Two Irish Priests…and a missing parishioner

By Sabina Clarke

The disappearance of West Chester University senior Shane Montgomery, a member of St. John the Baptist Church in Manayunk, has shaken and confounded the FBI, the Fifth District Police, the Northwest Detectives, the Police Marine Unit, the Police Canine Unit, and the Aviation Unit–all agencies assigned to the case.

Federal agents have been combing Main Street in Manayunk along with hundreds of volunteers, friends and family members in an effort to find the missing college student whose disappearance  has had a devastating impact on the Manayunk Roxborough community  and  on two Irish Roman Catholic priests in particular—Father James Lyons the former pastor of St. John the Baptist Church who knew Shane and his family personally and Monsignor Kevin Lawrence, the current pastor of St. John the Baptist who has met with Shane’s parents Karen and Kevin and his brother Tom since Shane’s disappearance.

Shane had been pub hopping with his cousin Tim Wittman and ended up at Kildare’s Irish Pub on Main Street in Manayunk where they met up with friends. After leaving the bar alone close to closing time, Shane vanished without a trace in the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day—only hours away from when families gather to count their blessings.


Father James Lyons

Until this past Wednesday, December 10th, there was not a trace of Shane. It was as if he had disappeared into thin air—no witnesses, no sightings, nothing captured on video despite the proliferation of businesses on Main Street on one of the most highly trafficked nights of the year for college students home on break.

The exasperating lack of clues left the entire community frustrated and law enforcement baffled. Then this past Wednesday, Dec. 10th, there was a big break in the case when Christie’s Nail Salon, a business on Main Street, accidentally retrieved a frame on their store video capturing Shane crossing a bridge on Main Street leading to a parking lot. The video, which is being withheld by the police, also indicated that Shane never returned from the parking lot.

After speaking with Shane’s aunt, Marianne Wittman, the family’s spokesperson for media inquiries, I met with St. John the Baptist’s pastor Monsignor Lawrence who  said  that he and his parish have  been “deeply traumatized”  by Shane’s disappearance .

St. John the Baptist parish is Monsignor Lawrence’s third pastorate, having previously served at St. Timothy’s in Mayfair and St. Malachy’s in North Philadelphia. He talked about the special vigil mass for Shane the Saturday after Thanksgiving which followed the huge search effort by hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who came to help that day.

Monsignor Lawrence said, “I am doing exactly what Shane Montgomery’s family asked of me and the parish community—that is to pray for Shane’s safe return. This trauma of Shane Montgomery missing breaks everyone’s heart. Our hearts go out to his parents, Karen and Kevin and his brother Tom and to all his family. And as brokenhearted as we  all are and as hopeful as we all are, this traumatic event has also demonstrated the heart of this community with the  support, prayers and outpouring of  love it has showered on Shane and his family.”


Msgr. Kevin Lawrence

Father James Lyons, the former pastor of St. John the Baptist—who has close ties with the Montgomery family—is now the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo parish in Drexel Hill. He was assigned to St John the Baptist from 1994 to 1996 before returning to St. John’s and serving as Pastor from 2006 to 2012.

A former Philadelphia police officer, he sees parallels between his former life as a Philadelphia cop and his current priestly vocation, “A lot of times people don’t want to see you unless there is a problem; in both jobs, you are with people at the best of times and at the worst of times.”

Father Lyons knew Shane from grade school through high school, “Shane was a very happy and energetic kid. He came from a very close knit family and was very close to his maternal grandmother.”

Recently Father Lyons  has been looking through some old photos from his time as Pastor at St. John the Baptist and found a photo of both Shane and his cousin Tim at a 4th of July parade on Lyceum Avenue sitting together on the back of an open 1952 Packard convertible with the top down waving to the crowd while he, Father Lyons, sat in the front seat with the driver.

As for the outcome of this case, he said, “Everyone is praying for the best for Shane. We all hope for a positive outcome. And I know that for this family, their faith will help them get through whatever happens.”

As of today December 13th, the investigation into the disappearance of Shane Montgomery is still open and  ongoing with a reward that now stands  at  $65,000  dollars  for information  that may help investigators solve the mystery of  what  happened to Shane Montgomery on the night he disappeared from Main Street in Manayunk  into thin air.

CASE UPDATE:   With the discovery of Shane Montgomery’s keys found at the river’s edge, the search again focuses on the Schuylkill River.  A nine-year employee in the parking lot where  Shane was last seen, showed a broken station lock and said his cashbox  was stolen the night before. He said that on the night Shane went missing, no attendant was on duty. There  is a $65,000 reward for information that will help solve the mystery of what happened to Shane Montgomery on the night he disappeared from Main Street in Manayunk into thin air.