As a young man, Father Valentine Sheedy was known for his love of sports. His athletic talents began to emerge when he was just a boy, running the 100 meter sprint for his grade school. While in high school, he would race and win against adults in many local athletic events and was also a star athlete in hurling, sometimes defined as “soccer with an attitude.” In addition to being a sprinter and hurler, the young Sheedy was a running back for a local rugby team.
All the while he excelled at sports, Sheedy felt a calling for more in his life. As he neared the end of his boarding school years in Tipperary County, Ireland, one of his teachers, a priest from the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers, encouraged him to consider the priesthood. In 1946, Sheedy entered the Holy Ghost Seminary in Kimmage, Dublin, where he studied for the next nine years, ultimately being ordained into the priesthood on July 3, 1955.
Shortly after being ordained, Father Sheedy was among six priests sent to Biafra, Nigeria to teach. He remained in the country for 12 years, until 1967 when a civil war forced him and other missionaries to leave. Reflecting on his time spent in Africa, Father Sheedy stated that it was a time of much growth.
“Vocations flowed, and new dioceses were formed,” he said. “The Ibos were God-fearing people with much awareness of God. Faith seemed to come easily to them, and they had a great love for the Christian faith, the Church, and its rituals.”
In the meantime, a new diocese was beginning to take root in Orlando, and Father Sheedy was sent on yet another missionary assignment to help grow the Catholic Church in Florida.
For 48 years, Father Sheedy has ministered to the faithful of the Diocese of Orlando. He has served at four parishes – as assistant pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Palm Bay and Blessed Trinity Parish in Orlando, and as pastor at Ascension Parish in Melbourne, and Resurrection Parish in Lakeland. He was responsible for building and expanding schools and parishes at Ascension and Resurrection.
Throughout his ministry, Father Sheedy was also known for his support of education, influenced in part by his experience in Africa.
“I learned how education can change the face of a nation,” he said. “Without education, you can only have a superficial view of what Christianity is all about.”
Father Sheedy retired in July 1998. Looking back on his 60 years of priesthood, Father Sheedy said that he cherishes his years spent in the Diocese of Orlando.
“As you go through life, there are ups and downs, and it is hard to say which is the greatest up and which is the greatest down,” he said. “Still, in coming here, I found the people so tremendously receptive, very friendly, and very supportive. The people are one of the greatest things about my work here in Orlando.”