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.