Right Reverend John W. Shanahan

“Non recuso laborem” (I Will Not Refuse the Burden)

John Walter Shanahan, was born on January 3, 1846, at Silver Lake, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.

Right Reverend John W. Shanahan
Third Bishop of Harrisburg


He was educated at Saint Joseph’s College, near Binghamton, New York, and the Seminary at Saint Charles Borromeo, Overbrook, Philadelphia. He was ordained to the priesthood on January 2, 1869, by his brother, Bishop Jeremiah F. Shanahan.In addition to pastoral assignments, Father Shanahan served as Superintendent of Catholic Schools in Philadelphia from the time of his ordination until he was named Bishop of Harrisburg on January 2, 1899. He was consecrated on May 1, 1899, in Philadelphia by Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan. Bishop Shanahan died February 19, 1916, and was buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery, Harrisburg.

Growth of new parishes under Bishop John W. Shanahan was concentrated in the outlying areas of urban centers with established churches. In Harrisburg, for example, Bishop created two new parishes from Cathedral missions in 1900. They were Saint Francis of Assisi and St. Mary’s (OLBS). Because the creation of these parishes, in addition to Sacred Heart of Jesus, did not impede the viability of the Cathedral parish, it served as encouragement for Bishop to follow this pattern in Lancaster and York.

The increase in the foreign-born Catholic population continued as in the previous fifteen years but was now more concentrated in the northern region of the diocese. National or ethnically identified parishes were opened in Shamokin, Steelton, Lebanon, Berwick and Mount Carmel.

In continuing the work of his predecessors, Bishop Shanahan determined two additional needs: institutions for the care of orphan children and the construction of the Cathedral of Saint Patrick to replace the old pro-cathedral.

Bishop Shanahan gave the diocese a vigorous administration with the creation of twenty-seven new parishes in eighteen years. Interestingly, this growth occurred despite the removal of Centre, Clinton and Fulton counties to the newly created Diocese of Altoona in 1901. At his death, the diocese had 120 priests, 43 seminarians and 350 religious sisters. Seventy-two churches had resident priests, and more than 10,000 children attended forty-three parochial schools.

On August 29, 1907, Bishop Shanahan established the new religious order of Sisters of Saint Casimir. He did so in response from a request of one of his priests, Father Anthony Staniukynas. The first three members were Mother Maria Kaupas, Mother M. Immaculata and Mother M. Concepta. With these sisters, Bishop Shanahan opened the first Lithuanian Catholic school in the country at Holy Cross parish, Mount Carmel, on January 6, 1908. In 1911, with Bishop Shanahan’s blessing, the foundation of the Sisters of Saint Casimir transferred to the Archdiocese of Chicago. From 1913 until her death in 1940, Mother Maria Kaupas was Superior General.

The motherhouses of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius were established during the administration of Bishop Shanahan. The Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Scranton also came into service in the diocese.

The lack of sufficient care for orphaned or needy children in the diocese was of great concern to Bishop Shanahan. This was of particular importance in central Pennsylvania because the primary ways for men to provide for the family, as husbands and fathers, were usually dangerous avocations in the coal mines, steel mills and rail roads.

In 1901, Bishop transformed Sylvan Heights, which had already served as an episcopal residence and seminary, into an orphanage to accommodate one hundred girls. With the unanimous support of his clergy, expenditures were met by assessing each parish one dollar per parishioner.

Through generous benefactors, Paradise School, Abbottstown, Adams County, also known as Paradise Protectory, was constructed and opened for boys in 1907.

In 1907, a long-awaited new Cathedral of Saint Patrick was completed and dedicated in Harrisburg. The diocese had raised $100,000 of the total construction cost of $185,000.