The monsignor died two weeks ago of heart failure, following an accident in which his friend and caretaker Sister Mary Campbell died, and a local professor was critically injured.
By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
On an unseasonably warm autumn morning, Monsignor John V. Sheridan’s life was celebrated during a Requiem Mass at Our Lady of Malibu Catholic Church on Friday, presided over by Los Angeles Diocese Archbishop Roger Mahony. An estimated 700 people were in attendance, sitting under a large white tent in the church’s parking lot.
Sheridan died Sept. 17 following an auto accident that also injured Pepperdine law professor Douglas Kmiec and killed Sister Mary Campbell.
Remembered as a man of uncommon compassion and lifelong devotion to his faith, OLM Rev. Bill Kerze said, “What was that great secret Monsignor Sheridan knew that caused us all to flock to him, whether saint or sinner, political or ecclesiastical figure? I think it was awareness that life is God’s most precious gift. And the only possible response is gratitude.”
Following a reading from St. Paul to the Romans, “Death no longer has power over him,” and a psalm that echoed Sheridan’s dedication to the church, “I will take the cup of life, I will call God’s name all my days,” Kerze delivered a homily that described Sheridan’s coming to God and his service of 67 years.
Sheridan, of County Longford, Ireland, was stricken with an intestinal ailment at age 18, nearly dying in extreme pain. His father urged him to give himself to God and, following three agonizing years of recovery and a battle with morphine addiction, his life turned and he took up the priesthood.
Sheridan’s recovery, Kerze said, was part of a “two-fold baptism,” causing Sheridan to pray everyday on Psalm 116, which asks, “What can I give back to the Lord for all he has given me?”
Sheridan’s illness bred a “deep, experiential compassion” for those who suffered and ensured an abiding humility in his ministries, Kerze said.
Kerze’s voice wobbled with emotion as he claimed that Sheridan perceived “the risen Christ… clearly incarnate in the lives of little ones.
“John learned that in each of us was a little one,” Kerze said. “That’s what made us beloved to him. In our humanness, we were the face of Jesus to him.”
Following the Eucharist, Sheridan was eulogized with warmth, humor and affection. Paul Cantino, who teaches at Pepperdine University, began by roaring a phrase Sheridan often repeated in his Irish lilt, “I desire to greet you!”
Cantino said Sheridan would also take moments to address flowers and even weeds.
“He wasn’t a pantheist, but he saw the grace in all of us,” Cantino said. “Saintly or wretched, perhaps both in the same day, he taught us joy.”
Sheridan’s niece, Bridget Reilly, spoke of a fierce commitment to correspondence with a multitude of family members, driven by emotional intelligence, intellectual curiosity and an extraordinary capacity to connect. She said that for years he would reply whenever she wrote him, including a check for her.
“I question whether my motivation for writing him so much over the years was entirely pure,” Reilly said to general laughter. “But my 50 years of correspondence with him progressed to email and Skype. He loved staying in touch with his family as much as with his congregation.”
She ended quoting one of Sheridan’s favorite poems by William Butler Yeats: “Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths/Enwrought with golden and silver light/The blue and the dim and the dark cloths/Of night and light and the half-light/I would spread the cloths under your feet:/But I, being poor, have only my dreams;/I have spread my dreams under your feet;/Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
Declaring this was a difficult act to follow, Cardinal Mahony rose to extol Sheridan’s life and recounted his last visit with the monsignor, shortly before he died.
“When I entered the room, he was awake and looked straight at me with knowledge of love,” Mahony said. “I knew I was looking at the Kingdom of Heaven and I saw in his eyes that he had already started his final journey. I will cherish my last visit with this great man forever.”
Sheridan is to be buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.
Reilly said that Sheridan’s Irish family was grateful for the love and care that the Malibu community the monsignor loved so much showed him. When she spoke with him last December about what Sheridan would want to be said at an eventual memorial, his response was simple: “Thanks for coming.”