Remembering Tom Aglio (1931-2023)

Feb 9, 2023
Thomas Aglio, founder of Catholic Charities of Central Florida with its current president, Deacon Gary Tester, at Catholic Charities, 60th anniversary gala, April 23, 2022. (COURTESY)

ORLANDO | In 1962, Thomas Aglio founded what is now Catholic Charities of Central Florida. Initially running the operations out of his home with a modest budget, Aglio grew the agency over the course of 40 years to include social programs across nine counties that now serve more than 70,000 Central Floridians each year. On Jan. 29, Aglio passed away at the age of 91.

“Tom’s vision for how we are Jesus to others has brought us to Catholic Charities today – a vibrant, multi-faceted ministry of the Diocese of Orlando striving to bring the light of Christ to those in need. Without that vision, we wouldn’t be here today serving as we do,” said Deacon Gary Tester, Catholic Charities of Central Florida president.

Recalling several wonderful encounters he had with Aglio, Deacon Tester marveled at Aglio’s zeal for his faith and the world around him. He added he would thank him for sharing his “beautiful heart for the poor” in Central Florida.

“His brilliant mind saw opportunities every day, and his faith pushed him to pursue them with vigor. His love for others was contagious. He was always humbled when others received Jesus through his concern for them – even decades after he helped them,” Deacon Tester said. “I am humbled to lead this agency that the Holy Spirit led him to develop.”

Aglio’s legacy of social work includes serving as administrator of Camp St. John, now the St. Augustine Diocese Marywood retreat center, which housed refugee Cuban teen boys during Operation Pedro Pan (Peter Pan). The operation has been the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western hemisphere. Aglio, known as “Padre Segundo” (Second Father) by the boys, found foster homes for the teens – including his own household.

Effusing the Jesuit Ignatian values in which he was raised, the Boston native held an extensive career in medical social services in hospitals in the Northeast for 30 years before coming to Florida to mentor the young Cuban exiles brought to the United States by the Catholic Welfare League in Miami during Fidel Castro’s reign in the early 1960s.

“I didn’t know about the group care of teenage boys, all of whom were grieving, hurting and struggling to adjust to life in the United States,” Aglio told the Florida Catholic in 2001 when he retired. “I plunged in with the grace of the Holy Spirit and managed to give them some sense of home.”

Mel Martinez, former Florida senator and former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, arrived in the United States via the Pedro Pan operation in 1962. Aglio greeted him personally. Upon Aglio’s retirement, Martinez noted, “I have come to know very closely and firsthand Mr. Aglio’s great works and what I would consider a lifetime of achievement. Tom Aglio is a person who lives his faith and is a great witness to his faith by his everyday actions.”

Throughout his distinguished career leading Catholic Charities of Central Florida, Aglio developed and oversaw many programs including adoption, food pantry, family counseling, financial assistance and immigration assistance services, among others.

Aglio lived by his motto of serving as “a man for others.” His alma mater, Boston College, named an alumni excellence award after him for dedication to serving his community, living out this very motto. Margaret, Aglio’s wife, said after his retirement from Catholic Charities that “the job molded him into a very giving man.” Aglio’s family said he viewed receiving the Pro Ecclesia Et Pontifex medal, one of the highest honors the Pope confers on lay and clergy members of the Catholic Church for distinguished service, as validation of his life’s work.

The St. Margaret Mary parishioner was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret, and two sons, and is survived by seven children, 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. The family will receive friends from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 17, 2023, at St. Margaret Mary Parish, 526 N. Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789 with a prayer service at 7 p.m.

The Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Feb. 18, 2023, at St. Margaret Mary Parish. The committal and interment will take place at 3 p.m. at Woodlawn Memorial Park, 400 Woodlawn Cemetery Road, Gotha, FL 34734. In lieu of flowers, make charitable donations to Catholic Charities of Central Florida or Boston College High School. In celebration of Catholic Charities 60th Anniversary Year and through generous gifts from the Clarence P. Geis Trust and the Gardner Family, all donations to the Matthew25 Fund made through March 31st, 2023  – will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $600,000! Give back here.

By Dana Szigeti, Special to the Florida Catholic, February 09, 2023