Retired priest offers Mass from his living room

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

April 6, 2012 at midnight
Updated April 5, 2012 at 11:06 p.m.

The Rev. Monsignor Michael O'Shaughnessy prays while he celebrates Mass at his apartment in Copperfield Village. The retired priest gives a full Mass from a portable altar in a doorway of his apartment for residents of the retirement community.

The Rev. Monsignor Michael O'Shaughnessy prays while he celebrates Mass at his apartment in Copperfield Village. The retired priest gives a full Mass from a portable altar in a doorway of his apartment for residents of the retirement community.   Angeli Wright for The Victoria Advocate

In a one-bedroom cottage on a quiet street in Copperfield Village subdivision, the Rev. Monsignor Michael O'Shaughnessy lifts his hands in prayer.

Sitting behind a portable metal altar - situated in the corridor between the bedroom and the living room - the 88-year-old retired priest is suited in white and purple vestments, representing the Lenten season. In February, O'Shaughnessy kicked off Lent from his living room by thumbing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful for Ash Wednesday.

It's not an unusual sight at Copperfield to see residents of the retirement-age subdivision stroll toward O'Shaughnessy's cottage.

Each week, O'Shaughnessy leads Saturday night Mass for about a dozen senior neighbors at his home, most of whom are in their 80s and 90s.

"I'm the young one here," Bob O'Neill, 81, chuckled, as he concluded Saturday Mass at O'Shaughnessy's home last month.

O'Shaughnessy himself admits he's not the agile 22-year-old lad who departed Askeaton County, in Limerick, Ireland, to attend seminary in San Antonio in 1946.

The once-sprightly Irishman spent more than 60 years in Texas, serving the priesthood in Meyersville, Vanderbilt, Yoakum, Victoria and Edna, among other locations.

Today, his eyes are failing somewhat. His memory and mobility are fading.

But even while living out his retirement at Copperfield - stepping down from St. Agnes Catholic Church in Edna in 2007 - O'Shaughnessy is determined to spend his remaining years serving God and his people until he's no longer able - or until he's taken to heaven to be with the Lord.

"I'm in good health, but mainly I feel weak. My legs give out a lot these days ... I'm looking forward to the day I die. I hope to go to heaven," O'Shaughnessy said, his Irish accent still prominent.

Pausing to reflect on why he chooses to offer Mass from his home, O'Shaughnessy responded, "You're a priest your entire life. You don't ever truly retire."

During Saturday Mass last month, O'Shaughnessy reached for a golden goblet on his white-cloth-covered altar. His elderly hands shook slightly as he sipped the liquid from the glass, while performing the Holy Eucharist.

After reciting a short prayer, he wiped the goblet's rim with a dry cloth, and proceeded in great determination to read liturgy from computer paper scattered on the ground - each side printed with oversized black type for better viewing.

But during Holy week and Easter Sunday, O'Shaughnessy said he recognizes the need for more worship and prayer.

The retired priest plans to deliver several Masses for his neighbors, so they will have somewhere to celebrate and honor God during the holiest season in the Christian faith.

"Easter is a big feast. Christ died on the cross ... Easter is a time of celebration," he said.

"This is the most important time of year. It's when we fulfill our obligations of going to church," June Lewis, 86, said. "And here, there's no dress code."

O'Shaughnessy said he was given permission to carry out Mass services from his home, but he no longer yields any official responsibilities.

"I don't do confession anymore. I'm not the resident chaplain," he explained. "I just happen to be one of the residents who is also a priest."

But that doesn't stop the handful of regulars who return each week for O'Shaughnessy's Mass, many of them preferring the intimate services over traditional high church.

"I really like it out here. It's so much nicer to be able to come here and you don't have to worry about getting a ride to church," Willie Lee Kornfuehrer, 88, said. "And this is a real holy season where we honor the birth of Christ."

"This is our family here," Lewis added. "Everyone at Copperfield is like family, and we pray for them here."

O'Shaughnessy said he's pleased to deliver the Masses in his home each week, like he's done for about three years. The regulars have become family and friends for him, and he enjoys the visitors.

But during Easter, he remembers why he entered into a profession of ministerial service, and hopes his more than 60 years in the priesthood offered meaningful service to God and the church.

"I've tried to do what every priest tries to do, and that's take care of the people the best I could," he said.



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