The Rev. Harry E. Shelley Jr., 79, priest, activist for care, counseling of alcoholics

September 02, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Harry E. Shelley Jr., an Episcopal priest and activist for the care and counseling of alcoholics, died Thursday of cancer at the Joseph Richey Hospice in downtown Baltimore. He was 79 and moved to Timonium in 1998 after residing in Charles Village and Remington for 42 years.

Father Shelley was the hospice's director of pastoral care and chaplain at the time of his death.

In the 1950s, while rector of the Church of the Guardian Angel in Remington, Father Shelley began ministering to alcoholics. He soon became one of the city's best-known counselors in an era when there were few treatment facilities available.

"I think every alcoholic in Baltimore knew where our front door was," said his wife, the former Mary Louise Gosnell. The couple married in 1948.

He served as coordinator for alcoholism programs for the city Health Department from 1965 to 1977.

Father Shelley continued his work with alcoholics when he was named rector of Saint Michael and All Angels Church in Charles Village in 1973, a post he held until 1986.

"He was a hard-working guy. You got the feeling he was always extremely energetic," said William Stump, retired editor of Maryland Church News. "I can remember Harry coming to a diocesan meeting wearing a helmet, riding a motorcycle and speeding up Timonium Road."

Father Shelley took up riding a Honda 500 during the gasoline shortages of the 1970s. He decided he could save money making pastoral calls and find parking spaces more easily near the hospitals he visited. He stopped riding his motorcycle when his hearing deteriorated about 10 years ago.

"His forthright manner reflects the outlook of one whose ministry is based on long practical experience. ... His approach appears to be that of a man who views the spiritual not in terms of theological niceties but in direct relation to daily life," The Sun reported in a 1973 profile.

Born in Baltimore, Father Shelley was raised in the Pimlico section. He was a 1940 graduate of Catonsville High School and studied at the University of Baltimore, where he earned an associate of arts degree in 1948 and a law degree in 1950. He received a master's degree at the Philadelphia School of Divinity in 1955 and was ordained a priest May 12, 1956.

During World War II he was a Navy pharmacist's mate who served aboard a ship during the Allied invasion at Normandy. When his vessel struck a mine and was about to sink, he helped get the wounded aboard another ship. Nearly 50 years later, a medical examination revealed that he had fractured his neck during the incident. He later served in the Philippines and at Okinawa.

Father Shelley was a part-time chaplain at Union Memorial Hospital from 1987 to 1994 and a Police Department chaplain from 1992 to 1999.

He was an associate of the All Saints Sisters of the Poor Episcopal Convent in Catonsville, a member of the Franciscan Order, the Navy Landing Ship Tank Association, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and a past president of the Ancient and Honorable Mechanical Company of Baltimore.

A requiem Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Sept. 15 at Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, 816 N. Eutaw St., where he served as assistant rector.

In addition to his wife, Father Shelley is survived by two sons, James M. Shelley of Reisterstown and Stephen E. Shelley of Phoenix; two daughters, M. Eileen Menton of Laurel and Linda J. Krantz of Churchville; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

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