Father John Gerard ‘Gerry’ Shanley, SS.CC.

Father John Gerard (Gerry) Shanley, SS.CC., a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts – United States Province, passed away April 21, after a courageous battle with cancer. Father Shanley, who celebrated his 82nd birthday on February 28, had retired in the last few years and was residing at Queen of Peace Parish in Harlingen, Texas. 

Born in Roscommon, Ireland, to Bernard and Kate (Regan) Shanley, he entered the novitiate of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts in Cootehill, Co. Cavan, Ireland in August 1954. Professing his first vows on Aug. 15, 1955, in Ireland, he was ordained a priest on June 25, 1961.

His first assignment in the Province was at Bishop Amat High School in California which was followed by appointments in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Massachusetts, where he served at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Wellfleet from 1963 to 1964 and St. Mary’s Parish in Fairhaven from 1969 to 1970. In 1970, his responsibilities brought him to the state of Texas where his service to the people there continued for almost 50 years. 

From 1970 to 2000, Father Shanley ministered to the people in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Then in 2001, he requested and received permission from his province to bring the love and word of the Lord to the people in Reynosa, Mexico, a place of poverty, corruption, extreme danger — and a place filled with people he came to love so deeply — and who loved him in return.

As pastor of San Felipe de Jesus Parish, he helped the parishioners build three new churches and schools. He provided them with food, clothing and sometimes shelter, and became their protector as best he could in the midst of an area so deep in need. 

Each week Father Shanley would make the journey back across the border into the U.S. to pick up whatever donations he could manage to solicit from stores, churches — anyone who would help. At times, he reported providing essentials for up to 400 families a week as well as offering supplies to two orphanages and a children’s “Tutelar,” a “kind of prison” where children from eight to 18 were housed for a variety of reasons.   

When he finally reached the “age of retirement” for the Diocese of Matamoros, Father Shanley had to leave a people whom he had come to love and understand, and a place that truly became a very special home for him. 

In his own words, expressed in an interview in 2003, he reflected, “In life’s journey you see how selfish people can get. But you also see their grandeur and the nobleness that is possible and found in the most difficult situations, finding God-Who-is-love in very unexpected places.” 

He is survived by six siblings including his brother, Father Matthias Shanley, SS.CC.; Sister Monica Shanley; P.J. Shanley; Ethna Shanley; Pauline Shanley; and Fidelma Shanley. A funeral Mass was celebrated April 26 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Edinburg, Texas with Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville presiding. 

A celebration of his life and death was held Saturday, April 29 at St. Joseph’s Church in Fairhaven. He was buried with his SS.CC. brothers in the Sacred Hearts Cemetery in Fairhaven. 

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