Retired Maronite Bishop Shaheen dies at age 80

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ST. LOUIS — Retired Bishop Robert J. Shaheen, who was the second bishop to head the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, died in St. Louis Aug. 9.

Bishop Shaheen, who turned 80 June 3, was a native of Danbury, Connecticut, and ordained a priest in 1964. He was the first Maronite priest to be ordained in the United States and was assigned as pastor of St. Raymond's Maronite Church, now cathedral, in 1967. The parish was founded in 1912 to serve Maronite Catholics primarily of Lebanese and Syrian descent.

On Dec. 5, 2000, St. John Paul II named him the second bishop of the Maronite eparchy. He retired in 2013.

The eparchy, which relocated its headquarters from Los Angeles to St. Louis in 2001, extends across 34 states, ministering to about 46,800 Maronite Catholics from California to Ohio and Michigan to Alabama.

"We pray for the repose of his soul, and give thanks to God for all of the lives that Bishop Shaheen has touched in his extraordinary life" said Bishop A. Elias Zaidan, the eparchy's current bishop and successor to Bishop Shaheen.

Visitation for Bishop Shaheen will take place Aug. 16 at St. Raymond Maronite Cathedral in St. Louis from noon until the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at 7 p.m.

Another visitation is planned for St. Anthony Maronite Church in Danbury Aug. 20 He will be buried from St. Anthony the morning of Aug. 21.

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis in an Aug. 10 statement said he was saddened to hear of the death of Bishop Shaheen, "a good friend and a beloved shepherd of the Maronite Catholic community."

"I ask that the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis join me in praying for the repose of the soul of Bishop Shaheen," he said. "Bishop Elias Zaidan and the faithful of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers."

When he retired, Bishop Shaheen had called St. Louis home for nearly 47 years; in retirement he split his time between St. Louis and Danbury.

"St. Louis has been part of my life for almost 47 years," said Bishop Shaheen, who was third-generation Lebanese. "It's become my home more than in Connecticut where I was born."

He was ordained May 2, 1964, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington by then-Bishop Francis M. Zayek, the founding bishop of the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn, New York, established in 1972. It is the other U.S. Maronite Catholic diocese.

In 1967, when he was assigned to be pastor of St. Raymond, then-Father Shaheen became the first Maronite priest to serve at St. Raymond in more than 20 years.

Largely credited with leading the renewal of the LaSalle Park neighborhood south of downtown St. Louis, the future bishop led the parish through a large capital program including the construction of a new church, rectory, hall and eparchal center over the years of his pastoral ministry.

Robert Joseph Shaheen was born to Albert and Aileen Shaheen in Danbury. He attended St. Peter Grammar School and Danbury High School before entering the Latin Church's St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut, in 1955. In 1958, he transferred to the Eastern Catholic Church's St. Basil Seminary in Methuen, Massachusetts, while attending classes at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire.

When he was named St. Raymond's pastor, the parish had been without a resident priest for over 20 years. Under his leadership, St. Raymond's went from just a few faithful parishioners using a four-family apartment to eventually a cathedral with hundreds of active families.

From 1965 to 1970, he organized and celebrated Maronite liturgies on a regular basis. He also developed newsletters, bulletins, and fliers; conducted a census to identify Maronites in the greater metropolitan area; and introduced spiritual and cultural programs, including Maronite religious education classes. He hosted the National Apostolate of Maronites Convention in 1970.

Kicking-off a fund drive for new church in 1971, he later dedicated a new church in November 1975 and a new rectory in February 1977. He was ordained an archpriest in September 1978, and dedicated a new parish center "The Cedars" in November 1979.

On March 31, 1986, Shaheen was ordained a chorbishop by Archbishop Zayek. He purchased additional property and buildings for future development as a Maronite retirement center and cultural center in 1991, and again hosted the National Apostolate of Maronites Convention in 1995.

After he was named to head the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, he was consecrated a bishop Feb. 15, 2001, at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica by Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, then leader of the world's Maronite Catholics.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017