Our hearts are broken

Baling with Papa

Dan’s dad died yesterday in a tragic accident on the farm.

Papa laid his life down for his 20-year old Down syndrome son Joseph… and saved him, but lost his own life in the process.

We are just so, so, so sad.

Please please please pray for Dan’s Mom, Josie still in the hospital, Dan, us and all the VW’s.

Heaven’s gain is our biggest loss.

And we’re feelin’ it.

(By the way, I have better photos — but other than a photo on his knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament, to me this was the man: workin’ hard, with his kids, and his grandkids. We all thought he would die working for his family, but God wanted to give him the gold ticket sacrificing his very life for his family.)


UPDATE: Thank you all for the outpouring of love, support, and prayers during this time. The funeral arrangments have been posted at Seton School’s and Holy Trinity’s websites. Please check in frequently for futher updates.

Joseph is out of the hospital. He still is on oxygen, but he was able to attend part of the viewing on Sunday afternoon.

For those wishing to leave memories or messages for the family, the Funeral Home has an online guestbook.

Potomac News: Thomas Steven Vander Woude

We appreciate all the kinds words from the news:
Washington Post: Father Who Died Saving Son Known For Sacrifice
Manassas Journal Messenger: Man Drowns While Saving His Son
Journal Messenger: Ordinary Heroism and Selfless Sacrifice
Fox 5 News Video
WJLA News Video Story
WJLA: Community Mourning After Man Drowns in Septic Tank Trying to Save Son
News Channel 8: Community Mourning After Man Drowns in Septic Tank Trying to Save Son
Arlington Catholic Herald: Man of faith dies saving disabled son
The Catholic Review Online: Man who died trying to rescue son recalled as devoted father, friend
WTOP Radio: Man drowns in septic tank while trying to save son
Fredericksburg Free Lance Star: Boundless Love
Mark Levin, national radio host, began Sept. 10th’s show. Click on the link to the Sept 10th show.
LifeSiteNews.com: Man Drowns Saving Son with Down Syndrome
Christendom College News: College Mourns the Loss of Former Athletics Director VanderWoude

And thank you for the prayers and kind words from posted all around the Internet and Blogosphere:
4Real Prayer Request
The Corner, National Review: Thomas S. Vander Woude, R.I.P.
The Corner, National Review: Thomas S. Vander Woude
Newsbusters: A Hero’s Story
And Now for Seven: Please Pray
Happy Mama: Yesterday…
Courtney’s Campaign: A Holy Hero
Family in Feast and Feria: Our Heavy Hearts
Waltzing Matilda: Heavy Hearts
The Stump: Please Pray for This Family
In the Heart of My Home: A Life Well-Lived
Catholics 4 McCain: Prayers Needed
Catholic and Enjoying It!: May God Bless his Soul and Grant Him Eternal Light
Steve Skojec: Thomas Vander Woude: Profile of a Hero
Te Deum: 66 Year Old Father Drowns While Saving Son with Down Syndrome
40 Days for Life Ottawa: Life is the Only Choice
God’s Canvas: A Father’s Love
Southern Illinois Catholic: The Sacrifice of a Father
St. Louis Catholic: A Heroic Father
Fun Size: Greater Love than this…
Creative Minority Report: He Gave All
Tales From the Bonny Blue House: A Father’s Love
St. Athanasius Academy: Prayers Please — Revisited and Still Needed
More Precious Than Pearls: A Heroic Death
Dulce Domum: Just Some Thoughts
Dulce Donum: A Lifetime of Giving
Just Another Day in Paradise: We Are So Heartbroken
First Things: An Unlikely Civil Rights Leader
Dymphna’s Road: Here Was a Man
Bucket of Glee: Please pray for the family of Father Thomas VanDerWoude
Legacy Matters: Father Died Saving son
Tom Faranda’s Folly: Father who died saving his disabled son
Home Sweet Heart: The Blessings of a Down Syndrome Child
The Joyful Faith: Important Person in my Life
Crunchy Con: What a Daddy is
Nathancontramundi: Living the truly Catholic, conservative life, even until death
Anjan Ganguly: Greater love hath no man
Hyatt Update: Saturday
Five Feet of Fury: Man drowns while saving son with Down Syndrome
The Western Confucion: A Happy Death
Meeting Christ in the Liturgy: Requiescat in pace Thomas Vander Woude
Christian and American: American and Christian Hero: Thomas Vander Woude

Post Funeral News and Notes:

Washington Post: Father Who Saved Son Is Remembered For Generosity

Catholic News Agency: Friends remember man who died saving Down Syndrome son (also picked up at EWTN News)

