Tonawanda News

December 19, 2013

Ribits a godsend for O'Hara art students

A recognized priest-artist joins faculty at Cardinal O'Hara High School

By BARBARA TUCKER barbara.tucker@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Ever since he was a boy, the Rev. Thomas Ribits, OSFS, recalls his love of art — a passion that turned into his life’s work.

Ribits, a priest in the Order of St. Francis deSales, grew up Detroit. For 24 years, Ribits taught elementary and high school students at Nardin Academy in Buffalo, then was campus minister at D’Youville College before taking a sabbatical to devote more attention to his art work.

Last year, he joined the faculty at Cardinal O’Hara High School in the Town of Tonawanda to teach advanced art and religion.

Known throughout the O’Hara building as “Father Tom,” Ribits said he’s enjoying the school and students.

“I find the kids are down to earth, with genuine care and concern for each other,” Ribits said.

His background extends from earning a degree in theology in Toronto to a master of arts from Buffalo State, drawing courses at the Detroit Institute of Art and taking other art courses along the way.

Ribits established the Salesian Studio in Buffalo, provided by his order, where he has his art studio.

Among his many accomplishments are murals at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Buffalo and an enormous mural project at the Catholic Center in Buffalo.

“The mock-up for the (Catholic Center) mural took six months,” he said. “‘To finish the work took 13 months, working 50 to 60 hours a week, while teaching at the same time. I would work from 5 to 7 a.m., celebrate 7:30 a.m. Mass, then teach, returning to work on the mural from 3 to 9 p.m. — an all day project.” 

“I had a lot of energy,” he laughed.

Mary Holzerland, principal at O’Hara, said when she first met Ribits, she knew he belonged at O’Hara, which she noted, has a tradition of a strong art program.

“Last year, he assisted with Masses at the school and at the reconciliation services. He was, and is now, invaluable on a daily basis. We’re fortunate to have two priest who minister to our kids.”

Holzerland said Ribits offers students his intense passion for art — and holds them accountable.

“In the classroom, he offers students a higher level of thinking, skills they need every day,” she said. “Not all our students are Catholic and he helps each student to have a deeper understanding of God. He shares the kids’ backgounds which helps them know each other. He’s just really good.”

At O’Hara, Ribits teaches two religion classes and a studio in art class for those who are really interested in art.

“Art needs a lot of self-discipline. We work in acrylic — easier to clean up,” he noted.

Outside of school and his art projects, Ribits enjoys hiking, biking and running.

“In good weather, it’s not unusual to see Father Tom riding his bike to school,” Holzerland said.

In fact, the day of the interview was a “dress down” red and green day at the school to raise money to help four needy families on the West Side of Buffalo.

Ribits came in dressed in red and green sweaters, with one red and one green sneaker.

“I have a lot of sneakers,” he laughed, “in fact I have another pair like this at home. I take one year at a time and live the present moment,” he added.