Archbishop Mark Shirilau is the founder of the Ecumenical Catholic Church, a Christian denomination combining the theology and liturgy of the Church Universal with a liberal approach to social issues.
Mark Steven Shirey was born in Long Beach, California, on December 13, 1955, and baptized at Trinity Lutheran Church on February 26, 1956. He is the son of Kenneth Eugene Shirey and Marjorie Irene (Thorvick) Shirey. Mark lived in Long Beach until moving to Orange County in 1978. He also has a home on the Russian River in northern California and made his primary home there in the 1990s. Mark has master’s degrees in electrical engineering, business, and religion. He graduated from the Episcopal Theological School at Claremont (Bloy House) and received his master’s from the Claremont School of Theology in 1985. Mark received his Ph.D. in electric power systems engineering from the University of California at Irvine in 1989. All Ecumenical Catholic clergy are volunteers, and Mark makes his living as the president of Aloha Systems, a consulting engineering firm specializing in energy efficiency.
Mark met Jeffery Michael Lau on April 25, 1982, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tustin, where Mark was teaching catechism and Jeffery was visiting from Seattle for his sister’s wedding. Jeffery soon moved back home to Orange County to be with Mark, and they were married on November 25, 1984, and legally took the last name “Shirilau,” derived from their two birth surnames. Jeffery died of AIDS in their home in Monte Rio, California, on August 9, 1993.
On December 27, 1987, Mark was ordained in the STC Chapel in Claremont. Soon thereafter Mark and Jeffery (an MCC deacon) began having occasional worship services in their home in Santa Ana. The 500-square-foot “bonus room” was set up as the chapel, and on September 4, 1988, the first publicly announced worship service of St. John Ecumenical Catholic Church was held at 2302 West Adams Street, Santa Ana, California. It was attended by eight people.
The Ecumenical Catholic Church was designed to fill the gap left by the Protestant style of the Metropolitan Community Church and the not-quite-there-yet social politics of the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran churches. It was styled as “the Catholic equivalent of the MCC” and has consistently maintained cordial relationships with both the UFMCC and the mainline denominations on national and local levels (though it is small enough to be essentially ignored by Rome).
On May 19, 1991, Mark was consecrated bishop by Bishop Donald Lawrence Jolly in San Bernardino, California. At Jeffery’s request, Bishop Donald also ordained him deacon since the MCC did not term his reception into the diaconate as an “ordination.” On July 27, 1991, Mark ordained Bruce David LeBlanc, a college professor in Pocatello, Idaho, as the ECC’s second priest. This began the nationwide expansion of the Ecumenical Catholic Church. On December 18, 1992, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Mark ordained Robert Wayne “Marty” Martin and Clifford Randall Lyde as the third and fourth priests.
After Jeffery’s death in 1993, Mark worked on the church and its development full-time for a couple of years. He drove all over the country visiting various parishes, clergy, and candidates for priesthood or diaconate, an endeavor which included about 300,000 miles of highway and enabled him to continue seeing many corners and back roads of the nation. (As one who enjoys travel, Mark had already been to all 50 U.S. states and every Canadian province except the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.) On July 8, 1995, a large celebration was held at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Santa Rosa, California. The ECC’s four regional deans--Richard John Cardarelli of Hartford, Connecticut; Michael Robert Frost of Plattsburgh, New York; Denis Armand Martel of New Orleans, Louisiana; and Robert Wayne Martin of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma--were consecrated bishops. This was the second time in First Congregational’s long history that they saw, participated in, and enjoyed high liturgy, the first time having been Jeffery’s funeral. The only restriction was no incense, since the charcoal caught the carpet on fire at the funeral.
The ECC continued its growth, but not without problems. Politically the promotion from dean to bishop was probably a mistake, as the four did not always agree with one another and were less likely to listen either to their leader or the common vote. Sadly, the problem of schism that has plagued the entire Independent Catholic movement since the 1800s found its way into the ECC. In spite of all the turmoil, Jeffery’s mother Dolores would always put it in proper perspective--regardless of whether they all meet together at conference, whether or not they consider themselves in fellowship with each other, whether they are Ecumenical Catholics or something else, and even if individual clergy don’t like each other--all of the good ministry that all of them do (and they are all good people) was made possible by the ECC and its bold vision. Mark had the theological and administrative skills to put it together and Jeffery had the enthusiasm, drive, and vision to actually push forward to do it.
The year 2011 brought an expansion internationally, and active ministries are growing in Mexico, Latin America, Italy, and other places of the world where the Christian Church is dominated by conservative institutions. TheIglesia Católica Ecumenica has a strong presence in Guadalajara where it provides HIV testing and prevention and other social services along with its religious works, and the Chiesa Cattolica Ecumenica is rapidly expanding in both Sicily and the Italian mainland.
About half of the ECC's clergy have been ordained through the Ecumenical Catholic Church. The others have been clergy of other denominations received into the ECC or holding dual affiliation, including Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. There are small ministries located in various parts of the United States.
Shirilau died of complications from pneumonia on January 12, 2014, while traveling in Sicily, Italy.
(This biographical statement provided by Mark Shirilau and updated by Mark Bowman.)