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La Salle News

June 10, 2013

La Salle University Biology Professor Brother Thomas McPhillips, Who Also Led Pep and Jazz Bands, Dies at 63

Brother Thomas McPhillips, F.S.C., Ph.D., a La Salle University biology professor who also moderated the jazz and pep bands, died on Thursday, June 6, in his sleep at a Brothers’ residence on North 12th Street in Philadelphia. He was 63.

A viewing will be held on Tuesday, June 11, in the De La Salle Chapel on the University’s main campus in Northwest Philadelphia from 4  to 7 p.m., followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at
7 p.m. Burial will take place on Wednesday, June 12, at 11:30 a.m. in the Brothers’ cemetery in Beltsville, Md.

Br. Thomas was a 1972 graduate of La Salle University. He earned his M.S. in biology from Villanova University in 1977 and his Ph.D. in virology from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas in 1984.

“Brother Thomas has been a La Salle star—an excellent teacher and researcher, committed to students as an adviser and friend, and, above all, a man of faith, integrity, and compassion. He will be sorely missed,” said La Salle University President Brother Michael J. McGinniss, F.S.C.

Br. Thomas’ first teaching assignment was teaching biology at La Salle College High School in 1972. In 1978–79, he taught at South Hills Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, Pa.

After earning his doctorate, Br. Thomas joined La Salle’s Biology Department faculty in 1984. He regularly taught the introductory biology course for science majors. He also taught microbiology, biochemistry, human biology, human genetics, and radiation biology. He would begin classes with, “Good morning, biology fans!”

He also taught a seminar for student teachers preparing to teach secondary school science, and he supervised those students at area high schools during their student teaching assignments.

During his first year at La Salle, Br. Thomas became adviser to the jazz and pep bands and immediately began invigorating them and playing the trombone with them at athletic events. “The band is one of my greatest joys. It’s being with the students that I love the most,” he told La Salle’s student newspaper, The Collegian.

In the same interview, Br. Thomas said he started playing the piano as a young child but began playing the trombone while in high school, and he was a member of the band. He said he had traveled to Vienna, Austria, several times because of its musical heritage.

Br. Thomas was born on Sept. 8, 1949, and grew up in Philadelphia’s West Oak Lane section. While a student at La Salle College High School, he saw how much the Christian Brothers enjoyed teaching, which influenced him to join the order.

“I remember the Brothers were just such a happy group of people. They seemed to be very contented with what they did, and at the time I was very fortunate to have many excellent teachers. I can remember having the love of teaching instilled in me at that point,” he told The Collegian.

In 1994–95, Br. Thomas taught at Bethlehem University in the West Bank, a school operated by the Christian Brothers whose student body is predominately Muslim. For La Salle’s alumni magazine, he wrote about his experiences there.

“One thing was clear enough, though: No matter to whom I spoke, no matter what I read, I sensed that the Brothers and staff at Bethlehem University were making a significant difference to people who really needed them. Why wouldn’t you want to be part of that?” he wrote.

Br. Thomas was awarded summer study grants from the University to be a research scientist at the University of Maryland, where he studied reoviruses and paramyxoviruses. He also participated in a study that led to the naming of a new genus of viruses, the Aquareoviruses. Br. Thomas was the author of 24 scientific publications.

Br. Thomas is survived by a brother, Clifford, his sister-in-law, Marianne, nieces Shannon and Kara, a nephew, Patrick, and seven great-nieces and great-nephews.

La Salle University was established in 1863 through the legacy of St. John Baptist de La Salle and the Christian Brothers teaching order, which St. La Salle founded in 1680. La Salle is an educational community shaped by traditional Catholic and Lasallian values.