They were priests together; now they have died together

Published January 27, 2007

ST. LEO - They grew up together as priests. Patrick Shelton and David Draim studied theology together in Berkeley, Calif., in an atmosphere of protest and social consciousness. They made their vows as Benedictine monks within a year of each other and were ordained in the early 1970s. In parallel ministries, they worked in Catholic parishes and, for a time, Saint Leo Abbey.

This week, they died together.

Shelton, former abbot of Saint Leo Abbey, and Draim, who worked there with men entering the monastic life, were killed in a car crash Tuesday in Scotland County, N.C. The North Carolina Highway Patrol said the priests - Shelton, 77, and Draim, 63 - were driving on a rural highway about 4 p.m. Tuesday when they crossed into the path of an oncoming semitrailer truck. Both were pronounced dead at the scene.

They left Saint Leo in 1996, but their influence remains.

Brother Felix Augustin, 59, arrived at the abbey during their tenure. He remembers being steeped in social justice issues, traveling to protests at military bases in the late 1980s and early 1990s and at the Florida State Prison in Starke ahead of prisoner executions.

"The first thing I noticed," Augustin said, "was the social consciousness."

That was the tone Shelton set as abbot, who is the father figure of the community. During his tenure, the abbey formed a chapter of Amnesty International, a global human rights organization, and was active with Pax Christi, a Catholic peace group. Today, an aging Pax Christi monument stands outside the abbey church proclaiming, in four languages, "May Peace Prevail on Earth."

For several years, Augustin said, the abbey housed college students from Latin American countries who attended Saint Leo University on scholarships sponsored by the abbey.

Brother James Hallett, who made his vows in 1990, said Draim assigned reading from eastern religious texts, not just Christian doctrine.

Hallett had fond personal memories too. He remembered now and then seeing Shelton sitting with his dog outside the monks' communal home overlooking Clear Lake. He said Draim was a beekeeper.

When Hallett was struggling with the transition to a monastic life, he said, Draim was always supportive.

"He would let me talk, and he would listen," Hallett said. "He would also be very affirming about his perception of me."

Their departure from Saint Leo is something of a mystery. Augustin said they were forced out by the monastic order that oversees the 21 abbeys in the American-Cassinese Congregation. Hallett said the ouster was not related to their work in social issues.

Shelton and Draim left Saint Leo in 1996, four years after the order investigated the abbey's procedures and finances. The outcome of that investigation was not made public.

Shelton was the last abbot. Saint Leo, which is home to eight priests and 14 brothers, is currently led by an administrator who functions more like a manager.

Since 1997, Shelton had been pastor of St. James the Greater Church in Hamlet, N.C. Draim was associate pastor.

"There was a strong bond," Hallett said. "They encouraged each other and worked well together."

They are being remembered in numerous ways. The bishop of the Diocese of Charlotte celebrated Mass for them this week. Saint Leo will have services Tuesday and Wednesday.

The brothers are remembering them during daily prayers. At 7 a.m., Augustin said, they ask God to excuse any mistakes Shelton and Draim made during their lives. The other 20 monasteries in the congregation are doing the same. And for the next month, a candle will burn in the dining room at the spot where each used to sit.

They will be buried in the cemetery on the neighboring Saint Leo University campus. Shelton and Draim will join three previous abbots and 87 religious men who lie there in the grassy field next to a new dormitory.

Fast Facts:

Funeral information

Wake will be at Saint Leo Abbey at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Mass of Resurrection will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Burial will follow at the Abbey Cemetery.