John J. Slevin was born March 4, 1855 in County Longford, Ireland. He attended St. Mary's Seminary and All Hallows College at Dublin, and was ordained June 24, 1878. He then came to St. Paul, and the bishop sent him to Shakopee, where he built a parish house. In 1880 he came to Shieldsville, where he built two churches and a parish house.
In stature Father Slevin was tall and well built, and when he was young, "as supple as a larch." His hair was very black and so were his eyes. He could speak volumes with those black eyes. A disapproving look from Father Slevin equaled a sound threshing from anyone else. In running, jumping, pole vaulting, and other demonstrations of athletic prowess he could, and did, outdo the winners, and would calmly walk away, brushing the dust from his hands.
The man who drove his horse told me this story:
"We were driving home from Faribault one night and overtook a sleigh load of boys. They couldn't see who we were, and they refused to let us pass, and neither would they get out of the way. There were about eight of them in the sleigh box, and they were feeling pretty frisky. They laughed and made fun of me when I tried to pass them, and they would race their team, and get in my way, till I was very annoyed to say the least. Father Slevin told me to pull up close on the right side of them. I did, and he leaped from our cutter into the box with them and slapped them right and left. When they saw who he was you might think the Final Judgment Day had arrived. They got down on their knees and begged his pardon and promised never to do such a thing again. He told them if they didn't want to act like gentlemen on the highway they would not be treated like gentlemen and then he gave them a few extra open-handed slaps for luck. I was never annoyed by those boys again, even when I was alone."
When people start talking about Father Slevin the conversation lasts for hours. Each one remembers some special kindness. Our troubles were his troubles and our joys were his joys. And he had a way with him that made us follow his advice. It has often been said that if Father Slevin told a Shieldsville man to jump in the lake, he would do just that.
In 1900 Father Slevin was taken from us and sent to Faribault. In i 1917 a great honor was bestowed on him. He was vested with the purple robes of Monsignor. Few have attained this office, and it is awarded only to those who have rendered long and faithful service, not only to the welfare of their own parish, but for the betterment of the entire community. The following is taken from Archbishop Ireland's address:
"Need I tell you of the whole-hearted devotion of Father Slevin to you! Did you ever appeal to him for comfort or counsel in vain? Has he not been a true friend to those both within and outside his fold? For those outside his spiritual jurisdiction vie with his Catholic people in doing him honor at this time of his solemn elevation. Glad we are that he whom we all know to be worthy has received such signal honor."
He fell and injured his knee in 1921, and for three years was unable to leave his home. He went to his eternal reward in 1924.
From the Faribault Daily News Nov. 26, 1924:
The funeral for the Right Reverend J. J. Slevin will be held in the Immaculate Conception church Friday morning. Most Reverend Archbishop Dowling will be the celebrant of the pontifical high mass of requiem, assisted by the priests who have associated with the monsignor in his parochial work. Absolution will be given by the Archbishop, who will also preach the sermon.
Office for the dead will be chanted by the priests commencing at ten o'clock, followed by the mass.
Burial will take place at Calvary cemetery.
The body of the deceased, vested in the robes of his office, was placed in the reception room of the residence this forenoon where it may be viewed at any time until two o'clock tomorrow afternoon when it will be placed in the church. The body will be borne to the church in solemn procession.
A guard of honor of the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Order of Foresters and Ancient Order of Hibernians, will keep the dead watch tonight at the residence, and tomorrow night at the church and Friday morning until the services take place. The public, it was announced, will be admitted to the church at any time.
On Friday morning at eight o'clock before the services for the dead are held, a solemn high mass of requiem will be celebrated and all children of the parish will attend the early mass and receive holy communion for the happy repose of the soul of their beloved pastor.
It is requested that flowers be omitted.
Solemn office at 10 o'clock. Mass proper at 10:30.
The following priests will take part in assisting Archbishop Dowling at the mass Friday morning:
Rev. Father Cahill, deacon.
Rev. Father Maloney, sub-deacon.
Msgr. Patrick O'Neill, honorary deacon.
Msgr. J. A. Byron, honorary sub-deacon.
Msgr. H. Moynihan, arch priest.
Rev. Father A. Ziskosky, master of ceremonies.
There will also be a large number of other priests assisting at the ceremony.
Thousands of people are mourning today. They have lost one of their dearest friends.
Monsignor J. J. Slevin, who died yesterday afternoon at his home at 2:30, made a friend every time he met a person and he had been in this territory for 45 years, meeting people almost daily.
For twenty years he was pastor of the parish at Shieldsville before assuming his duties at the Immaculate Conception parish here. Those were the early days in this territory, the days before the automobile and when there were not even many horses. Old settlers were talking today of the long tramps through the woods and over frozen lakes which he took when answering calls to the sick beds of parishioners and in cases when they did not belong to his flock, he was there, ready to encourage and help.
For twenty years he guided his people out there, coming to Shieldsville from Shakopee, where he served for a year and a half after the trip to America from All Hallows college at Dublin, where he completed his training for the priesthood at the age of 24 years.
Father Slevin had not been in Faribault long when the old church burned and in 1902 the structure which now stands on the hill was completed.
Besides the duties of his parish, which was an exceptionally large one, Father Slevin always found time to visit the state schools and hospital and he became a great favorite of the school for the Feeble Minded and school for the Deaf. Father Ryan, assistant to Father Slevin, said yesterday that even up to this day, after three years absence from the institutions because of illness, the people there inquired for him and were anxiously looking for the day when he could make his visits again.
Father Slevin, shortly after coming here, learned the sign language of the deaf and dumb and for over twenty years he taught his group of deaf children at the state school.
He was constantly on duty all these years with the exception of four months' leave in 1914 when he visited his old home in County Longford, Ireland, where the only one of his family, a sister, still lives.
He has three nephews living in St. Louis: Charles L., William and Frank Geraghty, and a niece, Mrs. Johnson also of St. Louis.
Father Slevin's favorite sport was walking, and while enjoying his walks he would make many calls every day to homes of friends and parishioners. A hike to any one of the lakes near Faribault was a common occurrence and he dearly loved to visit the country, to learn of the welfare of his people living in the rural districts.
Although he was not an avowed hunter or fisherman, he could uphold his end among sportsmen in discussing tales of field and lake. He was a man of robust stock, big boned and muscular, with never an ounce of surplus flesh, and he kept in condition and was always in athletic trim.
As told by T. J. McCarthy, who has known him since his corning to this territory, he was the most determined man he has ever known and it was this spirit coupled with his perfect physical build, that made him the man he was in the early days in settling disputes when other means failed. He was respected for his wisdom among his people, for his fairness of mind, and also because he stood by his opinions when he decided on the right side.
After coming to Faribault he adopted the habit of a walk to the down town section every morning, which he maintained up to three years ago, and because of this he had made the acquaintance of every merchant on the streets and he knew the trend of business as well as that of agriculture, keeping exceptionally well posted on topics of the day. This made him a most interesting conversationalist. He died yesterday afternoon and the evening before he called for the evening newspapers and read them through."
His personal bravery, determination, self-control, magnanimity and ability to handle men set him apart from the great mass of men, even though he lived among hardy pioneers. His kindliness, humility and fairness in all things made him beloved of those with whom he associated.
The Father Slevin Club was organized in the summer of 1937. The members are women from the Immaculate Conception and St. Patrick's parishes. They pray to and for Father Slevin and their prayers are answered. They are confident that their dear friend is very close to God.
Meet Shieldsville: The Story of St. Patrick's Parish, Shieldsville, Minnesota.
Mary L. Haggerty, privately published, 1940.