Emily M. Shea, 78, a lifelong area resident who was active in religious organizations, died of respiratory failure Sunday at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda.

Mrs. Shea was a native of Washington and a graduate of the Notre Dame academy and Trinity College. She worked as a family case worker for Catholic Charities until her 1929 marriage to William Fletcher Shea.

She was a member of the Catholic Daughters of America and the women's auxiliary of the Lions Club.

Mrs. Shea was active in the sodality at the Nativity Catholic Church in Washington from 1930 until moving to Bethesda in 1962. Since that time she had belonged to Our Lady Of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bethesda.

Mrs. Shea was one of those who greeted Pope John Paul II at Trinity College during the Pope's visit to Washington last year.

In addition to her husband, survivors include a daughter, Mary F. Shea, also of Bethesda; two other daughters, Emily Bohorfoush of Bellevue, Wash., and Cecilia L. Nadonley of Potomac; two sons, John J., of Rockville, and William M., of St. Paul, Minn.; and 22 grandchildren.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to either the Carmelite Sisters of Towson or to Carroll Manor nursing home in Hyattsville.