Sr. Alice Walsh receives Catholic Missions In Canada’s St. Joseph Award from former Canadian prime minister John Turner. Photo By Ruane Remy.

A new beginning at 65 for Sr. Walsh

  • May 8, 2014

TORONTO - Sr. Alice Walsh was excited to accept the position of pastoral minister of Our Lady of Fatima parish in Piccadilly, a remote town in Newfoundland and Labrador. But a month into her new post, the priest who arrived to celebrate Mass asked her if she realized that she was the one in charge. No, she said, I’m not. Yes, you are, he replied, telling her to read the bishop’s letter. And he was right.

So, at the retirement age of 65, it was a new beginning for the now 85-year-old Walsh as she began what she calls a rich, hands-on learning experience, one that would teach the former school principal that she was capable of more than she thought.

Now after 20 years of running a parish, Walsh was honoured with Catholic Missions In Canada’s St. Joseph Award for outstanding missionary service. Every year, Catholic Missions recognizes a Canadian missionary whose dedication to their ministry has significantly affected the mission community in which he or she serves. Former prime minister John Turner presented the award to Walsh at the 2014 Taste of Heaven Gala May 1, an annual fundraiser for Catholic Missions.

Walsh was born in 1928 in Kilbride, St. John’s, and raised in the Grand Falls-Windsor area. She entered religious life in 1948, becoming part of the Presentation Congregation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She taught in schools and served as principal for years throughout the province.

Walsh is full of tales from her teaching days. She recalls letting high school students convince her to dance at parties she chaperoned. She felt awkward, but survived by just following their lead. And Walsh, whose birthday is on Halloween, recalls one year when her students asked her to trick-or-treat with them. She chuckles when she reminisces about touring the town dressed as a “real vagabond.”

Walsh was also Superior at the Motherhouse in St. John’s from 1989 to 1991.

On Sept. 1, 1993, she began her pastoral ministry at Our Lady of Fatima in Piccadilly, serving the surrounding areas of Port au Prince Peninsula on Newfoundland’s west coast. Walsh had reached a crossroads in her life, literally and figuratively; the parish was literally located at the crossroads between towns in the peninsula.

“Yes, I did have fears. First of all, I had studied ministry, but they didn’t teach me to run a parish. And so I had to learn so many things. I had to learn how to baptize a child. I had to learn how to officiate at weddings. I had to learn how to celebrate the liturgy of the word and funeral liturgies,” she said. “I started to move into the life of the people, gradually. And I got to know them.”

She already had her master’s in pastoral studies from Loyola University in Chicago and a certificate in theology from Providence College in Rhode Island. So she went to work, learning on the job. Walsh began to run marriage courses and baptismal sessions and confirmation to Grades 7 and 8. But she gives credit to the support she received from others, including Geraldine Tourout, a retired teacher who worked towards a certificate in ministry to serve her parish.

“I have a lot of people who worked with me. It was a tremendous experience. Learning really kept me on my toes and kept me fully alive. So I never got bored with my ministry because everything was new and different,” she said.

Though she still finds her work “very energizing,” she will move onto a smaller ministry this fall. Thanking the Presentation Sisters for sending her to Piccadilly, the bishop, priests, donors and numerous people who have supported her ministry, she says, “I have loved and appreciated ministering to God’s people.”

In the last two decades, she has learned the importance of communication and sensitivity, the depth of her patience and her endurance for dealing with crises. When people were in need, she would help them and if she couldn’t, she’d find help for them.

“What really has strengthened my ministry in the parish, in communication with people, is listening and availability, being available when the need is there,” said Walsh, “and I think that these two factors blossomed in my life and to me that’s an achievement.”

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