NEWLY-ordained permanent deacon for Brisbane archdiocese Tim Shanahan welcomed changing nappies as a parent – a task that would have been most unlikely for him years earlier.
“I went straight from school into the seminary at Banyo at the age of 17,” he said.
“I studied for the priesthood for nearly three years before making a very difficult decision to leave.”
Importantly though, the present-day Caloundra parishioner “hadn’t given up on ministry”, and meeting wife Jeanette led them down an additional vocational pathway.
“I was aware that in marrying Jeanette I was closing the door on the priesthood,” Deacon Tim said.
“Still, I believed that this was what God intended for me.
“(And) when I became a dad I was thrilled.”
The deacon, who was ordained on July 31, was born in Townsville and has four siblings.
At age 12 the family moved to Rockhampton when Tim’s father Pat Shanahan was appointed the city’s first district court judge.
Saying his childhood faith was influenced by the Sisters of St Joseph and the Christian Brothers in both cities, Deacon Tim was “always curious about their way of life and commitment to the Church”.
“They encouraged us to practise particular devotions and to pray and they really helped us to prepare for the sacraments,” he said.
“I was also influenced by various priests over the years … and remember priests visiting us at home.
“In Rockhampton it wasn’t unusual to have Bishop Bernie Wallace visit to have dinner with us and then spend the evening conversing with my father in particular.”
Pat and Patricia Shanahan were “both actively involved in the church” and “open to developing their faith rather than clinging to a particular period of the Church’s history”.
“They both have read widely and have always encouraged us kids to do the same,” Deacon Tim said.
“(And) as a family we went to Mass each week and as my siblings got older my mother and I often went to daily Mass.
“During my early teen years we had family prayer and the Rosary at night, though it wasn’t always popular with us kids … there were distractions such as television at the time.
“I remember treasuring my copy of the family prayer book and I had a private prayer table set up in my room.”
Saying he’s “never lost faith in God”, Deacon Tim more “questioned just what God was doing”.
“I’ve been through challenging times in my life but I believe that God has helped me to learn from those experiences,” he said.
“I always remember the old question: ‘If you and God are not together, who moved?'”
Moving from Banyo back to Rockhampton and starting work with Queensland Rail, Deacon Tim met Jeanette.
In 1993, he was drawn to a position at Centacare as a marriage education co-ordinator.
That role took the family to the Sunshine Coast in 1996, where they have remained, Deacon Tim now a marriage and relationship educator part-time.
What also remained was the call to parish ministry.
“I had never lost the belief that I was being called to ordained ministry,” he said.
“I had been actively involved in my parish in Caloundra for several years when Deacon Gary Curtis was ordained in our church.
“I attended his ordination and felt that I needed to learn more about this ministry of permanent deacon.
“I needed to be absolutely sure that I didn’t consider the diaconate as ‘the next best thing’ to being a priest.
“Yes they are both ordained ministers but a deacon is ordained not to priesthood but to ministry and service.”
Deacon Tim entered formation for the permanent diaconate in 2006 supported by his family and local faith community.
“My parish assisted with costs for my theological studies and associated expenses,” he said.
“In addition I have received a lot of moral support and encouragement from people in my parish and also my brother deacons and priests.
“My wife Jeanette has supported me as much as she can too.”
All the while, the Shanahans are conscious of the importance of “quality time” together – which includes the practise of the faith.
“In today’s busy society many couples are lacking ‘quality time’ together,” Deacon Tim said.
“(And) it’s the same with your faith – if you don’t nurture it, it deteriorates over time.
“We gave David and Rebecca the option at 16 (years) to decide for themselves about continuing to attend Mass regularly or not.
“I do believe that children need to experience a faith and have grounding in a faith before they can make a decision about it when they’re older.
“But it really has to start within the family.”
Both David and Rebecca expressed joy about their father’s new role within the Church.
“It’s a magnificent opportunity and I couldn’t be happier that he’s able to do something he loves,” Rebecca said.
David too might follow in his father’s footsteps, saying, “If the opportunity presents itself, I would give it (the diaconate) a lot of consideration.”
Jeanette is conscious of the time required for the role and remains positive.
“I am proud of all that Tim has achieved,” she said.
“My belief is that when you work, no matter what your job is, you must love it and be happy to go each day.
“I know this is how Tim feels about his work with the Church.”
Looking forward to continuing to share faith with others – presiding at baptisms, weddings and funerals mostly – a “love for proclaiming the Gospel” and “connecting with people” imbues Deacon Tim’s ministry now and into the future.
“The Church needs to continue to read ‘the signs of the times’,” Deacon Tim said.
“(It needs) to articulate the issues and offer guidance and support for the world and be a reminder of the Gospel in a way that people can relate to.”
Within all Deacon Tim’s roles and plans however, perhaps he’ll also be rostered on for nappy-changing once again.
“I would love Dad to walk me down the aisle and also officiate at my wedding,” Rebecca said.