Tom Zimmer - "The Hermit of Loreto" - 3/6/2017By Bret Thoman, SFO---
About two weeks ago, I began receiving a slew of emails and Facebooks messages asking me what I knew about the American “Hermit of Loreto.” Though I, too, am an American who lives in Loreto, I knew nothing about him.
I was given a YouTube video to watch:
In the video, an American priest named Fr. Giacomo Capoverdi recounts how he encountered this holy man who lived in Loreto. He says that some seventeen years ago, a friend of his -- an Italian American doctor named Claudio Curran -- told him that he had to get up to Loreto on his upcoming trip to Rome to speak with a holy man there by the name of Tom Zimmer.
He said this gentleman, an American layperson, had left everything behind in the US to live in Loreto as a hermit. He added that he was very prayerful and had written a book, “Pietà” which sold upwards of “ten million copies.”
Fr. Capoverdi says that after arriving in Rome, he indeed took a train up to Loreto and went inside the basilica where he saw an elderly gentleman, hunched over, sitting on the floor next to the Holy House in prayer. He sat down next to him, introduced himself in English, and they had a wonderful conversation.
So then Fr. Capoverdi fast forwards until a few weeks ago when he was talking to his old friend, the doctor, who said that back in the 1980s, Tom Zimmer had told him (the doctor) that he had received a “premonition” and that he (Tom) believed that a certain man would lead America back to God. And that man would be none other than Donald J. Trump.
“The millionaire playboy from New York?” asks the incredulous doctor. “Yes,” responds Tom. In fact, Zimmer was so convinced that Donald Trump would become a great spiritual leader of America that he wrote his name on a brick and had it placed in the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Holy Door after the Jubilee in order that Trump would receive blessings from the many Masses that would be said in the Vatican.
Fr. Capoverdi says that he wanted to get this message out after he saw Donald Trump’s wife begin a political rally in Florida by beginning with the Our Father.
Now, I have to admit that my first impression after watching this video was somewhere between skepticism and suspicion. Although I believe that God reveals his plans and messages in advance to his prophets, it is not always clear who his prophets are, or, when people speak as “prophets” whether or not they are true or false.
In any case, a number of people asked me if I would look into Tom Zimmer to see what I could find out. And so I did.
Since the 1920s, the basilica of the Holy House of Loreto has been staffed by the Capuchin Franciscan friars. Due to my participation in the Third Order of St. Francis, my work organizing pilgrimages, and my own prayer and Mass attendance at the Holy House, I know a number of friars and personnel who staff the basilica. And so I went to find to do some “investigative research.”
First, I happened to run into a jovial, 84-year-young friar named Fr. Mario who I’ve known for years. He was in Loreto for a week-long retreat, though he lives not in Loreto, but in the mother house in Camerino where the order began in the sixteenth century. (When we take groups to Camerino, I sometimes joke with Fr. Mario by asking him if he was there when Matteo da Bascio founded the order in 1527.) Since all the Capuchins of this province, the Marches, come here often, as it is one of their most important churches and communities, I asked Fr. Mario if he knew anything about Tom Zimmer.
He said that he recalled an American man who prayed in the basilica, but he added that over the years, there have been many such “penitents” or “oblates” who come here for weeks, months, or even years, and he did not know much about him.
He said the friars all knew of him and referred to him simply as “L’Americano” (the American), and found him to be courteous and polite, if not a little “particular.” They were aware that Tom attended upwards of four or five Masses every day and that he spent the rest of his time praying in and around the Holy House. (The Holy House itself is a small building comprised of four marble-wrapped walls in the center of a large basilica.)
Since he didn’t have any more information about “The American,” Fr. Mario told me I should speak with Fr. Giuseppe Santarelli, who has been in Loreto for decades and would surely know more.
I had heard of Fr. Santarelli and knew that he was one of the more erudite and learned friars in Loreto and works as the director of the “Congregazione Universale della Santa Casa” which promotes devotion to the Holy House and publishes a magazine, among other things. So I popped in and introduced myself.
I immediately sensed that Fr. Santarelli, not much taller than five feet, was a kind man and a gentleman. I told him that I was there to inquire about an American “penitent” who lived in Loreto back in the 1990s and prayed frequently in the Holy House.
Fr. Santarelli promptly cut me off, “Ah sì, Thomas Zimmer, si chiamava... certo che mi ricordo...” (“Ah yes, Thomas Zimmer was his name, of course I remember him...”). He went on to say that everyone in Loreto knew of him.
I told him about the “premonition” he had made about Donald Trump and that a video of an American priest discussing it had just gone viral on the internet. Fr. Santarelli just smiled and added that he did not know anything about that, but that him making such a prophecy may have been possible. I asked him what he did know about Thomas.
He said he was here in Loreto for about ten years, he was a very pious and devoted man, he went to Mass every opportunity he could and was in constant prayer, he spoke fluent Italian, and the friars held him in high esteem. He said that he knew Tom had gone back to the US before he died. He didn’t recall exactly, but he thought somewhere around 2008.
He said that the basilica had received word of his death and they had a record of it. He took me into another room where there were some archives and pulled out a ledger or two, but could not find the document he was looking for.
He then said that he had a photo of Tom, and he pulled out a hardbound book from a different shelf. It was a type of album. In it, Tom Zimmer can be seen frail and hunched over leaning on a cane sitting in front of the Holy House. He let me take a picture of it.
I asked him what he thought about Tom’s prophecy, but he said he did not him well enough to have an opinion on that. He said I should speak to a woman who worked in the bookstore next to the basilica. Her name was Michela. He said that she knew Tom quite well and even referred to her as being a “faithful devotee” of his.
So I went next door and, after a large crowd of French speaking pilgrims cleared out, I found Michela and introduced myself to her and explained why I was there.
She said Tom was a very holy man and she used to accompany him back and forth to the Holy House from the retirement home where he was staying. She said he used to joke that he lived in Mary’s House longer than St. Joseph.
During the time she knew him, he taught her many prayers including a devotion to St. Bridget, which helped her during a difficult period while she was pregnant with her child. She also said that after he returned to the US, he wrote to her saying that he regretted his decision to leave Loreto, but that he felt strongly he needed to return to his homeland. Without saying so, it was clear that Michela was very fond of Tom.
I told her about his premonition and what he said many years earlier about Donald Trump, and she said she did not know anything about that. I asked her if he ever confided to her any other such premonitions or prophecies. He had not.
After looking into Tom Zimmer, the “Hermit of Loreto,” I have no reason to doubt Fr. Capoverdi’s statements that Thomas Zimmer communicated to his friend that he received a “premonition” that Donald Trump would “lead America back to God.” Yet, when seeking to determine whether a prophecy is true or false, the Church leaves us some criteria to guide us in discernment.
The first is to look at the recipient of the prophecy. Generally, that person should be a good and virtuous person and additionally, the person’s temperament should also be considered, as well as his or her physical and mental state. Here it is clear that Thomas Zimmer was prayerful and devoted, was courteous and helpful toward others in need, and appears to have been of sound mind, though his body was failing.
Next, a prophecy must not state anything is against revealed truth. Here, too, there is nothing Scriptural or in Church teachings that would suggest that a political leader cannot lead people to God; on the contrary, Scripture indicates it as a duty. (Some have even seen Trump in the figure of King Cyrus [see Ezra 1:1-11]).
Lastly, the prophecy must, obviously, come true. It does seem extraordinary that an elderly prayerful man would have had such an intuition about Donald Trump as being Christian leader when he was, indeed, living a life quite the opposite in that moment.