"When I'm with my Peruvian friends, I'm more alive."

An Albany native, Rev. Thomas Shea, CSC, wore a wooden cross over an unassuming red t-shirt that read, "Huanchaco, Peru."

Huanchaco is in Peru's Trujillo province. It's one of the regions -- along with Chimbote, Puno and Tacna -- where he served during his 41 years of ministry in Latin America as a Holy Cross Father.

During his interview with The Evangelist, Father Shea was joined by Rev. Jorge Mallea, a native Peruvian priest and teacher he has known for three decades.

On June 22, Father Mallea joined Father Shea's family members, American friends and some other Peruvian compadres to honor Father Shea for his 50th anniversary of priestly life. There was a Mass at Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Latham and a party planned by the missionary's cousins at the Colonie Elks Club.

"It's a celebration of our life," Father Shea noted. "I'm who I am because of all these people, plus my Peruvian experience."

This was not the first golden jubilee celebration for the priest. During a trip to Peru in May, his former congregation had what he called "an indigenous celebration" for him, with a party that lasted 12 hours.

Father Shea continues that relaxed Peruvian lifestyle in his own daily routines in Cocoa Beach, Fla., where he has been living with 10 other Holy Cross missionaries since 2009. All semi-retired, they've come "full circle" as they have finished active ministry and moved in together after many years.

Father Shea loves taking walks on the beach, swimming at the YMCA, and reading and praying on the house's deck overlooking the ocean -- all activities he finds very spiritual. He also enjoys sharing emails on faith-related issues he cares about, from aiding undocumented immigrants and refugees globally to serving the homosexual community.

The priest still uses his Spanish skills regularly, helping out at a few parishes in the Orlando Diocese that have strong Hispanic communities.

"I do Sunday liturgy, usually in Spanish, and sometimes I do a Mass in English to help them out," he told The Evangelist. "I do Bible study in Spanish for that parish and another parish nearby."

Anecdotes about Peru often find their way into his homilies. Father Shea recently finished writing a book titled, "Gracias, Peru," that recounts his experiences serving in the country that became his adopted home.

"I loved my years in Peru. I'm grateful that I was there, rather than here. The Church was much more alive," he said, citing Peru's method of having laypeople and clergy listen to one another and share thoughts as equals. "We were working for the people and what the people needed."

Father Shea also taught religion in the public school system in Peru, leading discussion-based lessons for his students.

"He is involved with the people," Father Mallea said. "He works in a participative, circular way. He has a lot of friends. The people like his style -- the way he is joyful and simple."

During their visit to the Albany Diocese, Fathers Shea and Mallea stayed with Brothers of the Holy Cross at St. Joseph's Center in Valatie, meeting friends including old mentor Brother Renatus Foldenauer.

"I'm grateful for my 50 years in the priesthood, and that I'm 76," Father Shea said of his jubilee. "I pray for good health and that I can continue being of some service to the Church in Florida, and continue my visits to Peru. Not much more."

Actually, he admitted, there is one more area of ministry he'd like to try, since he loves travel: serving as a chaplain on cruise ships.

His adventure continues.