Rev. T.S. Tracy, a singing priest, 74

Thomas S. Tracy
Thomas S. Tracy
Posted: July 26, 2014

The Rev. Thomas Shawn Tracy, 74, an Augustinian priest in Villanova known for his singing and songwriting, died Sunday, July 20, of congestive heart failure at Lankenau Hospital.

Father Tracy was a gentle, low-key man who saw the Scriptures as poetry, and whose special gift was in setting music to that poetry, and later in creating music as an accompaniment for quiet contemplation, said his nephew Michael Dolan.

Thrust into the New York folk scene of the mid-1960s when he was assigned to St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, Father Tracy became a spiritual troubadour. He began writing and playing a folk-inspired style of liturgical music with parishioners from St. Nicholas, and went on to record 10 albums, Dolan said.

During that period, he attended New York Theological Seminary and received a master's degree in pastoral counseling. He became active with a youth ministry, and with another group for the disabled, and brought the two together in spiritual retreats, his nephew said.

Working with the disabled was especially important to Father Tracy. "Shawn showed that all people were valued by God, and he brought joy, music, and companionship to individuals with challenges along their spiritual journey," Dolan said.

In 1975, Father Tracy was assigned to serve in campus ministry at Villanova University. He continued writing music, and brought together his Bronx friends with worshipers at Villanova to create another group called He Shall Be Peace.

In the 1970s and '80s, he rarely went anywhere without his guitar or his Irish setter, Katie O'Toole, said those who knew him.

In 1995, Father Tracy stepped down from the post of campus ministry director to devote more time to music, liturgy, and retreats. He assembled a musical group called Sanctuary, an evolution of He Shall Be Peace. His music changed, becoming an accompaniment for spiritual contemplation, Dolan said.

In 2007, he was assigned to St. Augustine Friary, Villanova. He moved to the Residential Care Center at St. Thomas of Villanova Monastery in December 2013 due to health reasons.

Born in Washington, he graduated from Archbishop Carroll High School there, and from Villanova in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in philosophy.

Father Tracy pursued theological studies at Augustinian College in Washington for four years ending in 1967. He was ordained to the priesthood on Nov. 19, 1966, at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington.

When not ministering, "he enjoyed escaping to nature with a good book, his dog, and his guitar," Dolan said.

Besides his nephew, he is survived by a brother, sister, and other nephews.

A Funeral Mass was celebrated Thursday. Burial will be Friday, July 25, at 10:30 a.m. in Calvary Cemetery.


bcook@phillynews.com

610-313-8102

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