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Pedro Pan Stories
My Monsignor: A Truly Charming Person
Written by the late Carlos Muller and edited and translated by Elena Muller Garcia
My father, Carlos Muller, met Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh during his short visit in Havana to attend the funeral of Cardenal Manual Arteaga on March 21, 1963. I recently found among a collection of my father’s writings, a report he wrote after the memorable encounter that profoundly impacted his life. My brother Javier, who was then in his mid- twenties, had left Cuba almost exactly a year earlier, and was residing with relatives a few blocks away from St. Raphael Hall. What follows are segments of a much longer narrative that paint with words a close up portrait of the monsignor whose name, explains my father, he did not manage to remember, but that as we read the description we realize without any doubt that it is of Monsignor Walsh.
March 23, 1963
Last Thursday afternoon, I witnessed the arrival at the church of three Catholic dignitaries from Miami who came to attend the funeral of Cardenal Arteaga. They were Bishop Coleman F. Carroll and two of his assisting secretaries. One was Monsignor John Fitzpatrick and the other one whose name I could not retain in my mind is the object of interest in what I am going to narrate here. The arrival in Havana of these three Catholic hierarchs produced in our society the usual commotion. From the morning on and during their stay at the cathedral, the people of Havana were filled with enthusiasm by their presence and approached them with many questions, requests and, I assume, also with verbal messages, such as mine.
At one point, shortly before the departure of the funeral procession, and when the Monsignor was vesting in the sacristy of the church, I was one of the privileged ones who was able to approach him. I overheard a myriad questions about trips, visa waivers, etc., to which the priest replied affectionately but without giving hope to the petitioners. He spoke Spanish fairly well and he treated all with care, interest and love, but without delving too deeply into some of the inquiries. The last question I heard was in Spanish, since some of the people (men and women of every social class) would speak to him in English, and the lady in question asked: “Monsignor, what do you think of the Cubans who are over there? Reply: “WE LOVE THEM ALL VERY MUCH AND THEY SEEM TO US TO BE VERY GOOD.”
When I was finally able to talk to him our conversation went like this:
“Monsignor, do you know Monsignor Alfredo Muller?”
“Yes, of course. Where is he? Is he here?”
“Yes, Monsignor, he is by the catafalque. I am his brother.” Then I went on to ask him: “Do you know my brother who lives in Miami?”
He paused and thought for a little while and then asked me, very enthusiastically and with a radiant smile on his face: “A tall young man, thin, who wears glasses who attends Mass and goes to communion every day in ‘my’ church?” I realized that he was talking about my son Javier and I replied: “Monsignor that is my son.” Then something spectacular happened, there, in the midst of all those present and to everyone’s surprise. He threw his arms on my shoulders and answered: “YOUR SON IS A SAINT, A LITTLE SAINT… He attends Mass every morning and he receives communion in the little church.” You can imagine the emotion I felt, and how confounded I was. I limited myself to accepting his embrace by putting my arms under his (for he is very tall and his arms were far above my shoulders) speechless and finally, overcoming the initial emotion, I savored the moment looking at that living body surrounded by my arms… thinking that he was daily so close to Javier, and imagining that I was embracing a PART OF MY SON. After a few seconds we separated and then I asked him to tell Javier next time he saw him that he had seen me and that we were all doing very well. I felt overwhelmed, content, happy, emotionally moved, confused and perplexed!
I note here that “my” Monsignor signed many missals, devotional books, holy cards, etc., that people brought for him to sign, and that he said his last name many times, which I did not retain in my memory. People thought that he was the bishop; but he would make it clear that he was only a “Monsignor.” He wore a purple cassock and a cap of the same color with a pretty tassel. “My” Monsignor is tall, blond, and has a wide face; he uses glasses with a metallic frame and a very light color; he is beardless, and has rose-colored complexion; nice features; a typical Saxon. He treats people very kindly and speaks in a gentle tone; his voice is clear and well pitched… In short, he truly is a charming person.
