Father now retired

Christmas decorations, nativity scenes, and trees delicately lit adorned every bit of the Oblate Madonna Residence on December 23, 2011, our first visit there.  I was so glad to finally visit that I hadn’t thought to call ahead to make sure Fr. Sheehan would want (or have time) to share space with us that day.  After all, we hadn’t seen each other in almost seven-and-a-half years, not since I’d driven from Brownsville to Roma to meet Father at Our Lady of Refuge before going to dinner at Dairy Queen.

Even though Fr. Sheehan had been one of three priests assigned to Immaculate Conception Cathedral and its missions— Sacred Heart and St. Thomas— for a number of years, I hadn’t interacted with Father other than as a parishioner attending the Masses he’d celebrated.

God’s master plan

ICC81411-187Then, after work on September 12, 2002, I called the cathedral and asked if either Fr. Moran or Fr. Lanese were at the office so I could go by to talk.

“They’re both unavailable,” the secretary told me; “but Fr. Sheehan is here.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind you dropping by to see him.  Would you like for me to let him know you’re on the way?”

I didn’t respond right away.  I was comfortable with Fr. Moran, since he was our priest at Sacred Heart, and I’d gone to confession with Fr. Lanese; but I’d never dealt with Fr. Sheehan before.  Still, I was desperate to sit and talk about a personal crisis from the day before.

“Yes, please,” I finally said.  “I should be there in about fifteen minutes.”

Driving to the cathedral, I didn’t know which would be worse, sharing my dilemma with Father Sheehan or— dread of all dreads— being chastised when I really needed patience and understanding.

All the way there, I thought back to the two times (in 1970 and in 1990) when I’d sought assistance from a priest.  Neither had gone well, so my mind teetered between feeling apprehensive and needing peace of mind.  Having matured since then, however, I knew better than to back away.  Besides, I’d already committed to showing up.

Overcoming adversity

I parked adjacent to my old school across the street from the office.  No turning back now, I thought.

I’d been to the office a few times, namely, when to register and to turn in raffle ticket money; but, so unlike the cathedral itself, the place seemed unfamiliar and lacked personality.  Nevertheless, the secretary was gracious and kind.

“You’re here to see Fr. Sheehan?” she asked smilingly.

ICC81411-9“Yes,” I said politely.

“Follow me, please.”

Fr. Sheehan’s office was across from the reception area.  The top half of its door was glass; everything else around it, shades of yellow.  I didn’t have much time to think because the door opened right away.

Friend in need

Much taller up close than from the fifth pew in church, Father greeted me with a warm, boyish smile.  He was so down to earth that I felt I’d known him all my life.

Father’s office had three or four chairs around a small table with magazines, so we sat to converse within that circle as friends, not as a priest and a stranger seated with a desk-barrier between us.

Of course, I didn’t know how or where to start.  So Father said,

By the time people come into my office, they’ve already gone through a lot.  A lot of grief.  A lot of worry.  A lot of penance.  They’ve been harder on themselves than either I or God would ever be.  My job isn’t to scold or to punish.  My role as a priest is to listen, accept, and understand.  We all make mistakes, and we suffer dearly for them.  By the time people come in, they’re at the end of their rope; so I’m not going to make things worse.  Just tell me what’s on your mind, and we’ll take it from there.

Forever friends

For almost two months I visited daily.  Sometimes we talked about books we’d read; other times, about work.  We’d both suffered recent losses: Father, his mother and his sister; me, someone I’d thought was a lifelong friend.

“We’ll commiserate,” he’d tease.

Certainly, we did our share of laughing and crying to the point that Fr. Lanese would pass by, look in on us through the door’s window, and shake his head.

We learned about each other’s family, too, which Father really enjoyed.  He told the best stories.

We became forever friends in a short span of time so that, even when Father was transferred to Roma, which might as well have been the other side of the world, we began our correspondence.  And I drove there a couple of times with Acacia-Darling, my one and only grandchild then, to visit a few hours and enjoy a meal at Dairy Queen since both of them thoroughly enjoyed chicken fingers with mashed potatoes, gravy, and Texas toast.

               

               

Of course, my life got busier and busier.  I taught school, did paperwork and more at home, and continued with graduate studies.  Then, as time passed, I didn’t have time for visits anymore and corresponded less and less.

Not Father, though.  He sent cards regularly even though I was on another planet altogether.

Still, if we could’ve communicated telepathically, he would’ve known that I always vividly recalled our talks, the stories, the laughter, and the tears.

Beloved priest

Over the years I’ve treasured Father not only for his greeting cards, but especially for his being my forever friend— caring, loving, supportive— no matter how infrequently I’ve corresponded.  To this day, too, Father Sheehan is synonymous with Immaculate Conception Cathedral, my heart of hearts since age five when I attended first grade in the building across the street.  So how could I ever possibly forget when the memories have been so entwined?

For this reason, I’d always wanted to visit Fr. Sheehan again.  So, when we finally had the chance, December 23, 2011, I wasn’t going to give up just because Father didn’t remember me.

As I later wrote in a letter to Fr. Bob, whom Steven and I met as we were leaving the Oblate Madonna Residence much later that afternoon, our visit with Fr. Sheehan was truly memorable.

I only wish we lived closer, so we could surprise Father more often.  But, having had such a great time, we’ll simply have to drive to San Antonio more than once every four or five years if we want to enjoy his sense of humor and, perhaps, your smiling face should you happen to be in at the time.

To me, there’s no one as kind, as attentive, or as real as Father.  When I was most in need of someone, he welcomed me into his office and made me feel that everything was going to be just fine.  And it was.

I’m sooo blessed to know him!

      

     

           

        

       

January 13, 2013

Steven and I had a fantabulous time as usual visiting Fr. Sheehan again.

SA11313-194        SA11313-184a        SA11313-192-o

Pdf files: Letters to Fr. BobFr. Sheehan

Links of interest…  100 prayers for priests…  Holy hour for priests…  Prayers for priests & for religious…  Ten short meditations for making a good confession

WP posts…  Angels keeping watch…  Beautiful sacred space…  Building community…  Call of service…  Connected tangents…  Father’s guided tour…  Gifts…  Heart of hearts…  Home again…  Marian devotions…  Memory lane…  Our Lady…  Promise of hope…  A real church…  Soulful…  Sweet Jesus…  Two angels

2 Responses

  1. I discovered your posts about your visit with Fr. Richard. I am one of his sisters, Mary Terese Sheehan Davison. I wanted to let you know that he passed away on March 13, 2020. I also want to thank you for your posts. It has been very touching to learn that he was to others the same wonderful man he was to his family. May God bless you, always.

    • Dear Mary Terese, years ago I asked Fr. Sheehan if I could have a family member’s address; but he either forgot or chose not to provide it. I didn’t want to tell him outright that I was concerned about losing him altogether; but I didn’t want to bother him about it either, so I didn’t ask again.

      We became close friends because he was so down-to-earth relatable. Moreover, we have mutual friends in the Rio Grande Valley who remember him (and his quirky sense of humor) only too well.

      Fr. Sheehan could be downright silly! He was funny about reminding me that he was a true Texan, having been born March 2nd, Texas Independence Day. And he was a love! He would also tell us about his family members and smile broadly at the thought of all those birthdays and special days he had cards for.

      Steven and I visited him a number of times at the Madonna Residence and also exchanged cards and letters that I treasure to this day. Please know that he was a family member to us and that we’ll continue to keep him in our thoughts and prayers.

      God bless you tenderly and keep you safe!

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