It was with a combination of surprise and sadness that I read a detailed and generous obituary in Thursday’s Globe and Mail of the death and legacy of the Montreal priest, John Walsh.
His death was sudden and the impact in the Montreal community particularly, and in the Canadian Catholic community generally, has been immediate and effusive.
Walsh’s priestly ministry was expansive, ecumenical, indeed interfaith, his openness to the non-Catholic world treasured by legions of people, his sheer delight in life and capacity for Hibernian merriment, inexhaustible.
We never met. But I knew of him. His willingness to stand by his beleaguered coreligionist, former Prime Minister Paul Martin, his prodigious support for those suffering from mental health issues, addiction, the homeless through his non-profit Nazareth Community, and his capacity for empathy and for solidarity genuine and universal defined him. A man of many parts, he was a priest for the people, non-clerical, with the “smell of the sheep” about him. He was a priest in the Pope Francis mold long before we had a Pope Francis.
As the Archdiocese of Montreal noted: “Father John, as he preferred to be known, was an Irish-Catholic Quebecer and a dyed-in-the-wool Montréalais who sought to make a difference wherever he went. A people person, he engaged effortlessly and in the same friendly, reassuring way with politicians and pundits, with the marginalized and with the movers and shakers.”
He was a model of effective pastoral ministry. A character in his time—larger than life.