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'He served the last, the least and the lost'

Memorial Mass on 10th anniversary of Msgr. Bryan Walsh's death

Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski on Dec. 20 at St. Michael the Archangel for the repose of the soul of Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh on the 10th anniversary of his death.

Today, we gather to remember to the Lord Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh – we pray with gratitude for all that this priest of God represented to us here in the Church of Florida and beyond. Msgr. Walsh was a tireless advocate for the poor, the refugee, the immigrant and the marginalized. And many of you here this evening remember him as your surrogate father for his leadership with the Pedro Pan program 50 years ago.

His list of accomplishments as a priest of the Archdiocese of Miami and as a civic leader is unparalleled. Of course, in recent years, as the story of Pedro Pan has been better publicized, he is remembered, and rightly so, for his role in helping resettle some 14,000 children sent, at great sacrifice and pain by their parents, to the safety of the United States. But he also was directed of Catholic Charities over four decades, and in this role, he was a prominent civil leader – or perhaps to put it in more accurate terms – he was the conscience of this community. He never tired of cajoling, advising, lobbying, admonishing our civic and political leaders to do the right thing.

One right thing that was accomplished by Bryan Walsh’s behind the scenes work was the passage of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

As I mentioned he led Catholic Charities (which over the years had many different names, from Catholic Welfare Bureau, Catholic Community Services to Catholic Charities as it is called now.) He also helped establish Catholic Health Services, Catholic Hospice, the Florida Community Loan Fund – just to mention some.

But his reach went far beyond South Florida. After he died, I met in Latin America a bishop from Bolivia who told me that upon word of his death special Masses were celebrated for him there. In Rome, I met laymen working with Caritas Scotland who told me that they quite spontaneously organized a wake in their country to remember Msgr. Walsh.

He did great things for our community – and for his Lord – because he was before anything else a great Churchman. He was a priest. He lived as each of us is challenged to live today: convinced that God matters; and that because God matters, so does the greatest work of his hands, the human person. I think we can explain all that Msgr. Walsh did – and who he was – by saying he believed and lived in the conviction that God matters – and because God matters, so do God’s people. As a priest he served the last, the least and the lost.

Ten years ago today when as auxiliary bishop of Miami, and Msgr. Walsh’s successor at Catholic Charities, I was informed that the surgery to repair his heart had not been successful and that his time was very short, I went with my secretary – who had served him so well over so many years, Vicky Rezola -- to Mercy Hospital. There I joined Archbishop Favalora and a couple of other priests to accompany Monsignor in his last moments on this earth. He was grateful for our presence – and together with him we prayed the Rosary, repeating those same words we heard in today’s Gospel reading: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you….” The doctor who attended him was one of the Pedro Pan boys.

“Be not afraid”, the angel tells Mary. And after a lifetime in the service of the Lord, confident in his mercies, Bryan Walsh went home to the Lord – unafraid and serenely.

Today, as we remember him as a dedicated and devoted priest of incredible talents that he used for the good of the Church and the people committed to his care, we also pray for him. Since he was a priest and conscious that we priests all carry an “incredible treasure” in “earthen vessels” he would be the first one to ask us for our continued prayers.

“Hail Mary, full of grace… Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."

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