This is the sixth in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2010. The last issue of HNP Today featured Daniel Sulmasy, OFM.
RINGWOOD, N.J. — At almost 97, Peter Sheridan, OFM, said he likes living at Holy Name Friary, the Province’s skilled nursing home, mostly because he enjoys the younger friars — those 95 and under.
As senior friar of the Province by profession, although the second oldest by age — Lambert Valentine, OFM, is older by one month — Peter graciously took a minute from an afternoon rest at the friary to talk to HNP Today. He fondly reflected back on a very rewarding career, and his 68 years of being a priest.
Professed in 1935, Peter, who grew up in Newark, N.J., said that the best part of being a priest was “just being a priest.”
Fond Memories of Priesthood
“I enjoyed every part of it,” said Peter. “I never wanted to be a teacher, or anything, I just liked saying Mass.”
Still with a quick wit and warm smile, he readily admits, “I’ve forgotten more than I remember.” Nevertheless, it’s very important to him that he remembers his anniversary dates with the Province, keeping them written on a piece of worn scrap paper tucked away on his desk.
In September, the former novice master celebrates his 75th anniversary as a friar. His simple advice to men considering a religious vocation: “Be sensible. Don’t try to impress people and think that you know it all.”
As Holy Name’s novice master from 1955 to 1964, the 6-foot-3-inch Peter never talked down to his underlings. He said he never relished being a novice master, but when asked to serve, he served well. He remembers having several of the men now living at Holy Name Friary — including guardian A. Francis Soucy, OFM — as novices.
As the last living Sheridan sibling, Peter fondly recalled his mother and father who was a mounted policeman in Newark. Known in the neighborhood as “Charlie the cop,” dad would come home for lunch and park his horse in the backyard, inviting the local kids to see him.
While the horse was fun, even at a young age, Peter set his sights higher, always knowing that he wanted to enter the Franciscans. “No one else would put up with me,” he said. He did his training at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y.
A Long, Distinguished Ministry
His first assignments were spent in rural North Carolina and Georgia, in what were then called the Province’s “Southern Missions,” where he served for 13 years. After being novice master and a few brief assignments in New Jersey and New York, including Provincial Councilor at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City, and a chaplaincy at a state hospital, he returned to parish ministry as a pastor in Georgia. He then served for many year as a spiritual assistant for the Secular Franciscan Order fraternity in Washington, D.C., and briefly an associate pastor at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md. He retired at Holy Name College in Silver Spring in 1988.
He remembered the good times in North Carolina, saying he enjoyed fishing in the state’s many lakes and rivers. He gave away most of the fish, and laughs, “I didn’t catch that many.” He also called himself an animal lover.
What was his favorite ministry: “I’ve been happy everywhere.” He added that he especially liked to perform weddings for young couples, and recalled his parents’ more than 60-year marriage.
“When I celebrated my 25th year of being a priest, my parents were celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. I asked my father what it was like to be married for 60 years. He said, ‘It was a helluva long time to be fighting with the same woman.’”
While Peter, who turns 97 on Sept. 21, remembered many parts of his ministry vividly, he said he wishes to be remembered as someone who was “understanding and loveable.”
Based on the comments of other friars at the nursing home, he will likely get his wish.
— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. The next issue will feature John Alderson, OFM, the first of 10 friars celebrating 50 years of profession this year.