As a deacon, Shane O’Dea has made his priority the pastoral care of people living with poor health, disability or who are on the ‘outer’ of the Church and society.
Shane’s own experience has helped him in this ministry. He was diagnosed at birth with muscular dystrophy, which is a rare disease that results in ongoing, progressive and increasingly severe muscular weakness.
Like all people with a physical impairment, Shane experienced the challenges of exclusion, abuse and being bullied from his earliest years, by both children and adults.
“I have witnessed various expressions of segregation, abuse, neglect, violence, discrimination and of being ‘invisible’,” the now 52-year-old recalled.
“Historically, we’ve predominantly excluded from the community people who are ‘different’ – even in the time of Jesus, the lepers, and those possessed by demons, were excluded. Sometimes when we encounter people who are ‘different’ to us, we react out of fear – ‘what if that was me?’ Our instinct is to protect ourselves, and our reaction can be one of violence or isolation of the ‘other’.”
Shane spoke of his father as a man who “had a very deep faith” and “compassion for people and their circumstances”, which has provided a strong foundation and direction for his life to be with the “other” on the fringe.
“I’ve always had faith and a sense of God’s presence in my life. I remember when I was about six or seven deciding to do some form of ministry,” he explained.
After finishing secondary school at Cabra, Shane spent time with the Passionists studying towards the priesthood. Ultimately his father’s inspiration to be with the “other”, led him to a change of direction and diaconal ministry.
With this vision for his life and ministry, Shane reflected with Archbishop Len Faulkner on the role of the deacon, as messenger and servant of the Bishop.
One evening Shane was startled to receive a phone call from Archbishop Faulkner, who confirmed that he had consulted Canon Law, and Shane would have to wait until the age of 35 to be ordained. Shane spent the next decade of his life pursuing a career as an accountant and tax agent, while being involved in parish life.
“During that time, I did a whole range of things – visiting sick people, distributing Holy Communion at the Julia Farr Centre, running classes for children preparing for Confirmation and First Communion, and generally engaging in the missionary activities which belong to the baptised.”
After several years of further formation, in 2000, when Shane had reached the required age, he was ordained a deacon by Archbishop Faulkner.
“He encouraged me to make a focus of my ministry the pastoral care of people living with poor health, disability or who are otherwise on the ‘outer’ of our Church and society,” said Shane, adding that Archbishop Philip Wilson had affirmed this ministerial direction, as a messenger of his care. “This is an area I have always made a high priority.”
Shane spoke about being inspired by the faith of “our baptised sisters and brothers”, some who may rarely participate in the liturgy, but “live lives of awesome witness to Gospel life”.
Today, Shane is appointed to the Emmaus Parish and works from the Holy Cross Church at Goodwood, one of the few churches in the Diocese that is fully accessible. Aside from pastoral care Shane continues to be involved in liturgy, particularly baptisms, weddings and funerals. It was after a baptism in 2014 that he had a fall which led to the need to use a wheelchair for mobility.
Shane has qualifications as diverse as theology, counselling, health science, disability studies and accountancy, all of which contribute to his wholistic approach to ministry.
Since the 1970s he has observed a growing openness to people living with a disability. As one who “belongs” to the community of the disabled he is able to identify with the people he meets who are on the “outer”.
Shane reflects on his daily ministry through the lens of the death and resurrection of Christ, and invites people to identify and name “grace” within their experience of limitations.