As cold rain and a chill wind scoured Copley Square on Saturday afternoon, some 1,300 mourners gathered at Trinity Church to say a final farewell to the Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, who served as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts for two decades.
He died last month after a 17-month battle with brain cancer. He was 69, and his diagnosis came shortly after he announced plans to retire.
Shaw was a professed monk of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a religous community based in Cambridge. His funeral reflected both his vaunted office and his preference for simplicity.
In an unforgettable moment near the end of the service, Trinity’s rumbling organ and enormous choir were quiet. As incense wafted around them, Shaw’s religious brothers, clad in their black robes, surrounded his wooden casket and chanted the dismissal sung at the monastery each night in the last service before sleep.
Lord, you now have set your servant free
To go in peace as you have promised.
A number of mourners who attended the service spoke afterward about Shaw’s profound spirituality.
“You felt like you were talking to heaven when you talked to him,” said Frankie Brescia of Dorchester, a member of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul downtown, cracking a rueful smile. “He had a pretty direct line up there.”
But they also recalled his sense of humor.
“He got what mattered,” said the Rev. Jep Streit, dean of the cathedral. “And he also got when to hold lightly to things. . . . I’ve never met anyone who was more holy or more unpretentious.”
Brother Geoffrey Tristram, the superior of Shaw’s order, who presided over the service, recalled in his homily how Shaw used to remove his bishop’s pectoral cross upon returning home to the monastery in the evenings. One night, he forgot, and a woman who had come for the evening service asked why he was the only brother wearing a cross.
“And he said straightaway,” Tristram recalled, “ ‘Oh, I’m the monk of the month.’ ”
Tristram remembered Shaw as a visionary, a bishop who was especially good at seeing potential in people, and the possibility of making a difference, of transformation. He found perspective on the world through early morning prayer in his monastic cell.
His daily attention to prayer was “not out of virtue, but out of need,” Tristram said.
Shaw’s passion for social justice and love for young people led him to find ways to end street violence, Tristram said. He redoubled his efforts after young Jorge Fuentes, a 19-year-old star graduate of a diocesan youth program, was gunned down outside his home in September 2012. Tristram said he had never seen Shaw so utterly devastated as he had been after Fuentes’s death.
“He saw that every single individual had been wonderfully created in the image of God, and anything which stopped them. . . . reaching their full glory was not just unjust, but sinful,” he said.
Shaw spoke out in the public square, Tristram said, testifying at the State House, protesting outside the Israeli embassy about the plight of Palestinians, and traveling to Zimbabwe.
The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States, Kathleen Jefferts Schori, attended the funeral, as did a half-dozen other bishops from around the country.
But there was a distinctly familial sensibility to the gathering. Virtually all the Episcopal clergy in the diocese came — not processing, but sitting among the people in the pews. Shaw’s religious brothers served as pallbearers alongside his two biological brothers, Sam and Stephen.
Jackie Drapeau, Shaw’s assistant for 11 years, carried Shaw’s crozier, or bishop’s staff, into the service, where it was placed atop his casket.
“I’ll miss his companionship, his deep spiritual intellect, his love, his sense of humor,” she said in a brief interview earlier.
Linda Davidson, a member of Trinity Church who lives in Newton, said she would recall Shaw’s “gentle spirit and his concern for all humanity.”
Shaw was present when Bishop Alan M. Gates was consecrated as bishop in early September, one of his final public appearances as bishop.
“There is deep grief across the diocese,” Gates said in an interview before the service. “But I think also people are grateful for the time that they have had to make goodbyes, and say thank you.”
Gates said he thought Shaw would have wanted those who attended the funeral to “take away . . . what he wanted people always to take away from his life, which is the sure and certain conviction that God is with us in all times and places.”
The Rev. Kelly O’Connell, who served as an aide to Shaw from 1998 to 2000, traveled from Los Angeles to be at Trinity to say goodbye.
“It was beautiful,” she said. “It was perfect.”
Lisa Wangsness can be reached at email@example.com.