US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Thomas Melady, former U.S. envoy to the Vatican, dies at 86

By Eric J. Lyman | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

c. 2014 Religion News Service

ROME (RNS) Thomas Patrick Melady, a veteran diplomat and highly regarded author and policy expert best known for his work as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, died Monday (Jan. 6) at the age of 86.

Melady served as the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in the Vatican for four years ending in 1993, under President George H.W. Bush. While in that role, Melady was instrumental in influencing Pope John Paul II’s Vatican to recognize Israel as a sovereign state, although the Holy See did not formally take that step until a few months after Melady’s retirement.

“In my final meeting with the pope, when I said goodbye, I told him I came with a mission to accomplish certain things,” Melady recalled in a television interview nine years ago. “One thing I didn’t accomplish was the recognition of Israel. He smiled at me and said, ‘Wait and see.’”

Before the Vatican post, Melady had served as U.S. ambassador to Burundi and to Uganda, and during a career that started in the 1950s, he authored more than a dozen books. From 1976 to 1986, he served as president of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.

“Tom was an outstanding diplomat who served his country, and his church, well. But he was also a fighter, one who stood up for his beliefs,” said Bill Donohue, president of the New York-based Catholic League, where Melady served as an informal adviser.

In recent years, Melady lent his name to a number of Catholic causes on both the left and right, including decrying the recent government shutdown that hurt federal programs for the poor, as well as denouncing a controversial decision by the State Department to move the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See into the larger U.S. Embassy to Italy complex.

Melady, who was born in Connecticut in 1927, died in his home in Washington after a short battle with brain cancer. He is survived by his wife, Margaret Badum Melady — a former president of the American University of Rome — two children and seven grandchildren.