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  Stalked and Haunted by a Priest

By Kenton Robinson
The Day [New London CT]
March 14, 2004

Call her V.

She has asked that her name not be printed. A 56-year-old Norwich schoolteacher, she says she cannot bear to have her students see her as a victim.

For nearly 30 years, she says, she was stalked by the Rev. Thomas W. Shea, a priest who spent most of his career in the Diocese of Norwich.

What follows is her story.

Shea tracked her down no matter where she went: to a convent in Madison, an apartment in the Midwest, and to every one of the other nine apartments she and her husband moved to.

It seemed that wherever she went, there was Shea.

"Even to this day, I am afraid when someone rings the doorbell. I pull all the shades down every day when it's dark, because of this fear that I've always had that, my God, he could show up at any time."

Shea denies he ever stalked her.

"No," he says, "that's imagination somehow. I'm pretty sure it didn't happen." Shea also denies kissing or touching her in any inappropriate manner.

But V. remembers him French kissing and fondling her and her sister when he visited their home as early as 1954, when they were students in New London at St. Mary's School.

He continued until they were teenagers, when the girls finally got up the courage to ask their mother to tell him not to come around anymore. She did, and he stopped, but only for about a year.

Deciding to become a nun at 17, V. went into the Sisters of Mercy. In her mind, she was "fairly safe at that point."

But Shea showed up at the novitiate in Madison at vespers one night, and he convinced the mother superior he needed to talk to her.

"She showed me into the office, and I figured that she would be there. But she left. And the lights went out, and everyone went to bed."

Then Shea moved to embrace her.
"I pushed him away and went down the hail in the dark. I was shaking all the way back to my room." Shea recalls the incident differently.

"I remember that I visited her there one time," he says. "But the other part about pushing me and running down the hallway, I have not the slightest awareness of that."

The next time she saw him was on her wedding day.

She was to be married at St. Mary's by another priest, but when she arrived at the church, there was Shea. He had convinced the priest the family had asked him to concelebrate the Mass.

And so it was that the man of her nightmares officiated at her wedding. Nobody knew how to tell the priest they didn't want him there.

Shortly afterward, she and her husband moved to Massachusetts. Shea followed.

"He showed up at our apartment, and he came into the building. I could hear him telling the landlady that he was a friend of the family and that she should unlock the door and let him in."

She got down on the floor "so that it wouldn't creak, so they wouldn't know that I was there." All that afternoon he sat in a restaurant across the street and watched her apartment.

The couple later moved to the Midwest. One day, V., then with a 5-month-old daughter, looked out the window and saw Shea. He was taking off his roman collar, stripping down to his undershirt and heading for the lobby.

Her grandmother was visiting. With the baby in hand, the two women "went down the hall into the back of the apartment so he wouldn't hear us there."

But Shea did not give up easily.

"He sat outside that apartment for three hours and waited and then he came back the next day."

V. says it was the jobs she and her husband had, not Shea, that led them to move so much. But he always showed up. And yet, she never called the police.

"It was irrational fear. I never really felt like I could call the police on a priest. Now I think, 'Oh, my God, how could I not have done that?'"

Her husband, who did not want to be interviewed, was furious with Shea, but he supported his wife's lead in handling the situation.

And V. thought she could handle it. Until, that is, she began to fear for her children.

In 1978, when her daughter was in kindergarten, they had moved back to New London. And there was Shea.

"My neighbor came over and said, 'Father Shea was here looking for you. He was asking the neighbors where you lived.' So that's when I called the rectory and said, 'I will call the police if he comes to my house.' "

Shea was assigned to St. Joseph Church. Monsignor Paul J. St. Onge, his supervisor there, called her back and asked her what was wrong.

She told him the story.

Soon after that Shea was listed by the diocese as "absent on leave" and "on duty outside the diocese."

Then in 1983, after her cousin told her that Shea had molested her, V., her husband and the cousin confronted Shea in front of Norwich Bishop Daniel P. Reilly.

The bishop, who has refused to comment, removed Shea from the ministry. But he never told V.

"So even after that I continued to worry and wonder ... is he still out there? Am I going to run into him again? It was not until recently, when I heard he is actually in a nursing home, that I began to feel like all right, maybe he can't do anything else."

 
 

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