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Obituary: Mons John Walsh an inspiring veteran of priesthood

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Mons John Walsh blesses his parents at his ordination in 1950.
Mons John Walsh blesses his parents at his ordination in 1950.

Born into life: 18 October, 1926
Ordained priest: 22 July, 1950
Born into eternal life: 20 June, 2016

Mons John Walsh was well known and greatly loved by all who knew him: his sisters Elizabeth and Betty; his niece Mary, and nephews Stephen, John, Paul and Greg; and by the bishops and priests concelebrating at this Funeral Mass, as well as the devoted laity of St Mary Magdalene’s parish at Rose Bay.

John and I have been close friends over the past 25 years.

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He was called to his reward two weeks ago after several years suffering from mental illness and gradually declining health.

Just a couple of months short of his 90th birthday, he was one of the veterans of this archdiocese.

He outlived most of his contemporaries. Only one of classmates survives: Fr Eric Burton, a priest of the Parramatta diocese.

I offer my condolences to the members of his family, to his brother priests and to the Rose Bay parishioners.

John’s life as a priest was divided between his time in academia and seminary roles, and in pastoral ministry in Sydney parishes.

He studied for the priesthood at St Columba’s College, Springwood, and St Patrick’s College, Manly, as well as in graduate studies at St Peter’s College, Rome, where he earned a Doctorate in Theology at the Pontifical Urban University in 1960.

Mons Walsh with a friend as students in Rome.
Mons Walsh with a friend as students in Rome.

He held appointments both as a teacher and rector at Springwood for many years and also at Manly where, for a period, he was Dean of the Pontifical Faculty of Theology.

John studied for a time at Louvain and Oxford. He was named a Prelate of Honour by Pope Paul VI in 1986, together with Monsignors Frank Coorey, Kerry Bayada, Greg
Weaver, John Lyne and Bishop Peter Ingham, in response to the request of Cardinal Clancy.

John’s family were well known in Richmond – he attended the parish primary school and boarded at St Joseph’s College, where he completed high school.

At St Joseph’s College John participated in the sporting activities, for which the college was a successful GPS member, and also learned to play the piano, acquiring a love for classical music.

During his years as a seminarian, and in later years teaching in the seminaries, he was very interested in sacred music and liturgy.

He learned to play the organ and to direct the choirs at Springwood and Manly – as many of the priests will remember – and he was a leading member and chairman of the Archdiocese’s Liturgical Commission. He is well remembered for his direction of the choirs and music in this church.

The Preface to our Masses concludes with the congregation singing the hymn of praise “in company with the choirs of angels and saints …”

An American liturgist once told us that when the angels sing for the Lord at the heavenly festivals they sing Bach, but when they celebrate themselves on their own special
occasions they sing Mozart – and that the Lord eavesdrops on them! I am sure John will be playing a part in those musical festivities.

Mons Walsh was closely associated during his time teaching in the seminaries and in his parish ministry with his archbishops, Cardinal James Freeman and Cardinal Edward Clancy.

The Walsh and the Clancy families lived in the western section of Sydney, John’s family at Richmond and the Clancy family at Agnes Banks.

Both archbishops indicated their esteem in correspondence in documents in his folder.

In a letter to John Walsh from his archbishop dated 23 November, 1977, when he was moving from St Columba’s Seminary to the parish of Annandale, Cardinal Freeman wrote: “Firstly, I want to express to you personally my deep appreciation for your work at Springwood over the years. Your own priestly character has been a fine example to the young students and I know many were inspired by it.”

In an interview with The Catholic Weekly on 2 September, 2007, shortly after his retirement, John said: “I always liked to be available to people, that was the key to ministry for me.

“I enjoyed meeting with people, with the children in the schools, and with parishioners in their own homes at special events … When I visit parishioners I try to emphasise that Jesus is my friend and that he is the centre of our lives …”

John spent about 30 years in seminary appointments and about 25 years in parish ministry.

Mons John Walsh
Mons John Walsh

The Gospel reading narrates Matthew’s introduction to the Sermon on the Mount opening with the Beatitudes.

They emphasise the concern of the Lord for the poor and the needy and those who suffer persecution in the cause of right …

The Blessings promised to the merciful and the gentle and to the peace-makers were certainly earned by John, who we know was a kind-hearted, gentle man.

I never heard him speak unkindly or use hurtful words about anyone.

The final section of the Gospel of John (Ch 15) records Jesus’ question to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” and Peter’s very positive response follows.

After entrusting to him the care of his lambs and sheep Jesus says to Peter, “Very truly I tell you when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished, but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and someone will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not want to go …”

Those words could be applied to John’s final years as his strength diminished!

(A special word of appreciation for the care John received during his final years from his niece, Mary, the carers at Holy Spirit, Croydon, and from Michael King on behalf of the Priests’ Retirement Foundation.)

The Wise Man reminds us in the opening line of the first reading that “the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God – they are in peace” .

John Boyle O’Reilly’s poem Forever reminds us as we pray for our dead friend at this Funeral Mass “that those we truly love never die … Well blest are they who have a dear one dead – a friend whose face will never fade … Yes, the anchor of a love is death – a love that never dies …”

May I in conclusion paraphrase the sentiments expressed in the intercessory prayer of Blessed John Henry Newman.

Mons John Walsh was well supported throughout his long life, until in recent years the shades lengthened and in due time the fever of his priestly life was over … We feel assured that God in his loving mercy has welcomed John to a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest forever in peace. Amen.

This is the edited text of the homily delivered by Mons William Mullins at the funeral of Mons John Walsh.

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