By Jimmy Patterson
AUSTIN — A 2005 article in Texas Monthly magazine referred to Tom Craddick as everything from a Midland mud man to the most powerful politician in the state of Texas.
Craddick will tell you though that he is a Christian Catholic first and a Midland resident second.
But as dynamic a politician as you will find in the Austin inner circle, the man who has represented his Midland hometown for almost 40 years was reduced to humble servant two years ago when he, wife Nadine, and their family visited the Vatican and met Pope John Paul II.
“After we had met the Pope, my son asked me, ‘Dad, what did you think about the frescoes on the wall?’ And I said, ‘What frescoes?”
Craddick, schooled at St. Ann’s in Midland, was so taken with being so close to such holiness in meeting the Pope, he literally saw nothing else when in the room with John Paul II.
Craddick says that what he’s learned through a lifetime of faith formation has guided him in his business and political life even today.
“I think it does play a major part in my day-to-day business, and when I’m out on the floor (of the House of Representatives),” Craddick said. “There are a lot of issues relevant to people’s individual faith, and every day we deal with people in business, and what you have learned about what’s right and what’s wrong, and how you deal with business … your faith is a big factor in how you treat people. You can be tough in negotiations and still have respect for other people.”
Craddick said national leaders tend to come under more scrutiny for their Catholic beliefs because the Church is a focus Church and it is the only church of its kind, whereas there are many protestant churches. He said he felt the Church had successfully emerged from the darkness of the clergy sex scandals, a “rough bump” as he termed it, and said getting people, namely young people, to come to Mass on a regular basis would be one of the Church’s major challenges in the 21st century.
He acknowledged that people tend to drift from their faith throughout their lives, but said, “The more we keep going to Mass and to the programs the Church offers and the more we get our children to CCD the better for the long-term growth of the country, the world and us as individuals.”
During his time as a Boy Scout, Craddick was one of a handful of teenagers who helped physically move the altar from the old St. Ann’s Church to its present location. Originally from Wisconsin, Craddick’s family moved to Midland when he was a young boy. He was a student at St. Ann’s through 8th grade and still clearly remembers the spiritual guidance provided by Fr. Tom Kennedy and Fr. Andy Wueste.
Craddick was a doctoral student at Texas Tech when he decided to run for the legislature in 1969. An oilman by trade, Craddick became the first Republican to be named Speaker of the House since Reconstruction.
Ironically, one of Craddick’s most humorous anecdotes concerns when he became an Eagle Scout while a member of the St. Ann’s Troop at age 17. As many parents do, Craddick’s father encouraged him to complete his merit badge work so that he could be provided with the many opportunities that come with the Eagle Scout rank. As he approached the completion of his merit badge work, there was just one badge that stood between him and the high honor: Citizenship in the Nation, a badge that deals largely with politics and how the political system works.
“It’s kind of ironic I didn’t get that one until the very end given the work I’m in today,” Craddick smiled. “My Dad wasn’t real happy that I put that one off so long.”