Published in Miami Herald 12/23/2001 two days after Monsignor’s passing.
He was my friend. And yours. Even if you didn’t know that . Maybe you didn’t even know him. He shared with everybody his great warmth and an Irish smile and arms wide open. No one embraced our community with more honest love and compassion than Monsignor Bryan Walsh.
We were friends for years, but I never called him by his first name. He always was “Monsignor”. Despite his insistence. I never could, even on vacation. That was the way I was raised. The way I will always think of him. Most of all, it was the respect he deserved.
His obituary Friday reminded us of his fame for what he did to bring 14,000 Cuban children to America so that they would not grow up under a Communist dictatorship. But the greatness of the man, the Monsignor, is that he stood up for everybody. Every shade of skin. He was Irish Catholic to the core, and catholic-universal-just as deep.
If the Cubans hurt, he hurt and helped. If the Haitians hurt, he hurt and helped. If the African Americans hurt, he hurt and helped. If Jewish people hurt, he hurt and helped. That went for everybody.
A stereotypically “simple parish priest” he wasn’t. When the Dr. Joe Greer and Lawrence families went to Ireland with him as a guide a few years ago, we were not permitted to be frugal if it meant missing staying overnights in two expensive castles. He had sailboats, not big ones, in the two countries he loved the most-this one and his native Ireland, where he lived and wandered in his tiny boat for weeks on end.
He loved to eat, and he loved to talk. He was a good listener, too. He was a student of history and a man who loved books and loved to discuss them. What he loved-Ireland quickly comes to mind- he took great joy in sharing.
Yes, he took time to smell the roses. I don’t remember him any happier than when he took us on a mid-afternoon stroll through an Irish park filled with roses.
They guy grew up in the grimy city of Limerick just around the corner from Frank McCourt, who later described those times in the bestseller Angela’s Ashes. He never forgot where he came from.
More than half of us in this community were born, like the Monsignor, in another country; most of the rest of us came from somewhere much different from Miami. No one worked harder than Monsignor Walsh to bring us together.
He loved politics, and he loved people. He wasn’t shy about saying what he thought. He said and thought things about how best to achieve a democratic Cuba, and other difficult matters, that others just didn’t like. Others took positions that were “easier”, more politically palatable. Not the Monsignor. He spoke up. Always graciously. Never harshly. A gentleman. A gentle man.
There are in our midst people of rock-hard integrity, people of gracious good humor, people of God-loving values, people of energetic purposefulness-and the very few who are all of these. Thank God for bringing us Bryan Walsh.