University of Mary elects young high school religion teacher as president

Fr. James Patrick Shea
Fr. James Patrick Shea


The University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, has elected as its new president a priest who is a high school religion teacher and chaplain. It is believed the 33-year-old Father James Patrick Shea will become the youngest university president in the United States.

Martin White, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Sister Nancy Miller, Board President and Prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Monastery, introduced Father Shea as the new president in a December 5 press conference.

"I'm deeply honored and humbled to have been chosen to serve as the sixth president of the University of Mary," said Father Shea, according to a press release. "It's a surprising choice to many, I know, including me. But I am grateful to the Board of Trustees and the Sisters for their confidence in me, and I look forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie in store."

Father Shea will succeed Sister Thomas Welder as university president on July 1, 2009.

At present Father Shea is pastor of the Church of St. Joseph in Killdeer, North Dakota, and the Church of St. Paul in Halliday. He is also senior religion teacher and chaplain at Trinity High School in Dickinson.

The priest, the eldest of eight siblings, grew up on a farm near Hazelton, North Dakota and entered the seminary for the Diocese of Bismarck in 1995. He studied philosophy at the Catholic University of America, where he was awarded the prestigious Basselin Scholarship.

While in Washington D.C., Shea taught religion in two inner-city elementary schools and worked with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity at the Gift of Peace AIDS Hospice.

In 1998, he went to the North American College in Rome, where he studied theology under the Jesuits at the Gregorian. Bishop of Bismarck Paul Zipfel ordained him to the priesthood on July 3, 2002.

He is reportedly a fan of literature and reading, favoring the writings of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G.K. Chesterton. He enjoys snow skiing and water skiing and is a gourmet Italian cook.

Martin White called Father Shea “a person of extreme faith, integrity and passion” with “an aura of energy, a youthful smile and a special gift to inspire, connect and communicate with people of all ages.”

“Father Shea exudes leadership and charisma well beyond his years,” he continued.

"Father Shea has demonstrated the innovative and collaborative leadership we were seeking for this position," commented Sister Nancy Miller. "He is vibrant, energetic and possesses a spirit of hope and optimism for the future."

Father Shea was selected from 22 applicants by the university’s Presidential Search Committee.

Sister Welder, the University of Mary’s president since 1978, announced her retirement in May 2008. The fifth president of the university, she is believed to be the longest currently serving woman college president in the country and is known to be one of the longest-tenured presidents in U.S. history.

The University of Mary has about 3,000 students and will mark its fiftieth anniversary next year.

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