Arlington Catholic Herald: Father remembered for heroic final act

Catholic Preaching: The Crown of a Life of Self-giving
Whispers in the Loggia: “This Guy Did Something Saintly”
Lux Mea Christus – Musings of a Seeker: A modern St Joseph
GetReligion.org: Of sacrifice and fatherhood
First Things: Something Saintly
The Tail End: Fatherhood”
Cranach: A Father’s Vocation
Transfigurations: Father Who Saved Son Is Remembered For Generosity
Mommy Life: Father dies saving son with Down syndrome
DC and Maryland Burbs Blog: Stop…some things must be shared…..Read it and weep
Aggie Catholics: Fatherhood.
Seeking Justice: Passing of a Good Man
Prattman.com: No Greater Love Than This
Faith and Family Live: A Life Well Lived
My Take on Things: Father rescues son from drowning. Sad story but worth the read
Ladies of 102’s Blog: “The Crown of a Whole Life of Self-Giving”
Cacciguida: Thomas Vanderwoude
Pat Buckley – European Life Network: A story of courage and love
Cause of Our Joy: Senator Sam Brownback’s speech on Prenatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act
Frank Murphy: of faithful departed
Disabled Christianity: A Real Life Metaphor
Ladies of 102: God is using Dad’s witness to touch a lot of people’s hearts
Grow the Heart of a Man: Hero Dad of 7 Sons
Marge Unleashed: Standing with Rick Santorum
Reagan Conservatives: 7 Sons Lay Hero Dad to Rest
Barry Michaels: Saints Someday?
Son Rise Morning Show
Divine Will newsletter
Knights of Columus Obit
Christendom Grapevine: Article by Matt Hadro

National Catholic Register: 7 Sons Lay Hero Dad to Rest
Down, Hero Dad and Palin
Philly Inquirer: Hope Does Not Disappoint by Rick Santorum

Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Ultimate Sacrifice

CSPAN Video Footage:
Senator Brownback told the story with a picture of Dad on the Senate floor in hopes of passing legislation that would create a registry of people willing to adopt Down’s babies and couples who have Down’s that are looking for couples to adopt them — the clip is long, Senator Brownback speaks at 1:04 pm ET.
Transcript of Senator Brownback’s presentation is here.

EWTN Raymond Arroyo World Over: September 26 with Rick Santorum

91 thoughts on “Our hearts are broken

  1. Pittsburghkellys

    Oh Maryan, my heart just ached when I heard the news. I know he was loved by many. His family is a testament to the kind of man he was. He’s a true hero.

  2. Cousin Colleen

    Maryan know that my thoughts were with you all yesterday as soon as I heard, and will be with you all day today. He was a great man and I know you will always remember him (as will all of your boys) with great fondness.

  3. Mary G.

    Maryan … well you all know he is where he should be (and probably ate birthday cake with BVM last night!). My heart and prayers go out to you all … know how much we love you all and PLEASE call if we can help in any way….

  4. Maria

    Maryan, our thoughts and prayers are with all of you. Your father-in-law meant so much to us. He will never be forgotten. God bless all of you.

  5. Kim H.

    That’s exactly how I would have remembered Mr. VW – in fact I thought of those pictures of him bailing hay with the grandkids right away. I am so, so sad. I am praying this morning and have been since I heard the news.

    I love you all.

  6. Jennifer

    Maryan – Our hearts are breaking with yours. Your entire family has been, and will remain in our prayers.

    “Greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his (son)” John 15:13

  7. Lisa Sweet

    So very sorry for your loss. Please know that our family will be praying for yours. God bless you all

  8. Sue

    Dan, Maryan – Our prayers are with you, Josie and the whole VanderWoude family. Mr. VW was truly a remarkable, heroic man. What a beautiful testament of love.

  9. 102landlady

    Maryan, we will be down this weekend. Be assured of our continued prayers for the VW family.
    Love you!

  10. David Pearson

    On his knees before the Blessed Sacrament … I hope you will post that photo. That’s where I’m going to go to pray for the repose of this good man’s soul, and for the comfort and consolation of his family and friends in this time of loss and separation. From what I can gather, he’s got the Lord’s ear and he’s already reciprocating.

  11. Pat Haggerty

    What a hero. Know that in this time of grief he is up there smiling that Tom Vander Woude smile and praying for us all down here.

  12. Kimberlee

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I will continue to pray for your family and that the thought of that beautiful ‘gold ticket’ helps to comfort and sustain you all.

