Father Peter Gerard Shea, CSP, dies

September 24, 2012

Father Peter Gerard Shea, CSP, died Sept. 23 in San Francisco. A funeral Mass will be offered Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. at Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. (A viewing will take place from 6-7 p.m.) A funeral Mass will also be celebrated Sept. 29 at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Oak Ridge, N.J., (funeral following 10 a.m. viewing). Burial will take place after the funeral in the Paulist section of St. Thomas the Apostle Cemetery.

Father Shea entered the Paulist Fathers’ novitiate on Sept. 8, 1958, and was ordained on May 11, 1962. He had just celebrated 50 years of Paulist priesthood. He was 80 years old and serving as associate pastor of Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco at the time of this death.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Father Shea and his seven siblings attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, served by Sisters of St. Joseph. The choirboy said the rosary regularly with his family, including his French Canadian mother and Irish Father.

Make a gift in memory of Fr. Shea “We learned faith by the example of my parents,” said Father Shea in a past interview with Paulist.org.

Father Shea began his academic studies for the priesthood in North East, Pa., where he graduated from St. Mary’s College High School, a minor seminary. Father Shea then entered the Redemptorist novitiate, just as Father Hecker had done in 1845. He attended major seminary at Mount St. Alphonsus in New York, but left before making final promises as a Redemptorist.

Father Shea started selling insurance in New York City while studying for his bachelor’s degree in history from St. John’s University in Long Island at night. During this time, Father Shea began a discourse with a Redemptorist who was working with people who wanted to be Catholics. The Redemptorist suggested the young man consider the Paulists, whose main work was with people considering entering the Catholic Church.

The Paulists have “a very American kind of spirit,” Father Shea said in that past interview. “There is a free spirit and variety among us Paulists, serving with freedom of and dedication to creativity. It is a spirit I appreciate that is inviting and sustaining.”

The future Paulist entered the community’s novitiate at Mount Paul in Oak Ridge, NJ, in 1957 and began theological studies at St. Paul’s College in Washington, D.C., in 1958, the 100th anniversary of the Paulist Fathers. Father Shea was ordained a Paulist priest on May 11, 1962 by Cardinal Francis J. Spellman at the Paulist mother church, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan.

Father Shea’s pastoral year was spent at the Paulist Center in Boston. He was then assigned as associate pastor of St. Austin Church in Austin, Texas, from 1963-64. Father Shea then joined the Paulist preaching apostolate, ministering out of Detroit, Mich., from 1964-66; Portland, Ore., from 1966-68; Detroit again from 1968-69; Minneapolis from 1969-71; and Old St. Mary’s in San Francisco from 1971-73.

Parish ministry again beckoned Father Shea to St. Leo Church in Houston, Tex., where he served as associate pastor from 1973-76. He returned to St. Austin as pastor from 1976-84, when he became director of the Blessed John XXIII Parish at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Father Shea went to St. Peter Church in Toronto, Canada, in 1988. He became associate pastor at Old St. Mary’s in San Francisco in 1996. Still in active ministry until his death, Father Shea celebrated liturgies, helped with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, directed a “Saturday for Engaged Couples” program and tended to the other pastoral needs of the community.

“I love the work, working with people,” Father Shea said, “It is fascinating and inspiring to me and my own faith.”