FATHER Tom Shanahan was a shepherd for two flocks in Tamworth.
On Wednesday, their grief was uniform.
Whether it was in the cloth of the clergy, in suits adorned with military medals or the plain-clothed parishioners, there was a thread which bound them all inside St Nicholas’ church.
It was the love for a local priest who cared for all, regardless of the cloth they were cut from.
It goes without saying he was our favourite priest.Father Richard Gleeson
Though technically retired, Father Tom continued to visit local nursing homes and offer benediction at military remembrance services as recently as November.
He passed away aged 86 at Nioka on December 22.
Whether it was people who knew him best as father, uncle or padre, it was assured by all he would not be forgotten.
The pews in the church were filled with extra seating and speakers set up outside to accommodate the mourners.
While Father Tom served as a priest in a number of towns in the New England and North West, his time in Vietnam as a military chaplain from 1965 to 1970 left a lasting and profound influence on the rest of his life.
He was heavily involved with the Tamworth RSL sub-branch, where he served a term as president, and proudly marched on Anzac Day.
“He had a great love and true dedication to returned service persons and their families,” Father Richard Gleeson said in his eulogy.
“Especially in times of sickness, need and death.
“He was a man and a priest of the people.”
In his latter years, while maintaining his RSL chaplaincy, Father Tom was on hand to comfort patients at Tamara Private Hospital and at seven nursing homes, “visiting about 20 people or so, minimum, each week”.
“He has always taken an interest in us,” Father Gleeson said.
“It goes without saying he was our favourite priest.
“He became known and loved by so many simply because he cared about many and he did love them.”
Before a graveside committal service at the Lincoln Grove cemetery, sub-branch members draped Father Tom’s coffin in an Australian flag, an RSL banner and his slouch hat.