Fr. Bill Shea, SVD, has touched the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of those who have in turn touched lives of thousands of others around the world. He has been a missionary to missionaries through his work as an educator, formator and spiritual director as well as an administrator at the highest levels of the SVD in North America.
“Seeing people grow up before your eyes, when you’re with them for four years or more, that’s just a pleasant experience,” he said. “To see that they have accomplished something and that you’ve played a small part in it, that’s rewarding.”
On Saturday, April 26, Fr. Bill celebrated his 50th Jubilee in the priesthood with the Divine Word College community during a Mass and banquet.
“He’s a dedicated Divine Word Missionary, a person of deep faith, somebody with a genuine concern for other people, a marvelous sense of humor and ability to relate to people of all ages,” said Fr. Jim Bergin, rector at Divine Word College. “It’s a blessing having him here in our community.”
Born and raised in Boston, Fr. Bill attended Catholic schools and graduated from Boston College in 1953, with a degree in History and Government. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted into the Army and stationed at what is now known as Fort Stewart in Georgia until his release in December, 1955. That’s when he saw an ad about the SVD seminary at Bordentown, New Jersey, which had what was known as a “belated school.”
“People went there after high school that needed either Latin or Greek or any particular subject that was needed to go to Novitiate,” he said. “I wanted to be a missionary in an international order and Bordentown had classes beginning shortly after I left the army, so I applied.”
He attended the belated school and was accepted into the two-year Novitiate at Conesus, New York, where he professed his First Vows on September 8, 1958. Then it was on to Techny, where he professed his Final Vows on September 8, 1962 and ordained on February 2, 1964.
Because of his fondness for world history and a desire work in another culture, Fr. Bill had hoped to be assigned to another country. His first choice was the Philippines.
“Nowadays you get your first choice, almost automatically, unless there’s some specialty that you are needed for,” he said. “I wanted to do formation and education, but not here. But back then, there were so many of us that they moved people around, so I didn’t get my first choice.”
He did however get into education and formation work. He was first assigned as assistant dean at the minor seminary in Perrysburg, Ohio. Two years later he took a same position at East Troy, Wisconsin. In 1967, he was named dean of students at the minor seminary in Girard, Pennsylvania. Two years later he became a formator and teacher at St. Mark’s Seminary in Erie, Pennsylvania.
“I liked teaching and formation work, I had no problems with it. We always worked as a team,” he said.
During his time at St. Mark’s, Fr. Bill served as assistant provincial for the Eastern Province. In 1976 he was named Provincial. Over time, many of the seminaries had closed and the province was made up primarily of parishes. In 1982, while Fr. Bill was still provincial, the decision to merge the Eastern and Northern Provinces was made.
“We were doing a lot together anyway, formation, education, finance, and we did vocation work together,” he said. “It really was a question of downsizing the administration; instead of having two, you just have the one.”
The next three years were ones of transition. There still was an Eastern Province over that time, but in 1985, the merger was completed. Meanwhile, Fr. Bill remained busy outside his provincial duties. He was rector of the minor seminary in Bordentown and formator and teacher at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1986, he became dean of students at East Troy for a year and remained there
|Fr. Bill shows a memory book to his sister, Sister Ann Shea, D.C., neice Ms. Judy Shea, and Sr. Rebecca David, SSpS
as formator and teacher until it closed in 1991.
“It was a difficult time for all of us. That’s where I went to high school,” said Fr. Jim Bergin, who was provincial of the Chicago Province at the time. He noted that Fr. Bill had the intelligence and temperament to deal with such difficult situations. “It took flexibility, openness to change and a willingness to respond generously to what is needed for the province and the Society at a given time.”
In 1991, Fr. Bill arrived at DWC to be assistant dean and later, rector from 1996 until 2002. Meanwhile, he also was a spiritual director from 1993 to 1996 and taught classes from 1993 to 2006. Since then, he has been semi-retired but remains active with Students for Life and regularly works with student lectors.
“He communicates very clearly, in a gentle way with a sense of humor and I think students really like him and respect him highly,” Fr. Bergin said. “I think they have no trouble at all listening to him because of his integrity and his gentleness and they know that he really cares about them.’
Fr. Bill Shea has been a missionary to missionaries.
“It’s been wonderful, being a priest. I like the work being an educator, formator and administrator and fulfilling the needs of the Society,” he said. “I thank God and I would not want to trade place with anyone.”