November 20, 2003 at 1:35 p.m.
The two-lane highway alongside the river into Taylors Falls was uncommonly void of traffic and even the turkey vultures and eagles were keeping close to the cliffs.
The quietude of this morning was in perfect complement to the occasion taking place in Taylors Falls that day.
Inside St. Joseph’s Catholic Church it couldn’t have been more different... the stained glass yellows, blues and oranges glowed in the sanctuary and the sconce-lighting against the warm wood walls shone just like torches. People chatted in the pews and ushers scurried about.
The musicians in the church alcove, too, were not only in harmony with each other, but the music connected warmly to the spirit of this day. No booming organ shaking the devil out of this group-- violin, recorder, and a harpsichord style keyboard gently nudged the voices of the repentant and gladhearted along.
And, there were many voices.
The church was especially full with well-wishers coming to honor Father Albert Shanley. Fr. Shanley has led St. Joseph’s and St. Francis, in Franconia Township, for 34 years.
And, talk about milestones--Sunday, November 16 marked the 65th anniversary of his ordination.
As with all good tales, the story of Shanley coming to this area begins under a sense of urgency and purpose.
According to Parish Life Administrator Nancy Madden; the official church records described St. Joe’s and St. Francis decades-ago as “too small” to amount to much of anything.
Shanley was with the Order of La Shalette, a French missionary group, when he arrived at Taylors Falls in the late 1960’s. He had professed his vow to the mission order 70 years ago and within five years of that was ordained in Rome. He returned to the United States when World War II ignited.
Missionaries wanted to come here seeking training for alcohol-related ministry at Hazelden, in Center City. But in order for them to stay at local Catholic facilities, the Church said there must be a priest accompanying them-- and the post needed to be filled immediately-- Madden explained.
So, call it serendipity or coincidence, she said, “I call it the work of God.”
Father Shanley over the years has overseen expansion on top of expansion of the churches. He has held his services inside of other churches when flood waters encroached.
Said Madden, “He made the two churches into what they are today by showing us, by being just like Jesus in his ways.”
Madden, who assists the now-frail Shanley, suggested to the congregation last Sunday that Shanley has done the “impossible” both with his longevity and his ability to touch people.
Madden also said Fr. Shanley was way ahead of his time in coordinating churches to pool their resources and come to the aid of each other. “...he was ecumenical before it was popular,” Madden added.
The churches of Taylors Falls offer a summer youth daycamp called “Together With Friends” that involves using facilities and members of many churches, and Shanley was instrumental in starting this.
Fr. Shanley read the lesson from Mark about the fig tree and prepared the Communion for Sunday. He characteristically shared a prayer of gratitude with his congregation.
He declared “You make my work here a blessing... it’s been quite a privilege” to have served.
Father made a point of thanking the singers and instrumentalists for learning original music written just for this service by Henry Martin Novotny, the church music director.
Shanley said the effort was yet another indication of the dedication so apparent within the congregation.
At the end of the mass, Novotny sang a glorious tune in wonderful Irish style, and everybody burst into spontaneous applause.
St. Francis Church plans to host Shanley’s 90th birthday celebration in January.