BRYAN O WALSH - a priest, a friend, a mentor
By Juan J. Sosa
He stood tall before me and looked majestic. To a fifteen year old, the overwhelming presence of the House Director, who literally “called the shots”, became both overpowering and necessary. I had heard of the “punishments” he imparted on the “not-so-good” boys of St. Raphael’s Hall because they broke the curfew or simply did not adhere to rules. But I also heard that the use of “la paleta” was done with utmost care and responsibility (even I was called to his office once and got to experience one “hit” from la paleta). He cared for each of the boys as a father for his children. And, over the years, they responded to that care and concern, even if at the time, during their adolescence, they wore the robe of immaturity to hide the pain of separation from their families.
As time went by, I became aware of his concern for others in many ways. He attended my graduations from St. John Vianney and St. Vincent de Paul Seminaries, and when I was ordained a priest he was my “padrino” (the priest-friend-father who vests the newly ordained). We attended weddings, baptisms and funerals together of some of the people we knew in common, who had been part of that period of our lives. He attended many more, of course, as many as he could, of the many Pedro Pan children who, as adults, called him to share a significant or a sad moment in their lives.
Father/Monsignor Bryan O Walsh was involved in the personal concerns of “his” children and in the social concerns of Miami-Dade and many other areas of our country. His presence in Catholic Charities became a symbol of “care” for all who needed assistance, as witnessed by all who saw him involved in the plight of the Haitian community long before they became so visible in South Florida. He represented the Catholic Church well, despite the criticisms of those who resented his leadership, or who displayed more insecurities by dissenting with him when he persisted in whatever he believed needed to be done.
Father/Monsignor Walsh did not need his robes to feel secure. He did not hide behind his titles and accolades (many of which had been given to him by civic and ecumenical leaders throughout the years) to be an honest and selfless leader of the needy among us. He displayed a clear sense of direction in his decision-making process and was never afraid of the consequences that such decisions carried. In most cases, he had already calculated the consequences before the decisions became public.
At St. Raphael’s Hall, at age fifteen, I had spoken with three other Chaplains about my vocation. They all suggested that I should wait another year before choosing the vocation to the priesthood. Some of my friends were already going to the Seminary, and I had decided on this choice late that summer. In retrospect, I now believe that the original recommendation of the Chaplains was wise; maybe I was just entering the Seminary because my friends were entering as well. Was it a true vocation? Time would tell!
But when I went to see Father Walsh about my interest in the priesthood, his face beamed with joy and excitement. He must have seen right through all possible arguments against it. If I was sure, he was sure. Although I had already been accepted to conclude my senior year at Archbishop Curley High School, I entered St. John Vianney Seminary that fall (September 1962) as a junior in High School (I was too young to be a senior). At St. John Vianney, I lived through the Cuban-missile Crisis in the news and television, and began to miss my family much more. It was then that I began to understand that the journey toward reunion had been delayed indefinitely (it took five more years for my parents to arrive in Miami).
Father/Msgr. Walsh visited Cuba only once, in 1963, and just for a day, accompanying Bishop Coleman Carroll, the first bishop of Miami, to the funeral of Cardinal Manuel Arteaga. Later on, he would share the story of how, at the Cathedral of Havana, after the Funeral Mass, he perceived the anxiety and despair of those attending and thought of the children who were already in Miami or dispersed throughout the United States. Who were these people?; probably, the parents and/or relatives of the many Pedro Pan children. How did they know that he was there in Havana for this special occasion? How did the word spread that he was coming? No one knows to date how so many knew, but he brought many envelopes with him when he returned to Miami with Bishop Carroll. He always spoke of this experience with emotion and affection.
My first year at the Seminary, in 1962, I realized how much longer the journey toward priesthood would be: ten long years of study and formation. In more than one occasion I reflected on whether I would reach my goal or not. It seemed so far ahead and so many things could happen. Today, after thirty-nine years as a priest, I give thanks to God for the prayers of all who saw through my own limitations and weaknesses and saw me as a priest in the service of God and His people. Even after many years later, when we worked together with Archbishop McCarthy, I know that Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh was always one of them. For his joy and excitement, for his concern for others, and now for his intercession, I will always be grateful!
