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Fr. Walsh lived life of service

  • October 25, 2019

A select circle of Fr. John Walsh’s oldest friends used to call him Jeeves. He had played the role of the uber-competent, deadpan butler in a student play in his seminary days.

“The name stuck,” said Scarboro Missions superior Fr. Jack Lynch. “All during the years, it was ‘Jeeves this’ and ‘Jeeves that.’ I kept thinking about it and you know that probably that name epitomizes the servant role that John lived. John was quiet, was welcoming — that’s just the way he was. It was given to him as a nickname at that time, but it really described his personality and his ministry.”

Within two weeks of a surprise diagnosis of stage-four cancer, Walsh died peacefully at home in Presentation Manor on Oct. 12. He was 85 years old.

He had been ordained as a Scarboro Mission priest in his hometown of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, in 1960, studied Spanish in Cuernavaca, Mexico, then began life as a missionary in the Dominican Republic just in time to see a CIA-funded coup assassinate the corrupt dictator Rafael Trujillo. 

By 1969 Walsh was called home to serve the Scarboro Mission community, overseeing ongoing formation for Scarboro Missions seminarians and priests, forming them for a post-Vatican II Church. By 1972 he was editor of the Scarboro Missions magazine and he became deeply involved in the lives of Latin American expatriates in exile in Toronto, while most of Latin America was being ruled by military regimes.

In 1976 he became co-director with Arturo Chacon from Chile of the Ecumenical Forum of Canada. In the 1980s he was installed as the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace’s education director for English Canada, organizing fall education campaigns and letter writing campaigns on behalf of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo — Argentinian mothers and grandmothers who weekly demanded that their government account for their missing children.

His work in social justice led him naturally into interfaith dialogue, helping to establish the Interfaith Desk at Scarboro Missions. He was also involved in the Becoming Neighbours ministry established by the Sisters of St. Joseph and other religious communities in Toronto to assist refugees and other newcomers. 

“When I talk to people now, people who come from around the parishes where he helped out, the thing that they remember most about John is (he was) compassionate, heartfelt and always focused on the individual,” Lynch said.

A Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated for Walsh Oct. 19. His ashes are to be interred in South Rustico, P.E.I.

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