Titular Archbishop of Nicopolis ad Nestum – Twelfth Archbishop of Baltimore
Motto:Omnia in caritate. “All things (be done) in charity.” (I Cor. 16:14).
He was born on December 18, 1898 in Baltimore and studied at St. Charles College, Catonsville, Maryland, St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, and at the Pontifical North American College, Rome, where he was ordained a priest on December 23, 1922. He completed his doctoral studies in theology the following year at the Urbaniana University in Rome, and returned as curate in St. Patrick Church, Washington, D.C. Shehan was involved in pastoral work from 1923-47. He also served as assistant director of Catholic Charities fro 1929-36, and director from 1936-45. He was appointed auxiliary bishop to the archbishop of Baltimore and Washington in 1945 and, in 1947, auxiliary to the archbishop of Baltimore, and served as vicar general from 1948 until his translation to the newly erected Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 1953.
During his nine years in Bridgeport, Shehan devoted himself to ensuring the adequate organization and functioning of the diocesan offices, approved the construction of twenty-four new churches and the establishment of eighteen new parishes, as well as numerous parish schools, and the founding of three diocesan high schools, in Bridgeport (1957), Stamford (1958), and Norwalk (1959) (DiGiovanni, 211-15).
Shehan also organized youth ministry in the diocese, improved vocation work for priestly and religious vocations, began parish ministry for the growing numbers of Hispanic, Portuguese, and Brazilian immigrants, and founded St. Joseph Manor in Trumbull for the care of the elderly, introducing the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm to staff the facility in 1958. In order to complete the initial organization of the diocese and establish a uniform code of practice and discipline for the clergy, Shehan celebrated the first synod of Bridgeport in October 1960.
In July 1961 Shehan was promoted to the titular archiepiscopal see of Nicopolis ad Nestum, and appointed coadjutor to the archbishop of Baltimore, Francis Keough. He succeeded to the see in December of that year, following the death of Keough and received the pallium March 29, 1962 (Shehan, 136).
In 1962, as the twelfth archbishop of Baltimore, Shehan began his official work in the field of ecumenism, with his nomination as a member of the Congregation for the Union of Christians (Osservatore Romano, September 3, 1984). In November 1964 he was chosen by the bishops as the head of the Episcopal Commission for Ecumenism, which was to inform the American hierarchy on the practical application of the decrees of Vatican II on dialogue with other Christians. During the Second Vatican Council, Shehan served as a member of the Conciliar Commission for the Discipline of the Clergy and of the Faithful, and was named a member of the Council of Presidency of Vatican Council II in July 1965. During the council he made a number of interventions concerning ecumenism and religious liberty. In 1965 Pope Paul VI named Shehan his representative at meetings with the Orthodox, which resulted in the lifting of the mutual excommunications by Constantinople and Rome.
Concerned about racism in America, and in his archdiocese, Shehan participated in the 1963 March on Washington with Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. (National Catholic Reporter, September 7, 1984). In March 1963 Shehan issued a strong pastoral letter on racial justice, stating that “discrimination has no place in the Church.” He made a study of racism in the Catholic institutions within the archdiocese, and formally requested the Catholic hospitals to approve and support a rule of nondiscrimination.
Shehan was not a supporter of the war in Vietnam, which he called “uncontrolled violence and senseless wholesale destruction of human life and moral values” (National Catholic Reporter, September 7, 1984). In the early 1970s Shehan supplied the bail for the Harrisburg Seven, which included Fr. Philip Berrigan, following one of their protests. Shehan visited them in jail and assigned an archdiocesan attorney to defend them in court. Throughout his years in Baltimore, Shehan supported nonviolent efforts for peace, social justice, and fair housing.
Pope Paul VI created him a cardinal on February 22, 1965, the second of Baltimore’s archbishops to receive the red hat. In 1973 he served as the papal legate to the Fortieth Eucharistic Congress in Melbourne, Australia, and retired in 1974.
Shehan has often been compared with the first cardinal of Baltimore, James Gibbons. He was the leader of the nation’s premier see during years of social and ecclesial turmoil, striving to hold together both Baltimore society while teaching racial and social equality, and the Church in America, by encouraging moderation in the new and respect for the traditional. At a testimonial dinner for the retiring Cardinal Shehan on May 21, 1974, Bishop Joseph Gossman said, “Lawrence Shehan is a man who became a bishop in a world where everything was certain, and a cardinal in a world where nothing was” (Shehan, 291-92). He was a man who served the universal Church faithfully and loyally. He worked to strengthen Baltimore’s bonds with the universal Church by his own faithful preaching and forceful leadership, giving life to Rome’s legislation and instructions by his tireless efforts in the areas of ecumenism, race relations, equal rights, and education.
DiGiovanni, Stephen M. The Catholic Church in Fairfield County, 1666-1961. New Canaan, 1987.
Shehan, Lawrence J. A Blessing of Years. The Memoirs of Lawrence Cardinal Shehan. Notre Dame, 1982.
National Catholic Register, June 24, 1990.
National Catholic Register, September 7, 1984.
Osservatore Romano, September 3, 9, 1984.
Spalding, Thomas W. The Premier See: A History of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, 1789-1989. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.
By Rev. Msgr. Stephen M. DiGiovanni
Originally published in Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelley, eds. The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1997). Used with permission of author.