Bishop Emeritus Patrick Walsh RIP


Bishop Patrick Joseph Walsh RIP

Bishop Patrick Walsh was born in April 1931 in Cobh, Co Cork, but his family moved to Belfast when he was 11 years old.

He was educated at St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School, Belfast, before attending Queen’s University, Belfast, from 1948-1952, where he took a BA Degree in Mathematics.

From there he went to the Pontifical Lateran University, Rome for four years, where he obtained a Licentiate in Theology.

Bishop Walsh was ordained on 25th February 1956 in Rome following the completion of his studies there and this was followed by two years in Christ’s College, Cambridge where he obtained a M.Sc. in Mathematics and subsequently also obtained a M.Sc. from Queen’s University.

In 1958 he was appointed to the staff of St. MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower and remained there until 1964, when he was appointed Chaplain to the Catholic students attending Queen’s University.

In 1970 he was appointed President of St. Malachy’s College, Belfast.

Bishop Walsh was ordained as Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Down and Connor in 1983 and in 1991 he was appointed Bishop of Down and Connor.

He was a member of various Episcopal Commissions including Justice and Peace, and Chairman of the Department of Planning and Communications. He was a Trustee of Trocaire, a member of the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the Irish Episcopal Conference, Chairman of the Commission for Clergy, Seminaries, Vocations, a member of the Joint Bio-ethics Committee of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and a member of the Irish Bishops’ Committee for Bioethics.

He was a member of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools and Chairman of the Board of Governors of St. Mary’s University College and Chairman of the Trustees of the four Diocesan Colleges. He was also Chairman of the Trustees of the Mater Hospital.

Bishop Walsh retired on 29th June 2008.


Homily Delivered by Bishop Donal McKeown at Requiem Mass for Bishop Patrick Walsh

2nd January 2024

One of the great strengths of our liturgical tradition is that, at heart, the funeral of each baptised person is essentially the same. There will be many at some funerals. For all sorts of reasons, other funerals will be small. But the format of the Mass and of the final commendation are the same. The words of Job apply to all of us – naked I came into the world and naked I will depart (Job 1:21) We all come before the Lord, not laden with our achievements nor burdened with our failings. We come empty handed with trust in the mercy of God, asking – as we say in the Lord’s Prayer – that our sins be forgiven just as we have forgiven those who sinned against us.

Our scripture readings today are those which were used at the funeral of Bishop Patrick’s sister Mary. They reflect the age-old experience of people of faith. Life is tough. Faith in the Jesus of Calvary could not suggest anything different. Our first reading tells us that ‘it is good to wait in silence for the Lord to save’. St Paul writes to the Romans that ‘we share (Christ’s) sufferings so as to share his glory… what we suffer in this life can never be compared to the glory as yet unrevealed which is waiting for us’.

Like another Patrick fifteen centuries before, young Patrick Walsh came to walk among us as a boy, having spent his first years in Co Cork. He had been born the third of four children nine years after the Irish border was created and a year before the fervour that was generated by the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. Arriving in Northern Ireland must have seemed like coming to an alien land for he had a different accent and few local connections.  But people of faith try to flourish where they are planted. The effects of sin scar every situation. In every place and every situation – in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins in God’s Grandeur:

‘And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell’

But Jesus and his early disciples knew that they had to proclaim the Gospel in the painful concrete realities of first century Judaea, Samaria and Galilee – and then far beyond, in season and out of season. One may sow and other may water – wrote St Paul – but it is God who gives the growth. God’s mercy is to be proclaimed, not merely when things are good but because things are often bad.

In St Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says that when we have done all that we are told to do, we say ‘we have done no more than our duty.’ (Luke 17:10). The son of a civil servant, Bishop Patrick had a strong sense of duty and loyalty to the church in rapidly changing times, whether in education, the Mater Hospital or during the many different sorts of troubles that he had to deal with over the decades.  Leadership is never easy. It is often closer to a crucifixion than to an enthronement. The pain well outweighs the joys. Making decisions in turbulent times is fraught with competing pressures. All a person can do is to seek God’s guidance in prayer, grasp the nettles and trust that in all things God is working for our salvation, even when we get things wrong. For him, that meant trying to make sense of the early student demonstrations in the late 60s, leading a large school when Belfast descended into chaos in the 70s – and then having to accept the awful truth that some his ordained colleagues were capable of serial sexual abuse of children. The one lesson that we learn from Mary and Joseph, the shepherd and the Magi, Simeon and Anna is that God is in the mess, in the wilderness more than in the transient glory of Temple. Those who seek him only in success and among the strong will fail to see him where he lies hidden.

Our Gospel passage is taken from Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper, just before his death on Good Friday. It speaks of Christ’s complete confidence in his Father, despite what lies ahead. Over the least years and months – and especially as the autumn closed in and his good friend Bishop Tony Farquhar died in later November – Bishop Patrick knew that his own death was approaching. He accepted his growing debility with patience. But he could take seriously the words from our first reading – the Lord is good to those who trust him, to the soul that searches for him. The disciples of Jesus know that we all have to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As children of God, we are able to cry out ‘Abba, Father’ – and with Jesus, we can say ‘into our hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.’

Today we lay him to rest in this Cathedral, on the restoration of which he had dedicated so much time and energy before his retirement. Even though he lived a life without ostentation, that 2005 restoration sought to renew the exuberant neo-Gothic ornamentation of the original 19th century building. Gerard Manley Hopkins was a child of that same period, and he wrote of what gave him hope:

‘And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.’

Those who have glimpsed God’s grandeur know that we come before the Lord with empty hands, conscious of our sinfulness but with a yearning heart, trusting that our guilt will be forgiven, and we shall see him face to face.

We commend Bishop Patrick to God. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.