  13. Jenn G. Miller

    This is the picture I thought you would post, too. My heart is totally aching. Lots of prayers for your family. You are blessed to have this patriarch watching over you all, but his absence will truly, truly be felt. Praying for Joseph to get better.

  14. Jess A.

    We are shocked and saddened by your loss. What a heroic and selfless act, so typical of the fine man he always was. Joe is quite distraught, as are his sisters and his parents, and they join all of us in offering prayers for Joseph and condolences for Mr. VW.

    Your in-laws are my go-to people for the rearing of good, holy boys and men, and I fondly remember Mr. VW giving me encouraging words when I was expecting yet another boy. We are praying for you all, and confident Mr VW is enjoying his eternal rewards. If there’s anything we can do, boys we can watch, please let us know.

    I am hearing from some of our former high school/college classmates of Bob’s, and players from Mr VW’s teams. Is there a place they can go to leave comments and condolences for you all?

  15. Wendy in VA


    I am so sorry! We will keep your family, especially Joseph, in our daily prayers. We just moved to Bristow and had joined Holy Trinity a few weeks ago, and our sons had asked if they could be altar boys. Your fil was on my list of people to call this week, and I was so happy that I recognized his name and had heard such good things about the VW family… God bless you all.

  16. Stephanie Kenneally


    We are so sorry for you and your family. Mr. VanderWoude was an amazing man. Kent and I both looked up to him as a role model of the Faith and of family life. You all are in our prayers!

  17. Jennifer

    Maryan –

    From Sister Teresa Benedicta at the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of St. Thomas Aquinas College in Nashville:

    I will put this up on our prayer board at home. I believe Joseph’s dad
    must be in Heaven because of this heroic act of charity, much like St.
    Maximillian Kolbe. However, how painful and touching of this good
    person. I do not think I would be over that for a very long time,
    probably never, in fact.

    Would you please tell all of our prayers and heartfelt condolences?
    When I read this I felt much sorrow and compassion, yet what a lesson to me at the same time.

    I wanted to pass along these prayers to you and your family. We continue to lift you up.

  18. The Spooners

    We are so sorry for your lost. He sounds like a remarkable and caring man who always had family first.
    Our prayers and thoughts are with all the VW”S.
    Gary and Janice

  19. Mary Brand

    Maryan and Dan,
    We are so sorry for your loss. You are in our thoughts and prayers. We pray and hope that Joseph is doing alright. What an amazing testimony of love and sacrifice, but so, so sad for all of you.
    Mary and Jonathan

  20. Chris and Elizabeth

    What a good man! How blessed you are to have known him. We are praying for your family, especially for Joseph.

  21. ohiohaggerty

    What a remarkable and heroic man. I will always remember the time he helped me over the phone trouble shoot a problem I was having renovating Robyn’s bathroom. I believe I was crying as I was so frustrated and he simply walked me through it and gave me the encouragement I needed to get the job done.

    Please know that you and all the VWs are in our thoughts and prayers. We are so sorry for your loss. When I heard the news I immediately started praying for Josie and all of the VW family. Please keep us posted on Josie’s recovery.

  22. Johanna Haggerty

    Maryan, Dan, boys and all the Vander Woudes,

    My heartfelt sympathy at the loss of your dad, father-in-law and granddad. He certainly made the ultimate sacrifice in laying down his life for Josie, and I am sure that he is wearing the heavenly crown he so richly deserves. His loss is felt deeply by all of you, but also by all of us who knew, respected and cherished him through the years. Please be assured of our prayers for him, for Josie’s speedy recovery and all of your family during this time of sorrow.

    Johanna Haggerty and family

  23. Candice

    Oh how our hearts ache for your family. Our constant prayers, offered throughout the day, are for you and all of your family. What a heroic life he’s left for us to cling to!
    With our love…

  24. Pete and Jenn Haggerty

    We are so sorry to hear about your loss. Please know that your family is in our thoughts and prayers at this time.

  25. Pingback: Our Heavy Hearts…. « Family in Feast and Feria

  26. Amy H.

    Although we never met him personally, Mr. Vander Woude was such a quiet and constant presence at Holy Trinity that I can’t imagine attending Mass without having him there. He has obviously touched countless lives through his own service and that of his children and grandchildren. Your entire family will be in our prayers during the coming days.

  27. Lorri

    We saw this story on the news before I found out it was your family. “Heaven’s gain is our biggest loss” – how true this is. May you and your family feel the Lord’s loving embrace throughout this time.

  28. trina

    We too can feel the pain of your loss, but how truly wonderful to have such a saint in your family. He will be closer to you now then ever before, and set a shining example of the imitation of Christ’s sacrificial love for the world to see!

