Local News Archive
Print Issue: February 25, 1999
Father O'Shea Served Prishes, Prisoners, Family, Priests
BY PRISCILLA GREEAR
ATLANTA--Father John J. OShea was remembered Feb. 19 as an exemplary priest dedicated to serving others faithfully, including his family, the sick, the imprisoned and fellow priests.
Family and friends gathered at the Cathedral of Christ the King for the Mass of Christian Burial celebrated by Msgr. Tom Kenny, Cathedral rector, and concelebrated by nearly 50 priests of the archdiocese. Father Richard Morrow, vicar for clergy in residence at the Cathedral, was homilist.
Father OShea, 89, died Feb. 14 at the Fountainview Center for Alzheimers Disease in Decatur.
Archbishop John F. Donoghue presided at the Mass where he led the final commendation and farewell. Priests also need prayers and Im sure that the greatest gift you can give Father John OShea is to remember him in your prayers, said Archbishop Donoghue. Father OShea indeed was a wonderful priest who will be deeply missed.
A native of Augusta, Father OShea was educated at St. Marys Seminary in Baltimore and ordained to the priesthood in June 1941 by Bishop Gerald P. OHara of Savannah at the Atlanta Cathedral. He served as pastor from 1945-53 of St. Augustines Church in Thomasville and from 1953-56 at St. John the Evangelist Church, Valdosta. Father OShea was chaplain at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary from 1956-60 and was assigned as pastor in 1960 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Hapeville where he served for 12 years.
He also served as parochial vicar at several other churches in Atlanta and Savannah and was pastor of St. Bernadettes Church, Cedartown, in 1972-73 and parochial vicar at the Cathedral from 1973 until retirement in 1976.
During the Mass, gifts were brought to the altar by Father OSheas nephew, Dr. Tim OShea, and his wife, Judy, and children, Lauren and Andrew.
In his homily, Father Morrow described Father OSheas humility. He recounted how he and other seminarians in 1954 were hitchhiking from work in Savannah and reached Father OSheas rectory in Valdosta. He took them in, bought them an expensive dinner and, changing his appointments, drove them 200 miles to their destination in Florida.
He was thrilled to see us, Father Morrow recalled. I remember going up to him and saying how grateful I was for his hospitality. He said, Its no big deal. Im only doing what Im supposed to do.
In serving at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Father Morrow recalled how Father OShea always spoke well of the prisoners. During a tour Father OShea gave a group of priests, we were amazed at how he was greeted so fondly by the prisoners as we went through, including one of the Mafia dons, he said. (He) never talked down to them.
He said Father OShea truly loved the priesthood and brought the Eucharist to Catholics daily, including the sick. Father OShea once traveled despite bad weather to a distant hospital to visit a sick priest saying, Its important for us to visit the priests who are sick because so many of them only have the priests as their family.
Long-time friend Father Dan McCormick of All Saints Church, Dunwoody, said after the funeral Mass that he was also one of those who surprised Father OShea at his Valdosta rectory while hitchhiking across Georgia.
He was gracious. You cant expect a priest who was making what he was making to go as far as he did. He had to go out of his way to provide such for us for shelter and food. He was just very hospitable, said Father McCormick, who served with him at St. Anthonys Church, Atlanta, and at St. John the Evangelist Church, Hapeville.
He said Father OShea was a very faithful and devoted priest and who would come to Atlanta to participate in 40 Hours Devotion while assigned to Valdosta.
He would go out of his way to help people, Father McCormick said. He would tell things as he saw them. He would create the impression to some people that he was very gruff, but he wasnt. He was very gentle and caring.
Msgr. Kenny also affirmed Father OSheas dedication to the priesthood.
He was extremely loyal and sincere. He admired sincerity in people. (He was) extremely loyal to the church teachings and had very definite opinions which he expressed frankly, regardless of what people might think--a man of great integrity, decency and good humor.
Tim OShea, a parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Atlanta, described how Father OShea, who had eight siblings, was also a faithful servant to his entire family.
He was sort of the patriarch of the family. He was the moral leader of the family. We had get-togethers a lot and he was always there for those. Hed always say all the blessings. He baptized all our kids ... He concelebrated some of the marriages in the family.
The priest visited his immediate family about once a month over the past 25 years, where he was a comforting presence, smiling, laughing and enjoying life, OShea said.
He had a good sense of humor. He was real humble--a good sense about him--just a lot of respect for the church and its traditions, he recalled with love. He was always happy to be with family.
The Mass was followed by interment at Arlington Memorial Park in Atlanta.