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Still Serving the Community after 50 Years:
Celebrating Father John Walsh
Fifty six years ago, a priest
insisted that Father John Walsh take up the priesthood. So he decided he would
give it a shot for one year.
That one year turned into 50.
A half century later, hundreds of people packed St. John Brébeuf Parish to celebrate Walsh's service to the Catholic Church. The crowd even included former Prime Minister Paul Martin and Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre. Martin even likened Walsh to His Holiness.
"We as Catholics are incredibly excited about Pope Francis. We all say what a breath of fresh air he is. Let me just say to you, I too am very proud of Pope Francis, but my breath of fresh air occurred many, many years ago, and it was Father John Walsh," Martin said. Coderre had some kind words of his own and depicted for the audience what Walsh's character is like. "Father Walsh for me is the true definition of resilience, of bringing people together," Coderre said.
Walsh's impact could be understood that day from the hundreds of people who came to celebrate both at the church and after the service at the reception party. "He's very caring and he's always inquiring so your friendship doesn't stop. It just keeps going," said, Natalie Bercovici, who was in attendance at the reception party. In order to get to that 50 year celebration there would be a long road and one that began early on with studying to hone his craft.
Early in his time as a priest, Walsh was invited to study in Rome at Pontifical Biblical Institute. There he studied sacred scripture and after his first year in Italy, he made his way to Israel for one year where he earned a diploma from Hebrew University.
Walsh made his way back to Rome and earned a Licentiate in Biblical Studies from the Pontifical Biblical Institute. While overseas, Walsh says he studied 11 languages in order to properly study the Bible. "That changes your life," Walsh said. "The studies were very demanding."
The involvements that Walsh still contributes to are a long list. He currently has a blog called faithblender.com, he also writes for Laval Families Magazine as a volunteer contributor as well as The Suburban and The Métropolitain, alond with writing for three different newsletters.
In addition to that, Walsh is on the board of directors for the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism as well as the board of directors for the Jewish Public Library. He is also a national honorary director of Magen David Adom, President of the board of Nazareth community, which looks after both Nazareth house and Anne's house who help house 52 people who otherwise would be homeless, Walsh says. However many organizations and involvements he is in, Walsh contributes because he enjoys it. "It's quite a busy life, but a good life," Walsh said.
Those are simply Walsh's current involvements; he's been involved with many other organizations earlier in his career. In order to get involved and take on different tasks, Walsh says you must have an open mind. "You just have to be open to what's available and you find yourself having a wide variety of experiences," Walsh said. "You put those together and you multitask them and that's what the fun part has been."
In fact, being involved and donating his time is how he ultimately met Pope John Paul II. Walsh dedicated one year to helping organize the Pope's visit to Montreal. In return, he was invited to celebrate Eucharist with the Pope in his private chapel at the Vatican. That is simply one achievement in a long list of accomplishments for Walsh.
However, that's not all that Walsh does. Behind the celebration and meeting people there is a general schedule and duties, Walsh says. Throughout his day, there are certain things he can't control like the length of conversations with the public. "When somebody phones you and asks you, ‘Can I have two minutes of your time?’ You know what that means? Two hours of your time," said Walsh. He says he sees being a priest as a doctor's clinic.
In fact, when deciding what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, Walsh could have chosen anything. For Walsh, being a priest meant that you could combine different jobs such as a social worker, doctor and economist. That reasoning helped make his decision.
"I can do a lot of all those things and still add a spiritual dimension to people’s lives," Walsh said. Yet after being a positive influence on so many people, he still won't take all the credit. "I didn't do all that," Walsh said. "You have to do it with people and people were there when I needed them." Ultimately, Walsh sees being a priest as a way to improve another individual's life and in turn he can also better who he is. "In the midst of helping you become a better person. I hope I become a better person," Walsh said.
This 50-year journey has also allowed him to reflect on what he has done. He is aware of how far he has come as someone who grew up with little money. "You sit back and say to yourself that's how you started John. Look where you ended 50 years later," Walsh said.
Now retired since 2010, Walsh still holds services at different churches. Walsh says he plans on continuing to do what he does and that there's a lot that can still be done. He realizes that there is a time limit to one's day, but as he gets older he wants to share the experience that he's had. As long as he has health he said he will continue to stay involved in organizations.
"You try and set yourself in a direction that has meaning for you and that offers meaning to other people. So you just don't rush in to it," Walsh said. Although his path has allowed him to meet many people and help out many causes, none of this was scripted because for Walsh it would have never turned out the way it did.
"You don't plan it," Walsh said. "I mean if you plan it, it never works out."
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