  29. Kelly

    Maryan, Dan, boys and the whole Vanderwoude family,
    Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. No words can express the sadness we feel. He was a true example of Christ’s love. He lived his faith to the fullest. We will continue to pray for Josie and for all of you.

  30. Mary M.

    I am so sorry for your tragic loss, Maryan and Dan. In hearing the story of his heroic sacrifice and just in general the stories of his remarkable faith-filled life – of how he has impacted so many lives in such a positive way – I am in awe. If only we all lived lives like that…what an example he is. Know that we are praying for all of you through this time.

  31. Pingback: A Father’s love « God’s Canvas

  32. Kimberly

    Prayers and tears from a stranger…one whose heart is touched by your suffering and moved by the great love and faith exhibited by your entire family. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. Let Your perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

    God’s blessings to you all…

  33. George McFadden

    Our prayers are with the full VW family. He was a great man as evidenced by the wonderful family he leaves behind. His life is an example to all of us fathers. Our most sincere condolences.

  34. Kathy Mo Williams

    MaryAn, Dan and children,

    How sorry we are to hear about the loss of your father and grandfather. We are praying for all of you that Our Lord and His Dear Mother will comfort you during this excruciatingly painful time.

    In Jesus and Mary,
    Shawn and Kathy (Moriarty) Williams
    Peter, Stephen, John and Kevin

  35. Tom McFadden

    Vander Woudes,
    It is amazing how a man, dedicated as he was to the Mother of God, was selected by her to join her and her Son for her birthday in Heaven, and then to have his funeral Mass offered on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Coach Vander Woude gave up his life for his son, not just at the hour of his death, but his entire life. What an example for all of us men and fathers. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him. You all will be in the prayers of the McFaddens. As he said daily, “Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.” Mary was listening, I’m sure.
    Tom and Amanda McFadden and Family

  36. Mark Shea

    He sounds like a very great man indeed. Here there is weeping and mourning in the arms of Jesus who suffered the cross. There he dwells in Light Eternal and you will see him again one day when all will be joy, poignant as grief, beyond the walls of the world.

  37. Molly

    Dear Maryan, you all have our heartfelt sympathies, and prayers. What an example of heroism. May Our dear Mother Mary wrap you all in her mantle.

  38. Nissa


    Your entire family has the prayers of the Gadbois clan. What a marvelous example of Christianity and fatherly love your father-in-law is! How blessed I am to have heard his story. I know you all must be feeling his passing most painfully. My heart aches for the loss of his Earthly presence, and rejoices at the knowledge that he is with God in Heaven and interceding for the many, many people he touched while he was here.

    Bless you all.

  39. Molly

    We are so sorry for your loss. Our prayers are with all who loved this heroic man.

    God bless you all.
    Molly and Court Davis

  40. doucementgently

    Tears came to my eyes as I read different posts around the web/blogosphere/news. My sincere condolences. What a blessing that God gave you this man to know all those years. And what sadness that the grandchildren will not have more years to spend with him.

  41. aussieannie

    Maryan I am so sorry to hear of this enormous loss, I have been greatly moved by reading about the man he was. You must feel great pride, great appreciation for being given such a blessing into your life. Knowing too, his legacy will live on, strong and vibrant. I can only finish by saying that passing on Our Lady’s birthday and being buried on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is a special sign that this heroic man is well and truly in his heavenly mother’s mantle. I will be praying that those left behind will also feel the warmth of that mantle amdist the grief and sorrow.

  42. Kathie Ghormley

    To VanderWoude Family,
    I never met Mr. VanderWoude or his son, Joseph but I did see them at Holy Trinity serving at mass when I would travel to Northern Virginia. I knew who they were from working with Fr. VanderWoude in the Legion of Mary. As an aunt of a 18 old year Downs child I would look at Joseph and see my nephew in Josephs beatiful face.

    Mr. VanderWoude is a true hero and the messages coming in from the many web sites fill my eyes with big heavy tears every time. I offer my prayers up for your family and Mr. VanderWoude at daily mass and on my rosary. I pray to God that He will use every tear shed by me and others to be an unspoken, silent prayer for someone so dearly missed. May he rest in peace and may Gods Light shine apond Mr. VanderWoude.

