An Unexpected Loss

FatherTharpThe Archdiocese of Oklahoma City lost a great and good priest this weekend. Father Shane Tharp, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Lawton, Okla., died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack Friday.

This afternoon, I was sorting through a mishmash of gift bags and tissue paper when I heard the news. The Oilman was scrolling Facebook and saw a post about the funeral arrangements.

“Did you know Father Shane Tharp?” he asked.

Did I know Father Shane Tharp? As sometimes happens, the question seemed unnecessary and, therefore, a little frightening. Surely, the Oilman knew I knew this priest, whom I’d known for — I don’t know — forever and whom I’d seen at a meeting not two weeks ago. Why did he ask?

When he told me, I reacted just as my mom reacted when I later told her. With my gut wrenched and my heart squeezed, I cried out in disbelief. “What? No! It can’t be!”

It is so, though, and we are thus deprived of Father Tharp’s personal presence of discerning intellect, wry wit and generous joviality. I hope, however, that we are not deprived of his fierce, loyal love for Jesus Christ and Holy Mother Church nor of his sincere concern for souls — that, instead, he has acquired a greater scope for the expression of both of those traits.

Father Tharp’s story of initial conversion remains for us both provocative and compelling, as does his persistent witness post-initial-conversion. Out of the grace of his personal experience of the Lord’s goodness and mercy came Father Tharp’s compassionate solicitude for others and endlessly creative generativity. It was a pleasure and a privilege, most recently, to watch his marvelous, magnetic imagination at work as I served on the Year of Mercy Committee he chaired.

The details of his death are simultaneously heartbreaking and consoling. He was in Wichita, Kan., to visit his spiritual director, and the two were on a walk when Father Tharp collapsed; he was immediately taken to Via Christi hospital, where he later died, according to statements from Archbishop Paul Coakley. His spiritual director was with him the entire time and administered Anointing of the Sick, as well as granted an apostolic pardon. (As Archdiocesan Director of New Evangelization Carole Brown put it, “Well played, Father Tharp, well played.”)

This enormously reassuring fact aside, though, I assume that he would still wish us to presume nothing and so will pray for the repose of his soul, as well as for the comfort and consolation of his family, friends and parishioners, and trust that Jesus and Mary will dispense of the graces of these prayers as truly needed.

Father Tharp, we already feel your absence and miss you greatly.

Saint John Vianney, patron saint of priests, pray for us!

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