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Bernard Shannon

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Bernard Shannon was born in Rahway, New Jersey and joined the Jesuit Order in 1947 at St. Andrew's on the Hudson in Poughkeepsie with aspirations toward priesthood. He had been at the top of his class in the seminary at Weston, Massachusetts and chosen to publicly defend any thesis of Scholastic philosophy. However, in 1953 Bernie had a complete mental breakdown. He was in three mental institutions before being assigned to St. Ignatius House of Studies, as it was then called, to prepare for dismissal from the Jesuits. It was a Jesuit Provincial who told Bernie that he would never become a priest.

Despite all the pressure to leave, Bernie steadfastly believed that he had an authentic vocation and because of his vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience he still was a bona fide member of the Jesuit order. He did manual jobs around Inisfada, the huge estate left by Genevieve Brady to the Jesuit order, began attending a self-help group called Recovery, Inc. and soon became a group leader. As he began to recover from his own mental illness, Father Shannon dedicated his life to working with others who suffered from various psychological disorders. Father Bernie always spoke openly about his mental illness and reminded us of the help he received from the Jewish psychiatrist Dr. Abraham Low, founder of Recovery, Inc., who said "the sick shall heal the sick."

St. Ignatius Retreat House began in 1963 and Bernie entered into many
spiritual conversations with retreatants and Jesuits working there. They
all discovered that he had profound depth and insight. He also had a
relative who suffered from a gambling problem and he became a member of
Gam Anon with an interest in helping compulsive gamblers. Somewhere
along the way a Jesuit Provincial heard about all this and invited
Bernie to consider returning to studies after a 17-year absence. The
very Provincial who told him years before that he would never be
ordained was now on the staff of St. Ignatius Retreat House and
wholeheartedly recommended that he go on to the priesthood. His request
was approved by the Pope. Bernie was overjoyed and was ordained in June
1980 at Fordham University. Father Bernie celebrated his first Mass at
St. Ignatius with all his family, friends, brothers, and sisters in the
Twelve-Step Programs. In 1975 Father Bernie founded the St. Camillus
Retreat movement which has grown tremendously to include several U.S.
States and Canada. In all, Father Bernie lived in St. Ignatius for fifty
years - longer than anyone else.

In the late 1990's Father Bernie began losing his memory and was sent to
the Murray Weigel Infirmary, no longer able to care for himself. He
lived at the Jesuit Infirmary at Fordham University until his death on
February 19, 2004.

Father Bernie knew what it meant to suffer greatly. In a Newsday article
on January 19, 1994 Bill Reel told of his experience on retreat with
Father Bernie who talked about what he called the "gift" of mental
illness. It reminds us of how some say they are "grateful" for their
addictions. He often told us of God's great love for us.

Father Damian Halligan, a fellow Jesuit called Bernie "the wounded
healer who reached out to others to give them their first glimmer of
hope."

Father Bernie also told us about that "great meeting upstairs" as he
pointed upwards. May we always remember his humility, his love for us,
and his tireless work for others...until we meet him at the big meeting
upstairs!

 



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