A much loved Montreal Catholic priest, Father John Emmitt Walsh, passed away suddenly yesterday. He was preparing to celebrate the funeral of a close friend when he suffered a major heart attack. He was seventy-eight.
Father Walsh was many things to many people including, a theologian, a parish priest, a pastor, an author, a professor, a radio host and, my first boss. That was thirty-six years ago. I’d had bosses in summer jobs of course, but this was my first ‘real’ job.
Father Walsh was many things to many people including, a theologian, a parish priest, a pastor, an author, a professor, a radio host and, my first boss
In the early autumn of 1984, then Pope John Paul II visited Canada. The Archdiocese of Montreal decided not to spend money on professionals to organize the Papal events, but rather hired locals to put together the several aspects of the day and a half the Pontiff would be in the city.
One of those events was a Youth Rally at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium; 65,000 people aged fifteen to twenty-five would have a chance to hear from the Pope. Through happenstance, I was hired, fresh out of graduate school, to be the Coordinator of Youth, English Language Services. It was an experience that would mark my life to this day.
Father John Walsh was the person in charge of the English Language element of Montreal’s Papal Visit, and therefore my boss. And a better boss I could not have had.
I can’t begin to figure out how many times in the intervening years, since I spent those months with Father John, that I have found myself in some sort of personal, career, or professional situation and asked myself ‘What would Walsh have done?’.
He was a man of the cloth, and also very much a people-person. He was a bit of a ham, I don’t think he ever met a microphone or camera that he didn’t like. He had a wicked sense of humour. He was a boss, friend, and mentor. He took my name, Deegan, and decided he’d call me Digger.
(often) I have found myself in some sort of personal, career, or professional situation and asked myself ‘What would Walsh have done?’.
He often said to others, about me, that you never saw Digger doing anything, yet you came to know that everything was done and to spec. I have held that observation closely throughout my professional days, and cited it in many job interviews, as a Special Event Organizer, community worker, and coordinator of political conventions.
The last time I saw Father John was about six years ago. It was in early March. He was at a lunch meeting with a group from the local Irish Community in a popular downtown pub. I was having a beer. On his way out we chatted briefly, I offered him a drink, he declined reminding me he always gave up booze for Lent. We exchanged contact info and promised to get together after Easter, but as so often happens we never did.
In a statement the Montreal archdiocese said the Father Walsh had suffered a massive heart attack. It would have taken something of that magnitude to take a man with a massive heart like Father John’s
I was shocked and saddened today when, while enjoying a strangely warm November day in a local park, I received a text from a friend informing me of Father John’s passing. He seemed to be one of those people who you thought would be with us always. In a statement the Montreal archdiocese said the Father Walsh had suffered a massive heart attack. It would have taken something of that magnitude to take a man with a massive heart like Father John’s.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam. Rest in peace Father John. Thank you.