Monsignor Gerard Sheehy
1923-2003 Died 19 March 2003
The following obituary was written by Monsignor Ralph Brown: 30 March 2003
Monsignor Gerard Sheehy (known amongst his friends as Gerry, but never to his face) was born in Dublin on 16 October 1923. He was the son of a well known Professor at University College Dublin. He was one of three children. His brother, Maurice, died some years ago and his younger sister survives him.
He trained at the Holy Cross Seminary at Clonliffe and was ordained a priest on 22 May 1948 by Archbishop John Charles McQuaid. After ordination he was sent to Rome to study Canon Law at the Gregorian University and obtained his doctorate in 1951. On his return from Rome he was appointed a Chaplain to the De La Salle School in Dublin; but his principal assignment was as Professor of Canon Law at Holy Cross College, Clonliffe. He was there from 1952 until 1965. In 1958 he qualified as a Barrister-at-Law at the Supreme Court of Ireland.
However, as these things go, not only was he teaching Canon Law in the Seminary, he was also working at his Civil Law Degree, working in the Chancellery, and also working in the Tribunal as a Notary. In 1965 he was appointed Chancellor in which post he remained, in spite of his other work, until 1975. But prior to all this, one of the major events of his life was the foundation of the Canon Law Society in April 1957. The history of the establishment of that prestigious body was written up by Mgr. Sheehy himself on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Society. Monsignor Sheehy became the fourth President from 1974 until 1980.
In 1970 Monsignor Sheehy first met Monsignor Max Reinhardt of Brooklyn; and again in 1971. In 1972 Gerard went to visit Mgr. Reinhardt at the Brooklyn Tribunal; and visited also a number of other Tribunals in the USA; and not long after Archbishop Dermot Ryan was installed, the whole of the Dublin Tribunal was relocated and turned into really modern premises, with sound recording Tribunal offices; indeed the envy of the whole Tribunal system in these islands. He was also instrumental in reorganising all of Ireland into four Regional Tribunals; and the National Appeal Tribunal of Ireland. All of this much enhanced the Tribunal work throughout the country. Prior to this he had been made the Officialis of the Dublin Metropolitan Tribunal, as well as a Prelate of Honour, both in 1969. He also became the first Officialis of the Dublin Regional Marriage Tribunal in 1976.
From 1971 onwards he had been much involved in the work of the Revision of the Code of Canon Law. He presided over the first meeting of a small Revision Committee which considered the Schema de Poenisi in 1972 at Downside Abbey. He continued his work on the various Schemata of the Code as they emerged; and he was instrumental in organising an international meeting of English speaking Canon Law Societies at Clonliffe in 1977 on the Schema de Processibus; and a further meeting held in Canada in 1978 on the Schema of which eventually became Book II of the Code: The People of God.
The work on the revision of the Code continued until the end of the seventies and into the very early 1980s. The almost final draft of the New Code was the subject of a special meeting of Cardinals and others in October 1981. Mgr.Sheehy was asked by Cardinal Basil Hume to assist him at this meeting. Mgr.Sheehy prepared the technical Latin interventions of the Cardinal night by night, and the Latin of the Cardinal’s day by day interventions was complemented by no lesser a Latinist than Cardinal Pericles Felici.
The following year the New Code in Latin was published in the Spring and Mgr.Sheehy was one of the four (two Australians, one English and one Irish) Canonists who spent seven weeks translating the Code into English, which was published in time for the date when the Code took effect, namely the First Sunday of Advent 1983. Subsequently, he was the principal editor of the Society’s prestigious commentary: The Code of Canon Law: Letter and Spirit first published in 1995.
Throughout all this time he was also running a very busy Tribunal. He had been made a Canon of the Dublin Metropolitan Chapter in 1972; he was made the Archdeacon of Dublin in 1990; and the Chancellor of the Chapter in 1997. He became an occasional lecturer at the Gregorian University at the special Doctoral Courses in Jurisprudence between 1978 and 1986. He was appointed by the Pope as a Consultor of the Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts in 1989. During this time he was made an Honorary Member of the Canon Law Society of America; of the Canadian Canon Law Society and of the Canon Law Society of Australia and New Zealand. He also received the prestigious Jean Thorn Award of Merit from the Canadian Canon Law Society in October 2000.
From his time as Seminary Professor right through to the end of his professional life, he was a witness to a very remarkable period of the Church’s history. From graduation as a Canon Lawyer to his death he always saw Canon Law as the Church’s declaration of Justice to its members. He was frequently saddened in latter years to see justice sometimes reduced to mere practicality. His service to justice will long be remembered in the English speaking world.
He was indeed an outstanding Canon Lawyer. But first of all he was a priest and he let no one forget it. Even more he was a person you had to like. He had charm and distinction. He was an extraordinarily engaging person. He spoke to you; he was interested in you. He was never heavy, always courteous, ever sympathetic. He was a person you were glad to have met. He will be greatly missed by us all. He died after a short period in hospital on 19 March 2003. May he rest in peace. [Edited from CLSN 133, March 2003]