I was with Monsignor Bryan O. Walsh from February 9, 1961 through the first week in December of 1963. During that time and in later years I was blessed to have Monsignor as my father. Yes, he was the only father I ever knew and he was also my best friend.
The first week of my stay at Casa Carrion he asked me about a discrepancy with one of my last names. I explained the situation and he immediately understood. A couple of days later when I asked him not to send me out of Miami because I would run away, he smiled.
Once I pulled a sneaky on Mr. Carrion. I told him that I was going to spend the weekend with my grandmother, but I was really spending it with a friend from N.C. On Sunday night I came back not knowing one of my uncles had called to see how I was doing and had told Mr. Carrion that my grandmother was in Cuba. Mr. Carrion was not very happy with me. When I came back he told me FATHER wanted to see me. That was the first and last time I got a PALETAZO. I was 18 and that was a first for me, but everything he did was with respect and love.
To me he was the wisest and kindest man I had ever known. I always felt at ease to come to him with any problems or questions. He always had an open door for all of us.
One night, when I was living at St. Raphael’s, we were talking and he looked worried. When I asked, he told me two boys had gone into some mail boxes and gotten in big trouble. They were going to release them to his custody and they were coming to St. Raphael's. He said to me, “Eddie, they can not get in trouble again.”
He used to check every room every night to make sure everybody was there and safe.
On Christmas Eve of ‘61 there were just a few guys going to the dining room since all the others had gone to be with relatives. He looked at me and said, “This is the first time I have seen you sad.” Boy, did he know me! Yes, I was very sad, missing my family.
At graduation night from Curley we took a picture together, the only picture I have of the two of us. After graduation I went to work for the Catholic Welfare Bureau as a messenger. I was at the main office every day and if I knew Father was there, even though Lloydine, his secretary, would say that he was very busy, I would walk in to his office and say hello. He was never too busy to see me.
Later on, puzzled by his plane, his Mercedes and his riches, I asked him why he had chosen to be a priest. He said, “To serve God.” I learned a lot about him with that answer.
On the tenth anniversary of Operation Pedro Pan, Monsignor wrote an article for the Voice about my wife and me and our three children, highlighting the accomplishments of his Pedro Pan children.
Everything that there was to learn about love, honesty, integrity, loyalty and friendship, I learned from Monsignor. I hope someday the world will give him credit for the magnitude of the project and the great job that he did.
As all Pedro Pans, I will always be grateful to him, and I will love him forever.
I knew and I didn't know Msgr. Walsh. I wasn't but I was a Pedro Pan (a different version of it). I left Cuba in 1966 , with my sister when the "freedom flights" resumed. I was 15; she 17. By then the Cuban government did not allow males between the ages of 15-27 to leave the country, because they had a law in place - compulsory military service. What this range of ages did, was in effect skew the emigration during that period of time. Not too many small children came because their parents were in their 20's; many middle age people didn't come because their children were that age- like our parents and brothers. Although I do not have the statistical information for a profile of those who came in the freedom flights, the impression I have in my mind, is that it was largely made up of either parents (one or both) of children who were already here through Pedro Pan, or families with "only girls", or many young women. In any case the dismemberment of the families continued in a different way. In some cases, like in ours, never to be reunited again under one roof.
My late husband Jose Salvador Prince had already come to the United States in 1963, when the Pedro Pan operation was in full swing. At 22 years of age he had left Cuba by been smuggled into the Brazilian Embassy and had been able to get political asylum in Puerto Rico during a technical stop of the plane on its way to Brazil.
He made his way to Miami where his passion for Cuba got him involved in the Pedro Pan airlift. He got in touch with Msgr. Bryan Walsh who, like he used to say, was his first employer. Msgr. made him, and other Cuban young men, like Raul de la Cruz, counselors at the Matecumbe camp. They had a place to live, food on the table, a very small stipend and a feeling that they were doing something for Cuba.
Closer in age to the young boys, these young men became the older brothers of the children who poured into the camp. They lived there, sharing their fate and trying to console them. They were all new at these roles: "orphans" and "big brothers". He used to recount how sometimes after lights out they will hear young boys crying inconsolably in their beds, and how they will try to take them outside, and cheer them up. They will play sports, and Sundays they will drive them to the beach in a van provided by the camp.
