60 years a priest!

Last Saturday, St. Cornelius Church in Pai Si Tong hosted a church feast, attended by the Bishop, over 50 priests, brothers and nuns and hundreds of parishioners. It was the first church feast in the area for many years and it was also an opportunity to celebrate Fr. Mike Shea’s 60 years as a priest. Fr. Mike took his vows in 1964 and came to Thailand two years’ later. Within a year, he was “up country” making the north-east of Thailand his home for the next six decades. Fr. Mike’s enormous impact on people over that time was evident in the fulsome tributes paid to him by the mass celebrants, the Bishop, the Provinicial of the Redemptorist community, the Superior of the St. Paul des Chartres Sisters, and other guests. And the people – Fr. Mike’s people – came from all corners to see him. The car park and nearby roads were full of minibuses, vans, pick-up trucks, and cars. Villagers from Tha Bum, where Fr. Mike served from 1976 to 1881, travelled for over three hours to see him, as did families from Huei Suem and Huei Lepmur, 200 km away, and where he worked over 50 years ago. The elderly came, their adult children came and their grandchildren came and they lined up to be blessed by their old priest. Pretty much everyone from the local villages attended, as well as all the staff and children of Sarnelli House. Sarnelli House alumni travelled from far away, some with their own children now. People even wore Fr. Mike Shea t-shirts!

There was dancing and music before the mass, with local kids and Sarnelli House children performing, before a very moving ancient Thai dance by Kru Pla, our Thai teacher. Over 20 sacks of rice were donated to Sarnelli House, as was nearly $5,000, in 20, 50 and 100 baht bills. (1 baht = 0.03 USD). Even the poorest gave what they could for the man they call พ่อเชีย “Paw Che”. A mass booklet, featuring pictures of and tributes to Fr. Mike was published for the occasion. Then, a giant feast was shared outside the church, with over 20 food and dessert stalls. All the food was free, as is the way, with the cooks and servers bearing the costs, and giving their time and effort for Fr. Mike’s celebration. There was a football tournament, with the Sarnelli House boys winning on a penalty shoot-out, a live band, dancing, singing, and maybe a dram or two of whisky! 

Fr. Mike was embarrassed by the fuss, but proud all the same. He couldn’t help but think of those missionaries who have passed, and didn’t get the recognition he received, like Fr. Larry Patin and Fr. Dick Strauss, his brothers in arms over many years. But Fr. Mike deserved his day and the recognition he received. What he has done with his life is stuff of legend and we are all incredibly lucky that he landed here in the north-east of Thailand all those years ago. 

Go Back