Fr. Thomas Shea dies at 80; remembered at funeral Mass as ‘advocate for the poor’

Father Thomas Shea

BLOOMINGTON — A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated April 28 at St. Patrick Church of Merna here for Father Thomas S. Shea, 80, a former pastor of St. Paul Parish in Danville who spent his retirement years in his hometown of Bloomington.

Father Shea died on Saturday, April 22, 2017, at Heritage Health in Bloomington.

Msgr. Gerald Ward was principal celebrant and homilist at the funeral liturgy. Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, was in choro and led the prayers of Final Commendation.

Msgr. Ward called Father Shea “a faithful priest” who was “unique, uncommon, intellectual, an inspiration to many, a prophet in many ways, a lover of the poor, and a man of the Gospel.”

“He was a strong advocate for the poor, the rejected, and the forgotten,” said Msgr. Ward in his homily. The full text of the homily is found here.

Burial was in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Bloomington.


Born Nov. 16, 1936 in Bloomington to John J. and Mary Catherine Sorg Shea, he attended Trinity grade and high schools. He continued his education at Marquette University in Milwaukee and Illinois State University in Normal, from which he earned a degree in mathematics. After several years in the business field, he prepared for the priesthood at Pope John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts.

Father Shea was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria on Feb. 2, 1973, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria at the age of 37.

His first assignment was as parochial vicar at St. Monica Parish in East Peoria, and he became vicar of the Pekin Vicariate the following year.

In 1978, he was named pastor of St. Paul Parish in Danville, guiding the parish for the next decade and bringing new levels of lay involvement and organization. He was granted a leave of absence in 1988 and, after retiring in 2001, he continued ministry as a chaplain at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington and assisted at St. Patrick Church of Merna in Bloomington.

Father Shea was instrumental in starting the Jesus House on Bloomington’s west side and was involved in area outreaches including Claire House, Homes of Hope, and Habitat for Humanity. In 2011 he was among the Bloomington area’s Extraordinary Men of the Year recipients.

Survivors include a brother, Michael (Suzanne) Shea of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; two nieces, a nephew, and eight great nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, John L. “Jack” Shea.

Memorials may be directed to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria.


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