The pastors at Belleville's three Catholic churches come in three different flavours – traditional, spiritual and goofy. All three flavours come courtesy of St. Augustine's seminary, class of 1974.

Reverends Richard Whalen, Timothy Shea and John Hibbard graduated together from St. Augustine’s seminary in 1974. They were all ordained about a minute apart recalled Shea.

The Catholic Women’s League is organizing a joint reception for the three priests at St. Theresa Catholic Secondary School on April 27. The event will be held from 4p.m. to 6p.m. Whalen asked that if guests are planing on bringing any kind of gift they would consider giving it to the education of future priests.

“Things never change,” said Shea. “Fr. Whalen, when we were seminarians, was young and he was very spiritual. And Fr. Hibbard was young and very well organized. And I was young and goofy.”

40 years later he said he’s still the goofy one of the three.

He said the three of them complement each other in many ways. “It works out pretty well because I know that I’m not everybody’s cup of tea,” he said. “People in this area can go to St. Michael’s or they can go to Holy Rosary because they can’t stand me.”

Hibbard said that he tends to be more philosophical while Shea often wins people over to the Church through his humour. He said Whalen tends to be the most traditional.

Although Hibbard said none of them fool around when it comes to religion he had some stories to tell about their time at seminary. He said most of them revolved around Shea. “He was the life of the seminary in many ways.”

“Tim had organized some people into what was called the CORE…Celibate Organization Requiring Excitement,” he said.

On one occasion he recalled being invited by one of them to a social. Hibbard said that at the end of the night they announced that he had won the door prize and they walked in carrying a door. “I looked at the number on the door and it was the door from my room.”

Whalen said he remembered people finding statues in their beds to scare them. He said he walked into his room once only to find it completely empty and his things spread all around the seminary.

There was general agreement among the three priests that Shea was always the most likely to get in trouble.

Hibbard said they weren’t supposed to be away from the seminary overnight. Shea used to play hockey with a team of priests called ‘The Flying Fathers’ and they once played in Halifax.

Shea knew that he wouldn’t be given permission to go if he had asked so he got the other students to cover for him while he was gone, said Hibbard. The director of the seminary found out about it as he was also in Halifax at the time, and saw a picture in the paper of the Flying Fathers and realized that Shea was there.

“When we were in the seminary, chances are I’d probably be the one most likely to get in trouble but now I’m a good citizen,” said Shea.

“[Shea] skates on thin ice but he has such a great sense of humour and easy personality about him that whereas somebody might really get into serious trouble, he’ll only get a slap on the wrist,” said Whalen.

Whalen said he grew up very close to the Church and felt a call from God to pursue joining the priesthood while he was very young. He said that he never thought about becoming a priest in terms of leadership but rather in terms of serving God.

The most rewarding part of his service in the Church is watching people discover the joy of knowing God and giving themselves in service to other people, he said.

Shea said that he had doubts about if he should pursue a leadership role in the Church at first.

He said, “I remember early on in the seminary I’d ask myself, ‘can I be a priest?’ And the answer was always no because I was goofy. But then eventually over time I learned that I was asking the wrong question and the question I should have been asking was ‘can a priest be me?’

“The answer for that was yes.

“So for forty years, basically that’s been what’s going on. I’m just being myself and it seems to be working.”

Shea said it has been a privilege to serve at each of the seven parishes he has led. “The people just seem to be so good and faithful and so prayerful that inspires you as the priest.”

“The holiest people I know aren’t priests, the holiest people I know are parishioners.”

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