Thomas Loome got his start in the secondhand book business while working on his doctorate in theology in Germany.
Loome, the former owner of Loome Theological Booksellers and Loome’s Antiquarian Booksellers in downtown Stillwater, traveled throughout Europe in the late 1960s and 1970s, searching for books he needed for his research. He learned so much about antique and secondhand books that famed bookseller Richard Booth, of Hay-on-Wye, Wales, hired him after Loome pointed out he wasn’t charging enough for certain editions, said Karen Loome, Thomas Loome’s wife.
“He asked Tom if he had ever made a mistake pricing books … and asked for an example,” she said. “Tom actually had a book in his hand, and he said, ‘Well, for example, this one.’ It was priced at, I don’t know, 5 pounds, and it was worth hundreds of pounds, and then Richard said, ‘Well, would you work with me?’”
Loome died March 31 at Croixdale Senior Living in Bayport as a result of complications related to Parkinson’s disease. He was 83.
Loome was teaching at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul when he heard that the Old Swedish Covenant Church in Stillwater, built in 1904, was for sale. He and his wife, Karen, purchased the building and opened Loome Theological Booksellers.
“He always loved books, loved reading, loved to study,” Karen Loome said. “He was a real scholar and teacher. You combine all that knowledge that he gained and experience and his theological education and that’s what made him this great theological bookseller.”
Loome became a national expert in rare books on theological subjects, hunting for treasures in university and college libraries and searching through private collections of deceased priests and ministers and in monasteries that had closed and left valuable collections of books unattended.
At one point, Loome Theological Booksellers had the largest stock in North America of books on philosophy, theology, religion and related areas, including biblical exegesis and archaeology, ecclesiastical arts, patristic and medieval literature, liturgical texts and studies, religious biography and lives of the saints, canon law, Protestant and Catholic Americana.
Chris Hagen, the current owner of Loome Theological Booksellers, said he remembers being intimidated by “the weight of (Loome’s) scholarship and knowledge, a mind that was many levels above my own,” upon first meeting him in 2001.
“But then any time I asked about books or authors, there was no condescension coming from him,” Hagen said. “It was always just generously explaining the answer to my question.”
Loome’s mother died when he was 9 years old while his father was serving overseas during World War II. Loome lived with relatives in Boston and later moved to California with his father and sister. He attended a Christian Brothers’ high school and college, Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga, Calif., and entered the Christian Brothers order in 1952.
Loome taught high school before moving to Germany in 1968, where he earned his doctorate in Catholic theology at the University of Tübingen, Karen Loome said. “He did not know German when he decided to go,” she said. “Everything was in German. He wrote his dissertation in German. I’ve always thought that was extraordinary.”
One of his professors was Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI, she said.
Upon his return to the United States in 1976, he left the Christian Brothers and taught at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga. He then got a job teaching at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., where he met Karen Merrill, who was a nursing student.
“I had to take a class in theology,” she said. “We didn’t date. He was much older, he was a professor. I just liked him. I only knew him for one year, but we kept in touch by writing letters. He always said I was his best student. I think he really meant it, actually. Not that I was the smartest kid around, but he just said that I was really interested and studied hard and was excited about the course.”
The couple fell in love, got married and settled in St. Paul; Loome taught at St. Kate’s from 1978 to 1982. They had five children.
Loome was active at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Stillwater, and he and Karen founded the Stillwater Catholic Worker Community in 2000.
“He was always a faithful son of the church,” Karen Loome said. “He was 23 years older than me, and I would say all the time, ‘I can’t even keep up with you.’ The energy and the drive and the passion — it was a great service to the church. I’m very proud of him.”
In addition to his wife, he is survived by four children, Felicity, Thomas Noah, Cecilia and David; and two granddaughters.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held earlier this month at St. Michael’s Catholic Church. Memorials are preferred to the Stillwater Catholic Worker Community.