime, near the river.”

As a parish, St. Benedict’s has allowed him to work with a variety of people to accomplish something amazing, he said.

“I like bringing people together and working together with big groups,” Anderson said. “It’s one of the reasons I think that I’m enjoying this assignment.”

Also, Anderson said that, as a means to an end, he would like to help create a more unified vision in Yankton, a town with several Catholic institutions.

“My goal is to see the parish and the city come alive with the spirit,” he said. “Where our young people and our parents are just excited about their faith, passionate about talking about their faith, because, ultimately, it’s about giving God His due and giving Him praise.”

Anderson was raised in Pierre, graduated from T.F. Riggs High School and attended the University Of Nebraska at Lincoln (UNL) for a year.

“I always knew that the faith was important to me,” Anderson said.

“But I kind of thought that I was going to follow after my parents and get married, have a big family, get some job and make a bunch of money.”

Anderson’s family life was truly beautiful and, he thought, would be his life as well, he said.

But, during that year at UNL, he saw that a lot of his peers were losing their faith.

“They were having questions that weren’t being answered,” he said.

“I really felt in my heart a strong draw for being able to answer those questions.”

Then Bishop Robert James Carlson had encouraged young Catholic men to explore the seminary, he said.

“He had always said to us, ‘Go to the seminary for a few years, and then, if you don’t feel like that’s what you’re supposed to do —to be a priest — you can just leave again, and you’ll be a better Catholic,’” Anderson said. “So I took that seriously. I said, ‘I want to go and I want to learn how to answer the questions of my faith, how to answer people and say, “Here’s why we believe what we believe and here’s why you should all be Catholic.”’”

There wasn’t a particular moment in which Anderson knew he was meant to be a priest, but an interesting coincidence set him on that path.

While returning to UNL from Christmas break his freshman year,

Anderson drove a route that took him past Sioux Falls at about 10 p.m. on a Sunday night.

“I thought, ‘I have to talk to the bishop,’” Anderson said. “I didn’t know where that was coming from. It was all of a sudden and didn’t really have any explanation. I thought ‘This is crazy. You can’t go and talk to the bishop at 10 p.m. at night with no warning!”

Even so, he turned the car around and drove to the bishop’s house near the Cathedral of Saint Joseph and knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” a voice said through the intercom.

“This is Tom Anderson. I think I’m supposed to talk to the bishop,” he answered.

“Come on in,” was the surprising reply.

“Not only was the bishop sitting there in the kitchen, but the vocations director, who’s in charge of getting seminarians, was standing right next to him. It was just hilarious,” Anderson said, adding that the bishop was only home because his evening out was unexpectedly canceled.

“God worked it out,” Anderson said. “He wanted me to go and meet with the bishop and talk to the vocations director.”

After completing his freshman year at UNL, Anderson transferred to the University of St. Thomas, a minor seminary in St. Paul, where he earned his undergraduate degree.

Once in the seminary, he began experiencing the call to priesthood, which he said led him to pursue a four-year course of studies in Denver at St. John Vianney Catholic Seminary.

“I always tell people that I went into seminary, mostly, to learn about my faith,” he said. “But, the Lord just kept saying he wanted me to remain there, and, over the course of those seven years of seminary, I was just feeling more and more that this was where I was supposed to be.”

Seminarians spend a great deal of time asking themselves, ‘What does God want me to do?’ Anderson said.

Some might feel like they’re called to be missionaries overseas while others might feel called to pray for the church, remaining cloistered and never leaving their monastery. Most seek parish life, he said.

“I always say, ‘It’s the front line,’” Anderson said. “Think of the battle against evil in the world.

They’re the special forces.”

But diocesan priests are also regular soldiers on the front line, leading the charge, he said.

“We are with families in their normal circumstances,” he said. “We walk with normal people through the normal stages of life and that’s where I felt like the Lord was excited about being involved with people.”