Sunday, September 27, 2020
God Speed, Father Jim

Father Jim Shappelle loved Jesus and always tried to serve him in the people he ministered to in his nearly 70 years as a priest. He died June 28 at the age of 91 leaving behind literally thousands of lives he had touched including people at St. Leo’s and the North Fairmount neighborhood where he served from 1970 to 1983.

Always an advocate for social justice he spoke out for racial equality in the turbulent 1960’s. He had a heart for the poor and a commitment to serve those at the margins of society, and was a mentor for many priests now serving in urban ministry, including St. Leo’s pastor Jim Schutte who did summer street ministry with him while he was a seminarian.

Father Shappelle’s care and service was not just to parishioners, but to the entire neighborhood where he was stationed. While at St. Leo’s he encouraged greater outreach and service to the community, a mission that continues to this day.

An avid bicyclist even into his 80’s he preferred biking to driving and often rode his bike to family events and to visit friends, some of whom lived many, many miles away. He was famous for his summer bike hikes and had the energy of someone in their 20’s. When he had some serious health problems about five years ago and was told to wear a life alert he protested, “That’s for old people.” Though illness forced him to slow down and retire from active ministry in 2012, he continued to say Mass on weekends wherever he was needed.

Always the teacher, he compiled a list of “Bible Verses Every Catholic Should Know” that was printed on a card given out at his funeral—complete with bicycle logo. 

He baptized, married, sat at hospitals with, and celebrated funeral Masses not just for his biological family but also for his family of faith and community. A man of prayer and mercy, he was available wherever he was needed—no fanfare—just presence. And people responded. It seemed that everyone in the neighborhood knew him and mourned his death. A community leader said she learned of his death from the route 64 bus driver.


Behind his ever present smile was a mischievous streak that gave light sabers to First Communicants and stopped at a parishioner’s home on cross country snow skis during a blizzard. He liked his cereal with orange juice instead of milk on it and peanut butter was a staple on his hikes in the mountains with parishioners.

 And there are so many stories—when asked to share one the response was frequently “but there were so many.” He may be gone, but his spirit lingers with those whose lives he touched.

At the end of the homily at his funeral Mass, his priest cousin asked members of the congregation to stand if he had baptized them, married them, or grieved with them and buried a family member. Nearly a third of the people in the packed cathedral rose to their feet.

Father Jim Shappelle spent his days living out his commitment to follow and serve Jesus. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

- Angela Anno, Pastoral Associate 


St. Leo The Great Parish

Rev. James R. Schutte, Pastor
2573 St. Leo Place
Cincinnati, OH 45225
513-921-1044 ext. 21


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