Thomas Comerford Lawler, 84, the co-author of a best-selling Catholic adult catechism, "The Teaching of Christ," died of arteriosclerotic disease Nov. 20 at Falcons Landing retirement facility in Potomac Falls, where he lived.
Mr. Lawler co-wrote and co-edited the 1976 book with his late brother, Capuchin Franciscan friar Ronald Lawler, and Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh. The catechism, which is a religious encyclopedia that summarizes the fundamentals of the faith, has been translated into at least 13 languages and is now in its fifth edition, having sold more than 400,000 copies.
From 1964 to 1991, he was co-editor of the popular Ancient Christian Writers series of books, published by the Paulist Press. He also translated "St. Augustine: Sermons for Christmas and Epiphany" and "The Letters of St. Jerome," both part of the series.
Wuerl said Mr. Lawler was a deeply faithful Catholic who brought a scholar's knowledge of nuances and an experienced editor's skill to the task of the catechism.
"That's the one area where he reigned undisputed," Wuerl said. "We would have lively discussions on matters of faith and how to put it in language people could easily grasp. But when it came to commas and semicolons, he brooked no opposition. He simply announced what it should be. We can attribute the marvelous universal style of the catechism to him."
Mr. Lawler received the papal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal in 2001, the highest award given to a layperson, for his service to the Catholic Church.
He took up religious work full time after 26 years in the Central Intelligence Agency. He worked for the CIA from 1951 to 1977 and received the agency's Intelligence Medal of Merit. The year after retiring from the CIA, he was appointed the first director of the Arlington County diocese's director of religious education.
He served on the board of directors for the Arlington Catholic Herald newspaper and was on the board of Catholic Charities.
At a time when many deeply religious people seek to persuade others on religious matters, Mr. Lawler was a quiet believer, Wuerl said. "He did not feel it necessary to confront people about their faith, but he used opportunities to explain what the Catholic Church teaches and why. He felt very comfortable doing that, but in a quiet, genteel way," Wuerl said.
Mr. Lawler was a native of Cumberland, Md. He graduated from St. Fidelis Capuchin Seminary in Herman, Pa., and joined the Army during World War II. He was president of the Federation of Catholic Parent-Teacher Organizations in Northern Virginia from 1968 to 1970, when many Catholic schools were closing or targeted for shutdown. Mr. Lawler was one of six lay members of the National Catechetical Directory committee from 1972 to 1978.
His brother died in 2003.
Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Patricia Ann Fullerton Lawler of Sterling; three sons, Peter Augustine Lawler of Rome, Ga., Thomas Aquin Lawler of Vienna and Gregory Francis Lawler of Ithaca, N.Y.; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.