Outside the gates of Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA, 70-year-old Brother Shamus McGrenra is known for his famed Charity Ride and miraculous survival of stage 4 colon and lung cancer. But on the campus nestled between the farms and forests of western Pennsylvania, he's far more than his many successes.
Born in Philadelphia in 1947, Brother Shamus was the youngest of six children. His parents, Irish immigrants, emphasized the importance of work ethic and family.
"We didn't have much, but I thought I was the richest person in the world because of my mom and dad."
In 1966, he decided to become a Franciscan Friar at the age of 19.
"I wanted to do something for the Lord," he said.
That decision led him to Saint Francis University where he joined the Friary and took a job in the university kitchen. Many of his fondest memories of his mother took place in their family's kitchen, and the modest job struck a cord for Brother Shamus.
"I cooked three meals a day at Mount Assisi. I love talking to the students, the camaraderie. It was almost an extension of my family. I knew that working there, I was in my element."
After graduating from Saint Francis University in 1972, Brother Shamus continued helping students, working in the university's Admissions office. He decided to move on after obtaining his Masters degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 1979.
In 1980, he became the Director of Admissions and Guidance at St. Francis Prep School in Spring Grove, PA, followed by Dean of Admissions, Financial Aid and Registrar at Manor University in Pennsylvania.
He moved to New York City in 1988 and began working at St. Joseph's University in Queens, traveling the world as an advisor in the school's international program. Brother Shamus remained in New York for 22 years, a time he fondly refers to as "the best years of my life".
In 2008, Brother Shamus decided to return to the place his spiritual journey first began, moving back to Saint Francis University in Loretto, PA. There, he began the university's first international program and became intimately involved in the Dorothy Day Outreach Center.
In 2011, Brother Shamus witnessed an emotional exchange between a young mother and a DDOC worker. It was then that he decided to put his pastime of cycling to some good. In 2012, he established the Brother Shamus Charity Bike Ride, earning $12,000 for the Dorothy Day Center. After two successful years of charity rides, Brother Shamus was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 2013.
"I never had a drink of alcohol or smoked a cigarette. I thought I was going to live to 100," Shamus said.
While undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the community rallied around Brother Shamus, raising $30,000 in his honor.
In 2014, after learning the cancer had spread to his lungs and beginning a second round of treatments, Brother Shamus got back on his bike and completed “Five States in Five Days (The Lord Willing) for the DDC".
Now successfully in remission, Brother Shamus looks to complete his 7th annual charity ride. This year will be his most difficult yet, as he aims to start in Bar Harbor, Maine, and canvas the mountains of New England before coming to an end in Jamestown, Virginia.
"I want to do 2 things. I want people to realize the power of prayer, and I want to be an instrument to the person, like me, that there is hope. It’s not a death note. There is life after diagnosis."
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