A native New Yorker, Father McShane was born and raised in Manhattan. He entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1967, and was ordained a priest in 1977. He received his bachelor's degree (in English and Philosophy) and his master's degree (in English) from Boston College in 1972. He completed his master's degrees in divinity and sacred theology at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley in 1977, and received his Ph.D. in the History of Christianity from the University of Chicago in 1981.
After teaching at LeMoyne College in Syracuse from 1981 to 1992, Father McShane was named the dean of Fordham College, a post he held until he was named the president of The University of Scranton in 1998. In 2003, he was named the president of Fordham University, the Jesuit University of New York.
He has served on the boards of the American Council on Education, Fordham University, The University of Scranton, Loyola University of New Orleans, Loyola University, Baltimore, Regis High School, Scranton Preparatory School, Canisius High School and Fordham Preparatory School. He also served on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Financing Commission and the New York City Charter Revision Commission. He presently serves on the boards of the Bloomberg Foundation, Canisius College, Santa Clara University, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the YMCA of Greater New York, and is the current Chair of the Board of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.