Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
I want to take a brief break from the sequence of themes that I have been writing on
to share some recollections of a priest of the Diocese who passed away recently, Msgr. Paul Sheridan. He passed away on Sunday, January 12 at St. Clair Villa in Alton, and I just found out about it on the following Friday, just after we had finished our priest study days, part of which was spent on reflecting about priests who had influences on our lives and our vocations!
In a recent reflection, Pope Francis said, regarding witnesses and following on the words of both Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI that “It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives: living consistently, the very consistency of our lives.”
Msgr. Paul Sheridan (or “Pete” as most of us called him), spoke with his whole life and priestly ministry with great consistency. As a young person in Springfield, Illinois, I knew that the mention of his name always drew great respect. I found out why later on when I applied to the Diocesan seminary in l976, and he was one of the priests who interviewed me before acceptance. Later that year, I got to know him better because I played the organ on Sunday at St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged where he was chaplain while he worked in the Chancery office at the Cathedral in Springfield. The practice was at that time for any priest who had a chancery position to have a pastoral ministry at the same time.
I remember well right before I was ordained and found out that I was going to be sent to Rome for Canon Law studies that he truly rejoiced with me. I came down to see him right after I saw Bishop McNicholas and got the news! He was joking and singing a song in Italian for me (He was both a seminary and student priest graduate at the North American College in Rome). Over the years I got to know him as a friend and confidant and saw with what great ability he served three Bishops of Springfield in the Chancery and always was a man of great discretion! He also showed me how Canon Law was lived in practice and helped me to put what I learned in Rome into practice in ministry.
He lived his priestly ministry consistently in his prayer and dedication, especially to the residents and Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph’s Home for the Aged in Springfield. He told me at one point that yes, his administration duties were important, but that they always had to be situated in the context of the pastoral care for God’s people. I remember his prayerfulness in many ways – from his time in prayer at the Cathedral in Springfield when he was on break, and from saying the rosary in his car while driving. His care for priests was really evident, especially to one retired priest at St. Joseph’s Home for whom life had been a challenge. He showed me how prayer, priestly ministry and even administration could be lived in the life of a priest. He was very loved and respected throughout the Diocese of Springfield in the various episcopal administrations in which he lived. Each Bishop was very different in style, but there was a constant in those years for all of us: Msgr. Sheridan – (“Pete”). Even in later years, after I had been sent to Fort Worth, we kept in contact because one of his Roman classmates – Msgr. Charles King – would keep in contact with him. I would often call “Pete” and let him speak with “Charlie” when the occasion would present itself. Msgr. King was another great priest of the same class (The North American College, l957) from whom I learned a lot in my years in Texas.
Pope Francis said, in conclusion of the above remarks that “Witness is what counts!” Thank you, Pete, for being a witness for me in my life’s journey and vocation, and for being the gentleman that you were. Ad multos annos, gloriosque annos vivas! This is a saying that those who studied at the North American College and other seminaries once learned: May you live for many and glorious years. Thank you, Pete, during those years of your life as a priest that you lived to show others the glory of God. As the ordination rite proclaims “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter now in the joy of your Lord.”
+Kevin W. Vann
Bishop of Orange