AlumniHall of HonorInductees Q - Z /  Rev Arthur V. Shea, SJ

Rev. Arthur V. Shea, SJ

Prep Prefect of Discipline/ Dean of Students (1921-1924;1931-1965)
Prep Athletic Director (1920-1924)

The name Rev. Arthur V. Shea, SJ looms large over the history of Fordham Prep in the twentieth century. His remarkable career at Rose Hill spanned the period from 1920 until 1965, and he would remain a revered presence on campus until his death in 1979.

Arthur Vincent Shea was born in May 22, 1895 in Albany, New York. He was the son of bookkeeper Joseph Shea and schoolteacher Agnes Hogan Shea. Joseph and Agnes had married at St. Joseph’s Church in that city on the Feast of St. Michael in 1887. The Sheas would raise seven children: Mary, Agnes, Loretta, Arthur, Ambrose, Anna and Margaret. Arthur and his mother were not the only members of the family who would be involved in education — sisters Mary and Agnes would become teachers as well. 

The Sheas moved to Brooklyn when Artie was 11 years old. There here he attended the Manual Training High School, Brooklyn College of St. Francis Xavier and St. John’s Seminary. He entered the Jesuits in 1915 and arrived at Fordham in 1920 as a 25-year-old scholastic just out of Woodstock College. In 1920, he served a year as one of the assistant prefects of the college as well as the Prep's athletic director. In 1921, as a distinct Prep prefecture was created, Mr. Shea became the Prep's first prefect of discipline. He left Rose Hill in 1924 to continue his theological studies, was ordained in 1927, and then served brief stints as dean of men at Fordham College and prefect of discipline at St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia. In 1931 he returned to Fordham Prep where he spent the remainder of his career. 

Shea was part of a core of school legends who began their Prep tenures between 1920 and the early '40s — a list of names that includes fellow Hall of Honor members Rudolph HanishAl KirchnerHarry McDonoughJames Melican and Paul Carielli, longtime caretaker of Hughes Hall. These extraordinary men came together at just the right time in the Prep’s history. Together, they would take an institution that had been born in the 19th century as a college’s lower division and reforge it into a high school unto itself, with all that high school implies. The impact that Shea and the others would have on the Prep down through the decades has earned them a chapter of their own in the official history of Fordham Prep, When September Comes, named for a quote from Father’s opening address to the student body on September 12, 1938. The chapter is aptly titled “A Golden Age of Prep Teachers.”

While KirchnerMcDonough and company would see to students’ progress in Latin, mathematics and the academic subjects taught at the Prep , as prefect of discipline (a position later renamed dean of students), Shea was responsible for the maintenance of order in the school, and the moral and spiritual transformation of newly minted eight graders into “mature young Catholic gentlemen” — no easy feat, but then again, Father was as stalwart as they come. In the fond words of John Robben, Class of 1948, who was sentenced to jug by Shea on his first day of school: "There was no court of appeal with him. When sent to his office, you were either guilty, or guilty!”

Perhaps the best glimpse into Father’s brilliant career is given by fellow Hall of Honor inductee August “Gus” Stellwag’s 2012 preface to the second edition of Shea’s 1965 insightful little volume A Dean of Boys Writes:

Fr. Shea, without a doubt, one of the most memorable and esteemed figures in Fordham Prep history. He handled his long tenure in a unique fashion. He was a man of few words. His commands and directions to students, whether collectively or individually, were delivered in a staccato style, most often a string of words rather than complete sentences. Yet, no student ever misinterpreted his meaning and intent. 

His office, prominently located just inside the front door of the school building, spoke immediately of no-nonsense business. He had no secretary or assistant. The furniture was minimal and utilitarian, the top of his desk almost devoid of objects. Mysteriously, the only decoration was a small bust of a man with pugnacious facial features. Few recognized the figure or had any idea of its significance. Yet, all these unusual external manifestations belied Fr. Shea's inner nature. For many, it was only in later life, as alumni, that they came to understand and appreciate the true measure of the man

But occasionally, even as students, they were surprised by his eloquence. A prime example is the following address to a group of graduating seniors in 1934:

You may remember four years ago about the same time that you came here, a long row of young elm trees was planted around the edge of the quadrangle. All these young elms were supported by wires or cables to make them grow up straight. You may remember these cables because you used to trip over them while playing. Within the past year these cables have been removed. The young elms are sufficiently mature and strong to grow up straight of their own power without any support from cables. In the four years you have been here, you have been supported in a way by cables, the rules of the school, the watchful care of your teachers and prefects. Sometimes the cables held pleasantly as if covered with those rubber cushions. Sometimes they galled and cut and felt very, very unpleasant. But when you leave here, the cables will be removed.

Monday you begin a week of tests. You will be supported by no cables. You will be expected to show that you are strong enough and mature enough to stand on your own feet and fight your own battles and live up to the principles that you learned in school. The young elms on the quad seem to be doing nicely and show good promise of growing up into tall, straight elms that will in time beautify our campus and make Fordham a better place for their being there. May you all, when you begin next week your life-time of tests, begin a successful career that will make the world a better place for your being there. 

On another occasion — this time at a football rally in 1949 preceding Fordham Prep’s Thanksgiving Day football game with its perennial rival, Xavier High School — Fr. Shea combined eloquence with a bit of reverse psychology. The game seemed to be a lost cause with Xavier ready to cap an undefeated season and Fordham Prep to conclude a season that had produced only one victory. Few alumni today remember the full speech. Characteristically, it was not too long. But, everyone who was present can recall the astounding punch line: “I don’t think this team has IT.” The game would turn out as astounding as Fr. Shea’s comment. The Prep dominated the game and won by two touchdowns. As the game neared its conclusion, the stands shook with the repeated cheer: “This team has IT! This team has IT!” For those who knew that the small mysterious bust in Fr. Shea’s office was of Knute Rockne, Notre Dame’s legendary coach, famous for his inspirational locker room speeches, the cheers had extra significance.

Retiring in 1965, Father Shea lived to see the construction of the New Prep Building, the home of the Prep today. It would be dedicated as Shea Hall in his honor. In 1977, the reception marking the fiftieth anniversary of Shea’s ordination was held in the Commons. 

Fr. Arthur Vincent Shea, SJ passed away on December 5, 1979.

From his A Dean of Boys Writes:

The school building gets older; the faculty gets older; the alumni get older, but, thank God, those boys that stand in front of you every day never get older. Next year there will be different faces to look at, but the same age as last year’s faces and the same look in their eyes. Monday to Friday you will learn all their changes of mood. They will keep you on your toes. They will teach you something new every day. Your life will be busy but it will never be dull. The most interesting phenomenon on earth is the high school boy. He will wear you out, if you let him, but he will keep you young.

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