The news of the death of Msgr. William H. Shannon saddens many people, myself included. In faith I rejoice with him, confident that he has gone on to fullness of life with the Risen Christ. As a pilgrim on the way I share a sense of loss with thousands of people in our area and in many distant places.
Bill was a person who helped people to grow through teaching, encouragement, spiritual direction and, above all, by the witness of his steadfast faith in the Lord.
Generations of students whom he taught at Nazareth College will miss him. So will the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, among whom he made his home for most of his priesthood. His departure is a loss to all those who explore and are enriched by the legacy of Thomas Merton. And, of course, he was a giant in the presbyterate of our diocese. We will not forget him.
Some of you may know that Bill completed his last writing project not long before he died. His latest and last book is titled How to Become a Christian Even If You Already Are One. It is an accounting of what Bill describes as the major conversions of his adult life. He writes of a new appreciation of Scripture stimulated by modern Biblical studies; of Thomas Merton’s influence on him in 1) the areas of prayer and 2) nonviolence and peace-making; and of the influence that Vatican Council II had on his life.
I am in the process of reading the book now, and appreciate it for a number of reasons. It helps me to understand a little bit better a man I knew quite well. His work — like that of every good teacher — puts me in touch with and helps me to learn from my own experience. Bill also in his commitment to this work reinforces in me the deep conviction that every day that we live — no matter the number of our years — is a call to new life. If you have a chance to read this book — and I hope that you will — I believe that his sense of life’s daily richness will touch you deeply.
Among the memories of Bill evoked by his death and dying was my first meeting with him. Bill was one of three commentators on the TV broadcast of my installation as bishop on June 26, 1979. He teamed with Andrea Nissen of WHEC-TV Rochester and Father Ken Doyle of Albany to explain to viewers the events of the evening. I first met him when I had a chance that evening to thank him for his willingness to do that work. He was gracious to me as always and added that he would always be glad to be of help.
Experience over the years since proved to me how genuine and sincere were his words to me that evening. He has been over those years a spiritual guide, theological adviser, encouraging friend. I always appreciate that he understood the office of bishop very well — its opportunities, its limitations; and how the ministry, while subject to objective analysis, is always embodied and lived out by limited human beings. He understood the humanness, the unfolding, the becoming.
The last time I visited him I wanted to thank him for all of the above, and he graciously allowed me the chance to do so. But, as all of you who knew him will understand, he had little patience with my recital, preferring to spend our brief time together thanking and encouraging me.
That’s what he was about — fostering life, encouraging growth, sharing the journey with others. That’s what I’ll remember. That’s why I shall miss him.
Peace to all.