Northern Ireland

Former Bishop of Down and Connor remembered for ‘strong sense of duty and loyalty to church in rapidly changing times’

Requiem Mass for Bishop Patrick Walsh celebrated in Saint Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, followed by interment afterwards in the ‘Chapel of the Resurrection’ of the Cathedral. PICTURE MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

THE former Bishop of Down and Connor, Patrick Walsh, has been remembered for “a strong sense of duty and loyalty to the church in rapidly changing times”.

Retiring in 2008, he passed away peacefully on Thursday at Nazareth Care Village and his funeral Mass was attended by senior clergy members at St Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast on Tuesday.

A family notice said his death was “deeply regretted” by his brother Michael, sister-in-law Jacqueline, wider family and friends.

Requiem Mass for Bishop Patrick Walsh. PICTURE MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

Born in Cobh, Co Cork, in April 1931 he moved to Belfast at the age of 11 before studying at St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School and Queen’s University Belfast.

Ordained in Rome in 1956, he joined the staff of St MacNissi’s College, Garron Tower, from 1958 until 1964 after which he was appointed as Chaplain to the Catholic students attending Queen’s University.

Appointed President of St Malachy’s College, Belfast, in 1970 he was ordained as Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Down and Connor in 1983 and Bishop of Down and Connor in 1991.

His many other roles included Trustee of Trocaire, a member of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, chairman of the St Mary’s University College and chairman of the Trustees of the Mater Hospital.

Bishop Donal McKeown, now Apostolic Administrator for Down and Connor, told mourners on Tuesday : “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”.

Bishop Donal McKeown, Apostolic Administrator of Down and Connor and Bishop of Derry greets bishops and priests at the funeral. PICTURE MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

The third of four children born nine years after partition, he said moving to Northern Ireland with a different accent and few local connections “must have seemed like coming to an alien land,” but that “people of faith try to flourish whereever they are planted.”

As the son of a civil servant, he said that Bishop Patrick had “a strong sense of duty and loyalty to the church in rapidly changing times,” whether that was in education, at the Mater Hospital or the “many different sorts of troubles that he had to deal with over the decades.”

This including making sense of the early student demonstrations in the late 1960s, leading a large school when Belfast “descended into chaos in the 1970s” as well as learning of the “awful truth” that some of his ordained colleagues were capable of serial sexual abuse of children.

Requiem Mass for the former Bishop of Down and Connor, Patrick Walsh took place on Tuesday. PICTURE MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

After his friend Bishop Anthony Farquhar also died in November, Bishop Walsh knew his own death was approaching and was said to have “accepted his growing debility with patience”.

Bishop McKeown continued: “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.

The service was held at Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast. PICTURE MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)

“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”.

Last week, Bishop McKeown also commented that he would remember Bishop Walsh’s “personal commitment to Catholic education was well known and his robust defence of it will long be remembered”.

Requiem Mass for Bishop Patrick Walsh. PICTURE MAL MCCANN (Mal McCann)