Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Remembering a survivor of abuse who saved lives in his community

A man in a couch
Steve Eiffler is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by his cousin. He says Tom Mahowald was a brave, loyal friend and advocate for all survivors.
Melissa Townsend | MPR News

Minnesota has lost a courageous soul. Tom Mahowald died this week. He was 72.

Mahowald was many things to those who loved him — a friend, a rock, an inspiration. And he was a vocal survivor of abuse from the Catholic clergy.

Madeleine Baran led MPR News’ coverage of the Catholic Church’s cover-up of abuse of children by priests in 2013 and 2014. Baran got to know Mahowald through her reporting, and she joined host Cathy Wurzer to remember him.

The courage to keep speaking up

When Mahowald was 11 years old in 1961, he was raped by a priest at Guardian Angels Church in Hastings, Minn. Even at that young age, he pushed back against adults who tried to silence him, and he spoke up about the crime — but no action was taken.

A photo of a young man.
Tom Mahowald in his high school senior photo.
Melissa Townsend | MPR News

Decades later, in the early 2000s, Mahowald approached the archdiocese to speak up again and received financial support for his recovery.

But when he sought a settlement, the archdiocese turned on him and denied his abuse ever took place.

A few years after that, Mahowald came forward to tell his story to MPR News.

‘The kind of love for everybody’

Wurzer also heard a remembrance of Mahowald from a friend named Steve Eiffler. Eiffler is a survivor of abuse as well. His abuser was not a member of the clergy — it was a cousin. Eiffler says Mahowald saved his life.

“I know what he feels. It may not be the same thing I feel … but we still have that connection,” Eiffler said of Mahowald.

Eiffler has struggled with drugs and alcohol. “I spent my whole life [in] hate and anger, and that’s how I survived,” he said. When he got involved with a treatment center in Hastings, he met Mahowald.

“I don’t know what it was — it was an act of God … or Tom’s kindness — but we just connected,” Eiffler said.

Later, when Eiffler tried to commit suicide by setting himself on fire, Mahowald jumped in to rescue him. He then stayed by Eiffler’s side at the hospital and through treatment and after-care.

“Tom never, ever turned his back on me, and that’s the kind of love that he [had] for everybody,” Eiffler said.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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