Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. For many people, the primary association of the day is Mary’s appearance to three children of Fatima six times during the period May 13 to October 13, 1917, and the messages she delivered to the children. For me the primary association is Father Don Shane.
My parish in Port Washington, New York, where we lived before moving to Minneapolis this past summer was Our Lady of Fatima, a small parish with a wonderful faith community. After the removal of our old pastor (and a short stint by another temporary administrator), Don Shane, a retired priest who was a regular presider at masses in the parish (and brother to our organist/director of music ministry) was appointed temporary administrator of the parish.
I loved Don. He was not someone you would consider among the greatest theologians of the day but there was something in him that touched me deeply and he loved the people of our parish. He also loved movies and often managed to weave some movie or other into his sermons, and (movie or not) his sermons always had something to say to me. They were often simple, but they came from the heart. Don had a tremendous devotion to Mary and could often be found in the afternoon sitting by the side of the altar saying the rosary…assuming he could untangle the several sets of rosary beads he carried in his pocket that were always getting tangled up in each other. He also had a deep devotion to the Eucharist; I loved serving as minister of the cup during daily masses that he served because of the reverence that was palpable in his whole being. During the period he was running the parish, I was doing the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises as a retreat in daily living. No one could have been more supportive, and knowing I had his prayers during what was sometimes a difficult experience meant a lot to me.
In the spring of 2003, Don, who had been looking kind of yellow, went to the doctor for what he said would be a routine check-up. As we said a blessing for him after the weekday mass that preceded his visit to the doctor, he laughed and said he’d see us in a few hours. He never came back to Our Lady of Fatima. His visit to the doctor resulted in a diagnosis of liver cancer and on May 13, 2003, on the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima five years ago today, he died. The last time I saw him, while he was still in the hospital, I brought him a book of Hopkins poetry. I don’t know if he ever opened it, although he told me when I gave it to him that he very much liked Hopkins. More importantly, he told me that he was ready to go if that was God’s will…and would stay if that was what God wanted. The last time I spoke to him, it was a phone call he initiated to ask me to do one of the readings at his Mass of Transferral, a phone call and request that moved me to tears, as I realized the end was really coming. But even then he could make me laugh: he described the arrangements he was putting in place with such precision…and even with some joy…that I jokingly asked him what day the Mass would be so I could put it in my calendar. He lauged out loud and admitted he couldn’t say exactly what day it would be….but that he didn ‘t think it would be too far off.
On this feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I give special thanks for the gift in my life of a man who was priest, friend, teacher and model. A person I loved to talk to and loved to laugh with. A person from whom I learned a tremendous amount about both how to live and how to die.
I share all of this, in part as tribute to Don Shane. But I also share it in the hope that perhaps reading it may prompt you to call to mind this day someone who has played such a role in your life…and to give special thanks for the gift that person is to you.