Msgr. Ambrose Sheehy stands behind Mother Teresa at the opening of the novitiate of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers in New York City in 1984. Photo courtesy of Msgr. Ambrose Sheehy

Msgr. Ambrose Sheehy’s 50 years of memories include helping Mother Teresa

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  • June 4, 2017

Msgr. Ambrose Sheehy wanted to be a priest for as long as he could remember.

He recalls being four years old and attending Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Toronto, fascinated with the priest walking up to the altar.

“Msgr. Gerald Kirby was the pastor at the time and I do remember him,” said Sheehy. “Actually, he had 50 of his altar boys become ordained priests ... and I just kept thinking about (the priesthood) and I don’t have a dramatic story really.”

Although Sheehy had known from a young age that he was going to be a priest, he said it’s still surreal to be celebrating the 50th anniversary of his ordination on June 4.

“When a priest is celebrating his anniversary it’s how much God is looking after him on the part of all these people that he met,” said the 73-year-old.

“It’s a celebration of how the priest was modified and held up really by the people.”

Sheehy is a humble man and would say that many people have contributed to the blessings of his ministry as a priest, but very few have had the same opportunity of knowing St. Teresa of Calcutta.

In 1984, Sheehy was a young 34-year-old priest serving at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Toronto. He had been serving as a parish priest for a little more than 17 years and he was thinking of taking a one-year sabbatical when his old friend, Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, gave him a call.

Kolodiejchuk, who became the postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause for beatification and canonization, said Mother Teresa was looking to form a new religious community of priests in New York City and he wanted Sheehy to be a part of it.

“So I went to New York and met her there. She was quite welcoming and happy to have me,” said Sheehy. “She was very simple and very, very humble. You would think you were just talking to the neighbour next door.”

For one year, Sheehy and three fellow priests assisted Mother Teresa in New York to establish the Missionaries of Charity Fathers to assist the sisters in service of the poor.

msgr sheehy 50 webMsgr. Ambrose Sheehy celebrates the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest June 4. (Photo courtesy of Jo-Anne Sheehy)

He was also instrumental in helping Mother Teresa found the Corpus Christi Movement for diocesan priests to foster “priestly holiness and the spiritual renewal of the Church.”

“It was a nice change from parish life because we were just out on the streets working with the poor,” said Sheehy.

“And the South Bronx is a pretty tough area in New York ... but people had a tremendous respect for priests.”

After his year in New York, Sheehy returned to Toronto as pastor of St. Theresa’s Shrine Parish in Scarborough.

Sheehy was a little disappointed to return to parish life at first, but his spirit was renewed when an old friend came to visit him at the parish.

“Mother Teresa visited shortly after I arrived back and we spent some time together,” he said. “She said, ‘I know St. Therese picked you out to be the pastor of her parish so you should be very happy that the Little Flower was thinking of you in this way,’ and that consoled me a bit.”

Sheehy said Mother Teresa became a great friend over the years. They visited each other often. They shared many profound spiritual talks about their love of God and about humility.

Celebrating her canonization last year was a great joy for him.

“I pray to her now and I say, come on, we were friends so you have to look after me now,” said Sheehy.

Even after 50 years as a priest in the Archdiocese of Toronto, Sheehy said there was not a time when he truly doubted his vocation.

In hard times, he learned to turn to prayer and remind himself of the tremendous graces he receives as a representative of Christ in the world.

At the age of 73, he believes his work is not yet finished. He serves as the spiritual director of the Eastern Canadian council of the Legion of Mary and as a spiritual director to seminarians at St. Augustine’s Seminary.

“Through the years, it’s been a very nice experience for me as a priest to be able to help other young men to love the priesthood,” said Sheehy.

“I just try to emphasize that every day, the priest needs to pray very deeply and receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit to guide... and if you don’t do these things you just end up being a social worker.”

Sheehy will celebrate his 50th anniversary at Blessed Trinity Parish, where he served as pastor for 13 years from 2001-2014.

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