Andrew Shiels was born in Falkirk in 1921. He
was educated at Campion House, the Jesuit-run pre-seminary college
in Osterley, west London. He then attended Oscott College in
Birmingham. He was ordained for the Archdiocese of St Andrews
and Edinburgh in 1954.
His first Parish as assistant Priest was Gorebridge where he
was placed from 1954 and 1955. He was then transferred as assistant
Priest to St Columba's Edinburgh in 1955 where he was to remain
for 7 years until 1962. His third Parish was St Mary Magdalane's
Portobello in Edinburgh again as assistant Priest from 1962
It was then that he was transferred to St Patrick's Kilsyth
in 1968 as assistant Priest to Canon
Thomas McGarvie who was Parish Priest of St Patrick's at
that time. This move to Kilsyth reunited Fr Shiels with his
brother Charles, who was a teacher at St Patrick's Junior High
School in Backbrae Street. His time in St Patrick's was to last
Fr Shiels was then transferred as Parish Priest to St Joseph's
Kelty in Fife for 9 years from 1971 to 1980. His final Parish
was Our Lady and St Bridget in West Calder from 1980 to 1984.
Fr Shiels died in his home town of Falkirk on 12th Oct 1984
at the age of 63. May he rest in peace.
Rev Fr. Andrew Shiels – 12th October 1984.
Father Andrew Shiels, parish priest of Our Lady and St Bridget’s
West Calder, died in Falkirk on 12th October 1984 in the 64th
year of his age and the 31st of his priesthood. The funeral
Mass was celebrated in St Francis Xavier’s Falkirk on
16th October, the principle celebrant being the Right Reverend
James Monaghan, Auxiliary Bishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh
and the interment took place in Falkirk. At the Mass, the following
panegyric was delivered by Father Keith O’Brien, Rector
of St Mary’s College, Blairs:
‘The public life of Jesus Christ was a very busy one –
he was hounded by crowds eager to se him and hear him, to listen
to his teaching, to witness his miracles and cures. From time
to time he did seek peace and quiet – he withdrew from
the crowds into a place apart, he went into the mountains to
pray to his Father, he got into a boat to go out onto the lake
with his chosen twelve and from time to time he withdrew to
Bethany, a small village about 2 miles from Jerusalem, to be
with the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. There was a close
bond of friendship between Jesus and this family; he gave them
particular advice and help; and he imparted some of his most
important teaching to this family. It was in the home of Martha
Mary and Lazarus that Jesus reminded his followers of the importance
of the contemplative life as opposed to the active life, of
the value of a life of prayer as compared to a life of action.
I was thinking of Bethany, of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, this
past weekend when pondering the life of Father Andrew Shiels.
In the life of this good and zealous priest, there was undoubtedly
the Martha part – there was the life of a man of action.
Oh yes, strengthened by a life of prayer, but it was the life
of a man, a priest, another Christ, who was set on “going
around doing good”, on going around doing as much good
as possible in as short a time as possible.
Father Andrew was a teenager when he first thought of offering
himself as a priest. Born in 1921, he was just eighteen when
the Second World War broke out – he could not go to seminary
and instead served in the Royal Navy for the duration of the
war. His war experiences instead of dampening his enthusiasm
for the priesthood rather strengthened his desire to serve God
and others and at the end of hostilities, he joined many other
ex-servicemen in his preliminary studies at Campion House Osterly.
His senior Seminary studies were continued at Oscott College
Birmingham and Andrew was ordained a priest in the Cathedral
in Edinburgh by the then Archbishop Gray on the 12th June 1954.
After service for one year in Gorebridge, Father Shiels served
in turn at three of the largest and most important parishes
in the Archdiocese: in St Columba’s Edinburgh, in St John’s
Portobello and in St Patrick’s Kilsyth. In each of these
parishes his zeal was unflagging and his ministry characterised
by three things in particular. His love of the housebound and
the elderly – shown in his devotion to his own elderly
mother in Falkirk; and in his care and respect for those old
people to whom he ministered, including the mother of our Cardinal
and the mother of Canon Gordon; his ministry was also characterised
by his ability as a good confessor, always willing to hear confessions,
always ready to hand on very practical advice as well in Christ’s
forgiveness; and, thirdly, in his parishes, he always tried
to encourage vocations to the priesthood, by his prayer and
by his own priestly example. I know that I learned much from
him as one of his altar boys in St Columba’s as did another
member of the Blairs staff Father Johnston, when he was father
Andrew’s altar boy in Portobello.
As a young priest, the activities of Father Shiels were not
confined to the Parishes to which he was appointed. In addition
to these duties, Father Shiels was also diocesan Scout Chaplin
and was appointed diocesan chapel to the deaf and dumb people
who sought a priest to help them in their particular need.
