May 26, 2015
When Monsignor Walsh was ordained in 1955, he figured he’d end up as a happy pastor in some small parish. All of his classmates were getting assigned parishes, yet he remained an assistant.
After four years as an assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s in Dickinson, the wait was over, but it wasn’t what he’d expected. He received a letter from Bishop Hacker asking him to come to work in the chancellor’s office. Being the obedient priest, he went without hesitation.
“I always told my fellow priests that the voice of our bishop is the closest thing they will hear to the voice of God,” he said with a smile. “You always listen to your bishop.”
He worked at the chancery for more than 10 years before being assigned back to St. Patrick’s for 13 years. Then came another request from another bishop. This time it was Bishop Kinney asking him to serve as vicar general.
So he returned to Bismarck to take on the new duties, as well as pastor at the parishes of New Salem and Almont. “I did whatever bishop asked,” he said. “I’ve always said that obedience is the hardest virtue we have to practice, but it becomes easy when we are doing God’s work.”
During this time, Msgr. also served as vicar for presbyters as well as director of vocations from 1991-1998.
“Vocations was one of the hardest assignments I’ve ever had to tackle in my time,” he explained. “At age 63, I figured I was far too old to take that on. But it turned out to be very beautiful. It was unheard of for an older priest to be assigned this, but I loved it.”
Still more responsibility, and perhaps the greatest of all, was added in 1995 when the college of consultors elected him the administrator of the diocese after Bishop Kinney left and before Bishop Zipfel was installed.
“I guess they thought I didn’t have enough to do,” he joked. “It was very daunting, but through my work in other roles such as vicar general, vocations, I knew the people. The priests and diocese staff gave me their support. It was wonderful.”
He admits 20 months was a long wait between bishops, but he cherishes that time when he basically did everything a bishop does but ordain. The one priest ordination that year of 1996 was Msgr. Tom Richter. Bishop William Treinen of the Diocese of Boise returned to the area to celebrate his 50
th anniversary of ordination with his classmates. While here, he agreed to ordain Msgr. Richter. Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Lawrence Welsh, came to help out ordaining the deacons that year and Bishop Kinney returned for Chrism Mass.
Monsignor Walsh was delighted to welcome Bishop Zipfel when it was announced on New Year’s Eve of 1996 that he was to become the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Bismarck.
Now at age 87, Msgr. reflects on his time and numerous jobs. “All of my assignments have been surprises to me. But turned out to be wonderful surprises,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with so many wonderful experiences.”
He notes his role as chancellor during the Second Vatican Council as a memorable time. He served as a go-between with the bishop and priests. “Bishop Hacker attended the council meetings and would write letters back to me of all the changes. I would then make that information available to the priests keeping them informed and prepared.”
Monsignor saved those letters and they are stored in the diocese archives to preserve that historical time.
Officially retired since 1998, Msgr. still remains active and conducts Mass once a week at a parish near his house in Tucson, Ariz. For the first time in years, he returned to spend the summer on the ranch near Bismarck, the house he resided in before moving to Tucson about four years ago. He hopes to spend a relaxing summer there with his beloved rescue dog, Duffy, and reconnect with old friends from the diocese, before returning to Arizona for the winter.
After all these years he’s quick to call his life as a priest a true privilege. “I still celebrate the Eucharist every morning. That is the highlight of every priest’s life,” he notes. “Being able to serve the people is a real honor and all the lasting friendships are wonderful.”