Many years later, as we were having dinner in a Miami restaurant with our children and some friends, a man, who was there with his wife and his own children, stood by our table, next to Pepe, and asked him: aren't you Pepe Prince? And when Pepe answered yes, without giving him a chance to stand up, as if moved by an uncontrollable impulse, stretched his arms and hugged him in such a way, that Pepe's face was by his stomach. His eyes filled up with tears. He went on to give his name, the year he was in Matacumbe, and say how many times he had cheered him up in the camp, and how grateful he was to the "escapades" with the counselors.
As the camps closed they all went on to try to "make it" in their new country. Soon they realized that the stay in the United States was not going to be a short one. Unable to continue fighting the government as he had done in Cuba, Pepe and many of those counselors changed gear to be able to have an impact in the direction of their native country. In time, after finishing his Bachelor's Degree Pepe moved to New York to attend the New School for Social Research and marry me. But all that belongs to another story. Three things remained constant in his life, Cuba, his faith and his family.
As far as Msgr. Bryan Walsh, he and Pepe always stayed very close. We always saw Msgr. Walsh when we went to Miami. He used to say that he was "the most Irish of all Cubans and the most Cuban of all Irish". On January 9, 1998, while on vacation in Miami, at age 56 Pepe suffered a massive heart attack that took his life. It was Msgr. Bryan Walsh who rushed to the Coral Gables Hospital to administer the last rites at 5:00 am. A mutual friend whom I had called in desperation phoned him immediately. Always the friend, always the priest, his presence made all the difference at that time.
Now Msgr. Walsh and Pepe are once again together. Not as employer and employee, not as Irish and Cuban, not as American and exiled but as children of the one Father they both so much believed in. I am sure that they still continue to intercede incessantly for Cuba and all its children.
Maria Cristina Beyra (Pepe Prince's wife)
My mother had known of Father Walsh, of course, since I'm a Pedro Pan child. I probably ran into him over and over for two years before I met him. I attended Sts. Peter & Paul School, and I lived across the street from there, so I constantly hung around the place-not to mention the many Saturday detentions I spent helping the nuns clean the convent and the church. Perhaps to me he was just another Irish priest who spoke English with a funny accent. In the summer of 1964, it seemed like the whole eighth grade graduating class was registering to attend Immaculata-LaSalle School in the fall. Financially, I didn't have a chance. My mother, a Cuban refugee, worked in a sewing factory, just to pay for the two-room efficiency where we lived. My father had arrived in April of that year, very sick, straight form a hospital in Madrid. I had just about given hope of going to ILS, but my mother said she would ask Father Walsh for help. She had never met him face to face, and she took me with her to translate the meeting, only to find out that Father Walsh spoke fluent Spanish. He spoke like a Cuban with an Irish accent. I don't know what was said, because I was a little kid, not paying attention to the adults' discussion, but I was thrilled to learn that I would be attending school with my friends. I went to ILS for the next four years, thanks to the generosity of Father Walsh. But our story doesn't end there. A year later, in October of 1965, my father passed away. Once more, my mother walked across the street with a heavy heart, para hablar con el padre-to speak to the priest. We didn't have any money to pay for the burial grounds. Father Walsh donated a burial plot at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami, and my father was buried there. In my book, Black Beans and Rice-Growing Up Cuban, I have acknowledged the big role that Monsignor Bryan Walsh played in my life. "Special thanks to Monsignor Bryan Walsh who not only helped me get to this country through Operation Pedro Pan, but he also paid for my Catholic education in Miami, Florida. how could I ever thank him enough? I hope God has a special place saved for that man." He's the only man who, though he remained celibate all his life, is "father" to over 14,000 children. I hope he's looking down at us, with his crinkly, smiling eyes, and I hope he's proud of us. No, there's no pride in heaven, but there's pride down here, and we're all Oh so proud of him. Our Monsignor Walsh, may he rest in glory.
Martha M. Russ