Father Shiels’ first appointment as parish priest was
to the parish of St Joseph’s in Kelty. There he delighted
to serve and his particular joy was in the small primary school
literally sitting on his doorstep. He was assiduous in his visitation
of his people and in the care of the sick. His priesthood was
simple and uncomplicated – unaffected by the winds of
change. He suffered from no identity crisis in the priesthood.
He did not lose any time trying to define his priesthood or
in asking who he was. What was important for himself and for
his people was trying to live his priesthood.
Over the years Father Andrew’s health was beginning to
deteriorate; he began to suffer from a crippling arthritis.
And when he was asked to move from Kelty to West Calder, his
poor health began to give cause for concern. His arthritis slowed
him down and he was not as mobile as he had been, he could not
always accomplish all his targets in parish and school visitation.
And all this led to him becoming increasingly frustrated with
himself – at his inability to work as he had once been
able. But the good people of West Calder, were only too ready
to forgive his shortcomings and to help him in every way. They
saw in him the sort of priest recently described by Pope John
Paul II: “A priest who prayed and who tried to get close
to his people; a priest who was loyal to his vocation of following
the poor, the chaste and the obedient Christ”.
However the strains of parochial life were too much for him
and he suffered a paralysing stroke one Sunday evening at the
end of his celebration of Mass with his people.
It is then that we might say that another and perhaps even more
fruitful apostolate became his – the Mary part of his
life came to the fore. In and out of hospital, residing in his
own home, he could no longer be busy about many things –
he concentrated on the one thing necessary, he grew closer to
God in his prayer, all the while continuing to give a priestly
example to all who came to him.
His own home in Falkirk became for him a little Bethany, a haven
of peace and rest, where love and devoted attention were lavished
on him by his beloved sister Bella. He was close to Our Lord
in his daily sacrifice of the Mass at home, in his praying of
the breviary and the rosary. And he was close to his family
and friends. I feel that I must pay public thanks here to Bella,
on behalf of the Cardinal, The Bishop and all our priests for
the way in which she cared for Andrew over these last few years
– she herself became a Martha for her brother.
Father Andrew found peace and calm in his own home – but
also in the only other company that he really loved ; that of
his fellow priests. His brother priests came to see him, especially
those of the Falkirk Parish. He was an honoured guest in Falkirk
Presbytery every week when he joined them for concelebrated
Mass, for a meal and for the usual clerical chit-chat. And he
enjoyed his frequent trips in their cars around the countryside
and neighbouring presbyteries. With his ready quips and his
very down to earth comments about every day affairs, I know
he frequently enlivened the Falkirk presbytery table.
Father Andrew also enjoyed the company of the priests and the
students for the priesthood at Blairs where he joined us for
holidays. There his priestly example was striking. Despite his
handicaps almost his first request was to know where he could
say Mass and where was his breviary. Priests and Boys saw him
at Mas, saw him at prayer and we knew that when he went to bed
with his rosary around his neck so that any sleepless hours
could be spent fruitfully occupied in prayer, thinking about
the great mysteries of our redemption and praying for others.
Most would agree that his apostolate in ill health – his
life as ‘Mary’ devoted to the one thing necessary
– was perhaps even more fruitful than his life as Martha,
occupied in the vineyard of the Lord.
But now Father Andrew has entered upon a great new adventure.
Like Lazarus he is about to descend into the tomb… “our
great brother Andrew has died”. But says Jesus, “our
brother will rise again.” Jesus says, “I am the
resurrection. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies,
he will live, and whosoever lives and believes in me will never
Like Martha and Mary we also believe this. We pray that Andrew
will rejoice in the glory of the resurrection with all his sins
forgiven. And as we pray in the third Eucharistic prayer, “May
he share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away; may
he see you, our God, as you are; may he become like you, and
praise you for ever through Christ our Lord from whom all good
May God grant eternal rest to this good and faithful priest.
The following tribute by a Blairs student indicates the
influence exercised by Father Shiels on a young man preparing
for the priesthood and is reproduced from ‘Blairs 1985’
“Father Shiels was an old man who was quite ill and could
only walk with a stick very slowly. I used to come and visit
him in his room where he spent the best part of the day reading
books and saying office. He used to tell me he was studying
Greek and Dutch. When I visited him he would give me jobs to
do such as opening all the Christmas cards from the year before
from his friends and read them to him. He used to call me his
‘Doctor’ since another job I did for him was to
get all his pills and medicine ready and get some water for
He used to tell me about his life in the Navy during the war
as a young man before he went on for the priesthood. He described
some of things that happened to him and his ‘mates’
and he would tell me some of the Navy expressions that they
used! I enjoyed his stories and the conversations that we had.
He had a very comical and pleasant character, which all of the
students here enjoyed.
I know that he will be joining God’s presence in heaven,
since his death last October I often pray for him and ask him
to pray for me.”
All by kind permission of The Scottish Catholic Directory,
1985 edition, pages 411 to 414.