Thomas J. Shannahan, R.I.P.

It is with great regret and a heavy heart that we inform you Thomas Shannahan, long-time advisor for FMCA, has passed away. As library director of the Adams Library in Central Falls, RI, Tom was part of the original research and commemorative group, "The Search for James Wilson, from the Catalpa to Central Falls," which eventually became the FMCA. He was known as a bright and committed historian and proud Irish-American and United States Air Force veteran who was always willing to help our efforts at the Fenian Memorial Committee of America. I called him "a noble man" when I was told of his sudden death, and a noble man he was. He will be sorely missed. Please keep Tom, his widow Judy and his family in your prayers.

Mass and condolence cards can be sent to:
The Shannahan Family
111 Arnold Street, Lincoln, RI 02865
Eulogy for Thomas Shannahan
St Jude’s RC Church, Lincoln RI
September 17, 2021

He will be standing outside what seems like an ancient stone building with many steps leading to dark wooden doors. He is dressed conservatively—white shirt, black tie, tweed sport coat. As you get closer you notice a memorial pin on his lapel, and looking more closely, you see your image on the pin. “Hello, my friend” he says in his baritone gravelly voice. “It has been a long time.” You embrace and then you quickly say something witty, and he catches it quickly and deeply enjoys a long laugh over it. You comment on the beautiful building. He says, “Yeah, it’s been here since…. and proceeds to give you a capsule of the history of the building and its purpose. As you walk up the massive steps, you stumble while trying to look inside, and he catches you by the arm. “People must love this place. They have to go through all this to get in,” he says. He holds the massive door of what by then looks like an historic library. “It’s good to have you here, finally,” he says. As you enter, you fully remember every moment you spent with him.” Feels strangely familiar” you say. “I think you were here a very long time ago,” he answers with a wry smile. And as he lets the door close behind him, you say “Thanks, Tom. I believe I was.”

This is our hope and our prayer—that we will see the essential Thomas Shannahan someday, as he will always be. And what is our grief-laden vision of Tom today? —a particular series of pictures and sounds of him, the touch of his hand, the glint in his shining blue eyes, his easy smile (somewhat different for each of us), lead us to a glimpse of his essence and why we loved him.

Often, we are under the illusion that one’s life is a series of accomplishments and attainments involving the worlds of finance and social accomplishment, even social accomplishment for the betterment of society. But are such things the summation of what is essential in a person’s life?

Whenever someone, especially a special someone dies, we wonder about the essence of the person, which eventually leads us to the essence of ourselves. Who was he and who are we? Most of our lives seem to be cloaked in mystery and often darkness. We can’t seem to break through into the light and into clarity. We go to work, perform our string of duties, attend a series of events, socialize with friends and acquaintances, and if we are believers, pay honor at rituals which are aimed at gaining that clarity about who we are and life’s hidden purpose.

We long for searing insights into the essence of all this—of our existence, of our true selves—for what are often called epiphanies which will make the road we are on and where it is heading clear to us. Many of us tire and surrender, some surrendering to nihilism or meaninglessness and a fractured sense of identity and minimal or no personal responsibility professing, as the novelist and poet Blaise Cendrars wrote, “What are you looking for? There is no Truth. There's only action, action obeying a million different impulses”; others surrendering to a growing perception of the Almighty who holds the meaning of life and our identities in His hands as Thomas Merton, the Catholic Trappist monk, who himself was a convert from atheism, once said “The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God.” And today, we profess this about the life of Thomas Shannahan.

Even though we spend so much in darkness looking for truth or abandoning its existence, we can get profound glimpses of the essential self of another, ironically, much more easily than we can get them of ourselves. We can all attest to the profound glimpses of Tom Shannahan and who he was repeatedly showed his kindness, his altruism, his humility, his good humor and his nobility.

I knew Tom for a quarter of a century—from when I first arrived from Brooklyn, NY through my teaching in Central Falls and Pawtucket and our work as members of the Fenian Memorial Committee of America—an organization which places tombstones and other memorials at gravesites of Irish patriots who, after fighting against the English for the liberation of Ireland, were exiled to America. He was a friend and a comrade who remained loyal when others walked away during difficult times. He was a good man—a really good man—who like all of us had regrets. But he never let those regrets get in the way of quietly helping others and remembering those who had suffered for a higher good, especially those who died in the name of our country and of Ireland, in the name of freedom. As I am fond of saying, “God sends us many things, but the greatest thing He sends us is strangers, blessed strangers” who can change our lives, sometimes profoundly and dramatically. Well, in our hearts, we know that He sent us a wonderful, kind stranger in Tom Shannahan. He sent him to us as families, to us as friends. And we are here today to embrace the memory of a good man, to thank God for sending him, and to ask our Lord to forgive him his shortcomings, his sins, to give him the ultimate peace, knowing that he was always loved by an unseen Great Stranger.

For this, we say, “Thank you, Lord. “

Tom was not always treated well by those with power. Sometimes he suffered at the hands of the mighty and the wicked who treated him cruelly and unjustly, just as Christians have been for millennia. Saint Patrick, another convert to Christianity, a former victim of kidnappers, a foreign slave in Ireland in the 5th century, who made a vow to God to believe in Him, to trust His divine unseen plan and to return to Ireland after his liberation. And so, he did, as a priest and a bishop. He discovered his identity in his commitment and his surrender to the Holy Trinity, and thus he changed the Irish and the world. In a letter addressing the persecution of Irish Christians, he referred to the afterlife for believers this way. Let this description be a comfort when we think of dear Tom Shannahan and a comfort to us—with the grace of faithfulness and God’s protection-- when we fear the unknown:

“I can behold you, you have started to journey to that place where night is no more, where there is no more mourning or death, but you will exult like calves who have been freed from their bonds. You shall trample on the wicked who shall be like ashes under your feet.”

Lord, Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, have mercy on him, and on us for we are sinners.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam !

May his soul be at the right hand of God! Amen.

George Thomas McLaughlin
Fenian Memorial Committee of America

To view the obituary, or to leave a tribute or condolence online for Thomas J. Shannahan, click here.