Father Joseph E. Shirey, SJ, entered into God’s peace December 22, 2016, at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos, Calif. He was 100. Affectionately known as “Father Red Socks,” this gentle priest spent his ministerial career as a parish priest and hospital chaplain in the northwest and Alaska. The moniker “Red Socks” was his trademark adornment; Fr. Shirey felt that priests and religious who wore all black clothing lacked a “playful” or “joyful” spirit in their work; the red socks, sweater, etc., that he wore reminded him to bring God’s joy to others as well as himself.
Born in Fostoria, Ohio, July 3, 1916, to Karl L. and Isabel M. (Reinhart) Shirey, Joseph Edward Shirey was the oldest of five siblings. He grew up in Roseburg, Ore., and attended the University of Oregon for three years. He entered the U.S. Army in 1939 and was on the verge of discharge when WWII commenced. He remained in uniform until the end of the war; one of his main duties was playing the saxophone in the Army band.
Following his military service Fr. Shirey sensed a call to priestly and religious life; he devoted a year to studying Latin prior to entering the Jesuit Novitiate (Sheridan, Ore.) in September 1946. Fr. Shirey followed the regular course of studies and was ordained on June 16, 1956, at St. Aloysius Church in Spokane.
The first quarter century of Fr. Shirey’s priestly service was dedicated to parish ministry; he served in Spokane, Seattle, Anchorage, Eagle River (Alaska), St. Ignatius (Mont.), and Missoula. Ever the practical administrator, he saw that both the spiritual and temporal needs of the parishioners were well attended to. He cared that a life of prayer and service was balanced with time for recreation and joy. People of his parishes felt drawn to his warmth of personality and also were nourished in their spiritual life by his words and actions.
The second quarter century of service saw Fr. Shirey as a hospital chaplain to two facilities in Medford, Ore., the VA Medical Center and Providence Medical Center. His background as an Army veteran and Jesuit priest was well received by many patients and their families. At age 91 his health necessitated his retirement and a move to the Jesuit assisted-living center in Spokane. Even then he maintained a robust phone and paper correspondence with the many friends he made. At age 99, Fr. Shirey graciously moved to the Jesuit Infirmary in Los Gatos, Calif., to join his brother Jesuits in a ministry of prayer. A giant celebration was held there on his 100th birthday; family, friends, and a swing era band feted him.
Fr. Shirey was preceded in death by his brother, Richard, and sisters, Mary Tucker and Rita Shirey. He is survived by his brother Clair Shirey (Eagle River, Alaska), several grand nieces and grand nephews, cousins, friends, and his brother Jesuits.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated January 12, 10:00 a.m., in the Jesuit House Chapel at Gonzaga University. Inurnment will follow at Mt. St. Michaels Cemetery in Spokane. Donations in honor of Fr. Shirey may be sent to the Senior Fund, Oregon Province, Society of Jesus, P.O. Box 86010, Portland, OR 97286. Gifts may also be made at www.jesuitswest.org/OREdonations on our secure donation site.