'You Answer God's Call When It Comes. You May Act on It Now or You May Act on It Later.'

Grand Rapid Press (Michigan)
June 2, 2002

Michael Walsh was ready to enter the priesthood 20 years ago, but a more pressing matter intervened. His mother needed a place to live.

So Walsh, who had just retired after two decades in the Air Force, bought a house in his native Boston and took his mother in. For the next 12 years, he provided company and comfort to Elizabeth Walsh, a widow who had tired of living alone.

But the call to spiritual life, which had tugged at Walsh's sleeve since his boyhood confirmation ceremony, was not done with him yet. After his mother's death in 1995, Walsh moved to Florida. There he met an Air Force chaplain, the Rev. Phillip Nguyen, who encouraged him to think more about the ministry. I'm too old, Walsh protested. God, apparently, would hear none of that.

Thanks to Nguyen, now a Holland priest, Walsh met with diocesan leaders, including Bishop Robert Rose, and eventually found himself the oldest student in his seminary classes.

"You answer God's call when it comes," says Walsh, 65, a jovial, ruddy-cheeked Irishman with a Boston brogue. "You may act on it now or you may act on it later.

"It seems to be the story of my life that I act on it later," he adds with a chuckle.

Walsh is convinced a lifetime of hard work has prepared him to be a compassionate minister for however long he has left.

His preparation began on the unforgiving streets of Charlestown, a poor Irish district of Boston. His father was a laborer and his mother cleaned hotels while raising nine children. Two others died at childbirth, and one of Walsh's brothers died fighting a fire. He thinks the hard-knock upbringing helped steer him to ministry.

"Being poor in a lot of ways is a blessing. You learn to appreciate you don't need a lot of stuff. You have more concern for your brothers and sisters."

Walsh quit high school and joined the Air Force, earning his dilpoma after his four-year hitch was up. But he found himself in nowhere jobs and returned five years later to the military, where in 20 years his posts included Okinawa, Vietnam and Mississippi.

After the Air Force, Walsh worked at the Boston post office and as a city parking director, still wondering at times whether he was supposed to be a priest. He got his answer while living at Christopher House, the diocese's residence for aspiring priests, where he took classes at Aquinas College. He then entered a four-year program at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, tackling tough texts and getting help from classmates generations younger.

Summers, he got practical experience closer to home, working at Pine Rest Christian Hospital and the past two summers at Holy Family parish in Caledonia.

During Walsh's time at the fast-growing, rural parish, he's become well-loved among church members, said Holy Family's pastor, the Rev. David LeBlanc.

"He has a lot of experience in different aspects of life," LeBlanc says. "That helps him out when dealing with people."

"If you've gotten your hands dirty ... you can relate more easily to people who come with the everyday problems of life," Walsh agrees.

"I don't want to do miracles," he said. "I just want to be able to hold someone's hand when they've lost a loved one, bury their dead and baptize their newborns."

Walsh said he is grateful for the chance to minister for as long as God allows.

"Being a priest and trying to show people the love of God -- if you do it for a year, that's marvelous."


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