SBTS mourns death of new student

Communications Staff — September 10, 2003

LOUISVILLE, Ky.–Timothy Bononi became a Christian in 2001 and soon sensed that God had orchestrated his life in a way that had prepared him to serve as a hospital chaplain.

But on Sept. 4, the 30-year-old Springfield, Ill., died of heart failure at the outset of his first semester as a student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Bononi collapsed while touring an apartment complex on the school’s campus and was rushed to nearby Baptist East Hospital where he died some hours later.

During a chapel service Tuesday, Seminary President R. Al bert Mohler, Jr., read Bononi’s words from an autobiographical essay he had submitted as part of the admissions requirements for Southern Seminary. Mohler said Bononi’s death should serve as a reminder to all of the brevity of life.

“I can imagine that some very close to Timothy, some looking back after his death, would say, ‘Well, isn’t it a shame that he picked up everything he had and went off to a distant place and began a program of study that he was able to fulfill with only a few days?’” said Mohler.

“There is no tragedy in that. When the Lord called him, the Lord found him pursuing the calling that He had planted in his heart. Life is a vapor. We know not the number of our days. But brothers and sisters, let us be determined to be found faithful when our day shall come, doing what the Lord has called us to do.”

Bononi was born with a congenital heart defect and had battled heart disease for much of his life. Doctors performed open heart surgery on him for the first time at 11 months of age and again at 14.

Bononi was in and out of the hospital with various complications over the years, but wrote of how God had shown him grace through the heart condition and had used it ultimately to draw him to salvation.

He served as an altar boy in the Roman Catholic Church as a teen, but began to see the errors of Catholicism by reading Scripture while in the hospital as a young adult. His brother-in-law, a devout Christian, helped him to a clearer understanding of the Gospel. At age 27, Bononi trusted Christ for his salvation.

In his essay, Bononi said that though his own physical heart was defective, God had given him a new spiritual heart. He believed God had called him to the hospital chaplaincy because he had spent so much time in the hospital as a patient. All that was missing was a theological education.

Bononi began at the seminary in late August. He was enrolled in the master of arts in Christian Counseling program.

“The fact is that Timothy Bononi did not even finish the first few weeks of class,” Mohler said. “But brothers and sisters, his theological education is now complete. And [it is] complete in a way that none of us will know until we also meet our Lord face to face.”

Bononi graduated from the University of Illinois at Springfield in 1995 with a degree in history. Prior to his move to Louisville, he worked four years in the Kids Care program for the State of Illinois.

Bononi’s funeral was held Tuesday morning at Springfield Bible Church. He is survived by his father, David, and stepmother, Jan, of Springfield, along with sisters Debra Booker of Riverton, Ill., and Tracy Geist of Springfield.

Doug Walker, senior vice president of institutional relations, preached the chapel sermon from Phil. 1, answering the question, ‘What happens to us when we die?” Walker preached in the place of scheduled speaker, Johnny Hunt, who was unable to preach due to the death of his father. Hunt was scheduled for a one-day conference on Sept. 8 which was also cancelled.

Walker pointed out that death is the consequence of sin and is unnatural. But for the believer, death is the beginning of life in the presence of the Lord.

“That’s a great thought and a comforting thought,” Walker said. “And as you and I think about our own deaths, as we deal with the deaths of our loved ones, as we minister to those who are facing death, for the believer, the great hope and assurance is that the moment we die, we are immediately with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

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