Even if you couldn’t pick John Shaffer out of a line-up, if you’re a member of St. Al’s, you knew him. John was an organist at our parish for around 14 years. He shared himself and his talent with us, he led us in song weekly. You knew him.
John had been battling prostate cancer for many years, and last week his body succumbed to it. He fought hard and lived way longer than the doctors gave him because he wanted to be here for his family and because he loved his life here.
The staff and music ministry got to know John in part because of his participation in our parish, and partly because he was Fr. Scott’s brother; and you get to know a guy’s family when he’s here for 12 years. John was hilarious. He had a wicked sense of humor and applied it liberally. He was always optimistic, always trusting in God’s love and mercy, dedicated to everyone he worked with and always entirely devoted to his beautiful family.
A few weeks back, we had gotten some bad news about the progress of John’s cancer. It sounded unlikely that he would be able to bounce back from this development. That weekend, at the 8:30 Mass I was surprised when the opening hymn started—it was being played with some serious energy. That’s not normal for the 8:30 Mass—it’s hard to be ready to play that early. I looked to see who it was—it was John! I couldn’t believe it. After Mass I had a chance to talk to him and he was saying how extremely well he felt. It was the second to last time I saw him, and what a blessing it was to see him so up.
Last week we heard that John had taken a turn and that it wouldn’t be long. Many members of the music ministry and staff were able to go and see him. Fr. Bambrick, Sr. Eileen and I went together and were blessed to see him while he was alert and aware.
I’ve had to bid farewell to people many times both in my personal life and work. Visiting John that last time was different. We all knew what we were there for. He knew it and we knew it—we were saying good-bye. That didn’t stop him from cracking jokes or sharing what St. Al’s has meant to him in his time with us; and we got to share what he was to us. As hard as it was (and frankly still is), it was a graced time.
I thank God for sharing John with us; for his ministry to the people of St. Al’s, for his friendship, his example and his faithfulness. You can’t always say that the world is a better place for an individual having been in it, but you can with John. So much won’t be the same without him, but the sadness we feel is not outweighed by the blessings he brought us. Please pray for his family.