A snippet of one of Fr. Tom Shannon's many letters issued to Sodality members.

Fr. Tom Shannon's Sodality Papers: Leaving Castlebar after 14 years of friendship


By Tom Gillespie

THE late Fr. Tom Shannon spent 14 years as a curate in Castlebar, during which time he was responsible for the Boys Sodality, to the members of which he wrote monthly typed letters.

From November 26, 1964, to July 12, 1971, he sent out 81 missives. Their keeper, Ernie Sweeney, gave permission to feature extracts from them in The Connaught Telegraph.

Fr. Tom Shannon.

Monsignor Shannon (74) passed away on Friday, August 15, 2008, in Namibia, where he was visiting his sister Bridie in Africa. He left Castlebar in 1971 and on July 12 of that year, issued his last letter to the members of the Sodality.

Fr. Tom wrote: “The longest road has a turning, they say. So too, the terms of years a priest may spend in a parish inevitably comes to an end. This morning, it was my turn to open a letter from the Archbishop telling me that my term in Castlebar has ended.

“I have been lucky, though, very lucky, and I know it. Not many priests have had my opportunity and privilege that stemmed from the fact that I was given 14 uninterrupted years in the biggest parish of the diocese.

“I’ll put it to you this way. I came here as a newly ordained priest on August 5, 1957. The infant boys that I baptised in those early months have already completed a year or two in the Vocational School and St. Gerald’s Collage. Others have just passed from sixth class, and will start their post-primary studies in September.

“The classes that I prepared for their First Communion in 1959 and 1960 have done their Leaving Cert. - this year and last. Two of those who were starting their five-year term in St. Gerald’s the very year I came - Paddy Gilligan from Ballintubber and Paul D’Arcy from Castlebar - were ordained two years ago.

“And to complete the pictures, on last Saturday I baptised the infant daughter of Michael Cresham, who was in third class when I came, and whose marriage ceremony I performed in August 1969. Indeed, Michael is but one of 22 young men whom I have seen step all the way from the classroom of St. Patrick’s N.S. to the church for their marriage.”

He continued: “This brief outline will help you see how much joy and happiness there can be in the life of a priest in a parish, and how much fulfilment I have found over 14 years amongst you.

“It was in the classroom of St. Patrick’s that I got to know you. I prepared you for your First Communion and Confirmation - days that were always full of great joy for me as a priest.

“In all probability, I trained you to be a Mass-server or a member of the choir - and lest I should forget it, let me here and now thank you for your generous service. Those contacts with you helped to establish a relationship with you that was happy and friendly, and they stimulated me to take a greater interest in you.

“When you left St. Patrick’s N.S. there was a danger that we would drift apart. It was then that the Sodality letter came to the rescue. I’m not saying that it was the only way for a priest to maintain and strengthen a relationship with boys and young men. Nor would I dare to say that it is necessarily the best way. It was simply my way - a way that I stumbled upon when I was reorganising the Boys Sodality in 1964.

“And so after seven years of monthly letters to you, I am writing my last. I have no news to give you except that I am leaving Castlebar on Friday evening to take upon duty as secretary to the Archbishop, at Archbishop’s House.

“But surely, this is the letter in which I ought to say how grateful I am for the welcome you always gave my letter and for the respect you showed it. Some boys have stored away every letter that I wrote them; others have quite a few in their collection.

“Every boy accepted the letter for what it was meant to be - a genuine effort to keep in touch with him and to convince him that he really mattered to me.

“I am very grateful to you for this faith, respect and trust - not only in the letter, but in me. And I am very grateful to the teachers in St. Gerald’s and the Vocational School who gave me access to their class and classroom - no matter what time I called - in order to facilitate me in the distribution of the letter. Thanks too to the boys who over the years came along to the Presbytery to help me out with postage and mailing.

“My last official act in Castlebar will be to welcome the famous French Choir - The Sparrows of Val de Mare - on Friday evening. They are coming to give a concert in the Town Hall. I went to Ballinrobe to hear them sing and you can take my word they are well worth hearing.

“With this performance by the French choir I will take my leave of Castlebar. If the French boys have an equivalent of Auld Lang Syne, we’ll sing it.”

Fr. Tom concluded: “This then is the time to thank you for your friendship, your trust, your help, your good example, and for the part you played in shaping my priesthood. Please thank your parents for me. I wish you every success in life. All I ask of you is to stay close to the Mass and the Eucharist. May God bless you always.”

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