Michael Walsh, class '30
1911 - 1991
My Lord Bishop, Father Provincial, Reverend Fathers and Sisters, relatives and friends of Father Walsh, parishioners of St Vincent’s.
Let me begin by thanking your Parish Priest, Fr McMahon, for inviting me to speak at Fr Walsh’s funeral obsequies here today. I can think of one reason at least why he did so. Ever since my school days at Castleknock and his early years as a newly-ordained priest Fr Walsh and myself have never been apart for long. Over the years we have seen a great deal of each other.
Fr Gardiner told me that when he was preparing the readings for today’s mass he found a well-thumbed leaflet in Fr Walsh’s old missal. It was a mass for the dead. It contained a passage from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, 14:7-12, one, we believe, he read often. We judged we would please him by choosing it for today’s mass. It goes like this:
None of us lives to himself; none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die we die to the Lord.
These words of Paul contain a very profound truth; one, indeed, that we can very easily overlook. To grow in belief of my own self-sufficiency is something that can easily happen. If I live as though I control the events of my own life; if I live as if my destiny is in my own hands, then I am living an erroneous mis-conception. Following his conversion on the road to Damascus Paul became increasingly overwhelmed by the mystery of God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ. This conviction became the driving force that motivated his whole life. In effect he was saying: “Everyone and everything is in God’s hands”.
Today is the feast of St John of the Cross. In one of his writings called his Spiritual Canticle he develops this same idea. Let me read it for you:
There are depths to be fathomed in Christ. He is like a rich mine with many recesses containing treasures. No matter how we try to fathom them, the end is never reached. Rather in each recess we go on finding new veins of new riches.
And he goes on to pray that each of us may be strengthened and rooted in love; that we be given the power to understand the love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge, and thereby to be filled with the fullness of God.
I believe that what I have just said reflects the lived-out convictions of Fr Michael Walsh. In his own private, unassuming, way he was a devout man.
I first came into contact with him in 1938. Having been ordained in the autumn of the previous year he was appointed to the staff of Castleknock College in Dublin. I was then a student at the college. He was to spend the next twenty-five years on the college staff. He filled in succession the offices of teacher, Dean of Discipline, Prefect of Studies and for his last six years he was the college President. During these final years he was my religious superior. I remember him as a man, very dutiful, always well-informed, perhaps over-conscientious, showing fairness to everyone and favour to none. I thought that at times he paid excessive attention to trivial matters; at other times, that he sought to find the complete answer to problems that arose; all of which must have increased the burdens of responsibility. He wanted to get to the root of what was happening. However, that was his nature; he would be satisfied with nothing less. In 1963 his term of office expired. His college career was ended and he was appointed to this parish.
I can only surmise the pain this change caused him. It was a real uprooting. He was called upon to sacrifice the happiness and security of the preceding quarter-century, and head out into the great unknown. But there was no complaint, still less any self-pity. He simply packed his bags and was on his way. With the exception of a few years spent as a bursar in Dublin the remainder of his life was spent here in Sheffield, a total of twenty-six years.
When he arrived at Solly Street he was appointed chaplain to the old Royal Infirmary. That was for him a most fortuitous blessing. It gave him a focus for his ministry. From then on, until it finally closed, he gave it his meticulous attention. I doubt if there were many days when he didn’t visit the Infirmary. If anyone was looking for him and he wasn’t to be found it was a fair guess that he was over there. Subsequently he became chaplain to the King Edward VII Hospital, an office he retained until his death. He became chaplain to the Catholic Nurses’ Guild. He was spiritual director to the Legion of Mary. That he died on the feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception would indeed please him.
With you, people of St Vincent’s, he carved out, over the years, his own niche of respect and esteem. There were many things you admired about him. For example, his sincerity, his honesty, his commitment to his priesthood. Above all I think you admired his integrity — Ah, yes!, his uncompromising integrity. He simply couldn’t be untrue to himself. If that is a characteristic that sometimes irritates, equally it earns admiration and respect. If there were times when someone found him too honest, even too out-spoken — and there were — I’m sure he was forgiven; he was speaking his deepest convictions.
He was, of course, a conservative at heart, conservative in the ecclesial sense of the word. He simply disliked change. He was well into middle age when Vatican II occurred, so he found the subsequent change hard to accept. Deeply rooted in him was a profound love for the Church, which he understood as the flawless “bride of Christ”. Hence he was suspicious of anything that cast doubt on his perception of it. He was always concerned that something precious might be lost which could not be regained. In the same mould was his regard for both the Canon Law of the Church and our own community rules and constitutions.
I recall one day he said to me: “Why is it always taken for granted that something is better because it is new?” It was part of his nature to be loyal to what had stood the test of time and experience. But even if he couldn’t understand, even if much of what was happening went against the grain, his loyalty to his Church and to his community was unwavering.
I know he loved living in community; it was his home. He wasn’t a great conversationalist; in fact he was rather reticent. But he listened carefully to others, and woe betide anyone who made a sweeping statement with which he disagreed! Those of us who lived with him have memories of that!
I will remember him as a humble, unpretentious man, with simple tastes. He loved the countryside. In his young days rugby football was his great interest and, of course, cricket throughout his life. Bird-watching, or a day with gun and dog on the Derbyshire moors was his greatest pleasure. Maybe it was a happy coincidence that his birthday fell on “the glorious twelfth”.
Speaking of “the glorious twelfth”, let me tell you about something that happened on what was to be his last in this world. He was celebrating his 80th birthday. He came in the evening to celebrate mass in Our Lady’s church. He expected to find the usual handful of people present. When he went in he was amazed to find the church crowded, with everything prepared for a major celebration. When the time came for the homily he paused, as he usually did. Then he said:
I’ll be very brief. I have only one thing to say. I would like to ask forgiveness from you all for the many times I have failed you in the past. Please pray for me.
Those present said one could hear the proverbial pin drop. All were deeply moved. One parishioner said afterwards: “That was Fr Michael’s finest hour”.
In the end death came suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly. Those who knew him best felt he had a premonition that time was short. He would never want to be an invalid or a burden on anyone. For that reason I believe the timing and circumstances of his death would please him.
Let me conclude by telling you something that happened the day that Brother Willie was buried. A group was gathered at the graveside reading the names of Vincentians buried in the plot there. Someone asked Fr Michael where he would like to be buried: “Would you like to be taken home to be buried on the hill in Castleknock?” His answer was: “Why should I? Sheffield is my home. I hope to die here. I want to be buried here”. He pointed to a place beside Brother Willie: “That spot will do me nicely”. So today his wish will be fulfilled. We will lay his mortal remains to rest beside his good friend Brother Willie, two of the finest side by side.
May God grant to them both and to the souls of all the faithful departed eternal rest and peace. Amen.
Francis MacMorrow CM
FATHER MICHAEL WALSH CM
Born: Longford 12 August 1911.
Entered the CM: 7 September 1930.
Final vows: 8 September 1932.
Ordained a priest in Clonliffe College by Dr Francis Wall, auxiliary bishop of Dublin, 3 October 1937.
1938-63 St Vincent’s, Castleknock.
1963-66 St Vincent’s, Sheffield.
1966-67 St Paul’s, Raheny.
1967-70 St Peter’s, Phibsboro.
1970-91 St Vincent’s, Sheffield.
Died 8 December 1991.