    God Bless, Kathie Ghormley
    Stafford, VA

  43. Dan Flook

    To the VanderWoude family,
    What a sad but inspiring story. What an incredible man, and role model for all men, husbands and father’s. Know that you all are in our thoughts and prayers.
    Love and Prayers,
    Dan, Teri, Tommy, Dani Rose, David, Ellie, Gemma, Blaise and Abbey Flook

  44. Fr. Andrew

    I am a priest from South Dakota and I heard about your plight. My prayers for the repose of your Father and that you may be consoled by our Lord with the same consolation he gives to all- Jesus Christ.

  45. Tricia (Schoenstein) D.

    We are praying for your entire family in all of our prayers.
    We were devastated by the news of such a heroic, selfless act and such a loss to your family. We will continue to pray for all of you and that Joseph will recover soon.
    From a Seton Alumni–Tricia (Schoenstein) Dorflinger
    and family

  46. Jane and Brian Mee

    From 2 pilots to another far greater one–Tom VanderWoude:

    “High Flight” by John Gillesspie Magee
    Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
    Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
    Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
    You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
    High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
    I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
    My eager craft through footless halls of air
    Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
    I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
    Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
    And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
    The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
    Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

    The last line so states how he died extending his arms to then touch the face of God, again, ultimately.

    God be with him and all of you,
    Jane and Brian Mee
    Lauren and John, Brad, Austin, Garrett, and Christian

  47. Kirsten

    Maryan, I have been praying for all of you and thinking about and reading about this wonderful man who is your Father in law. Continued prayers for everyone. I am so very sorry for your loss.
    The Peace of Christ,

  48. Sarah Feidt

    My heart goes out to your whole clan… The whole world lost something wonderful, but I’m grateful that he left himself behind in each of his inspiring sons. You’re all in my prayers.

  49. Fr. Steven M. Soos

    Dear Mrs. Vander Woude and family,

    Please be assured of my prayers for you and the family especially during my rosaries and Masses.
    I was a classmate/teammate of Dan Vander Woude at Seton and am happy to have had Mr. Vander Woude as a coach and and blessed to have known the family.
    Eccl. 31 “Blessed is the man who is found without guile…who has done wonderful deeds in his life.”
    Sincerely in Christ, Fr. Steven M. Soos

  50. Wallace Boever

    You and yoour family have been in our prayers and thoughts during these days. We are so grateful to God for his life and witness. Yours in Christ, Wally and Katy Boever

  51. Ileana and Mark Harbour and children

    This weekend I attended a retreat with Linda Frank at the Dominican Retreat Center. All the people attending raised Mr. Vander Woude and his family in their prayers. Everybody was very touched. He is a hero of God who has touched many hearts by his selfless act of love, he went to heaven with huge wings, may the Lord sustain his family and give them strength in this time of mourning. Our prayers will continue for his soul and for Josie’s quick recovery.

    Ileana, Mark, James, John, Rachel and Melyssa

  52. Bryan Muench

    Coach Vanderwoude had a profound impact; instilling a level of confidence that helped me in every aspect of my life. He did this by setting the bar high and expecting me to match up to that standard, gently nudging me when I got off track. In 1989, a year after Dan graduated from Seton, Coach Vanderwoude gave me his son’s number “5” to wear that same basketball season. Coach and I both knew nobody would ever fill Dan’s shoes (or his jersey) on the basketball court, however, the honor he gave me to even wear his son’s uniform, a uniform that by all standards should never have been worn again at Seton, helped shape me into the person I am today. A gift like that can never be repaid… and CoachVanderwoude gave those gifts to countless people every day of his life. That is just who he was. Our loss is heaven’s gain.

  53. Lara

    When Tom told me that Mr. VW died I began to pray for everyone. Now after reading that he gave his life for Joseph I know that God has most certainly taken him into his arms. Please know that my continued prayers are will all of you. God be with you.

  54. chris and laurie spencer

    You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers. May God bless him abundantly and Our Lady reward him.

  55. Karla H

    The few times I met him and now the many stories I have heard about him, Mr. VW indeed makes me want to be a better person. His love was truly unconditional. Being at his funeral made me feel like I was a part of something incredibly holy and historic. Prayers for the family and friends

  56. donnamarie


    I am so sorry…I am so moved by the story of your fil’s sacrifice! We will keep you and your dear family in our heartfelt prayers!! I will take your intentions to Holy Mass each day too,
    God love you,
    Donna Marie from NJ (from 4Real)

  57. Leticia Velasquez

    This was one of the most moving stories I have ever heard. May Jesus and Mary hold your family in their loving arms as you suffer your loss.
    Not only did your FIL get his golden ticket to Heaven, but his story may save countless lives if Sen Brownback’s bill is passed.
    God bless you, we are praying for you.

  58. Pingback: Dad VW’s Page « A Lee in the Woudes

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