By Cathy Lins
For the Catholic Herald
MADISON — On November 7, Fr. Jerome Matthias Walsh, O.P., was laid to rest at Resurrection Cemetery in Madison after a Mass of Christian Burial at Blessed Sacrament Church.
Fr. Tom O’Meara, O.P., prior at Blessed Sacrament Priory in Madison, gave the homily, pointing out that while Father Walsh may have seemed unassuming, he lived an extraordinary life.
Jerome Walsh was born on April 10, 1932, to Leonard and Margaret Walsh in Durand, Ill., 100 miles northwest of Chicago. He entered college to study medicine, studying for two years at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
However, he decided to follow his heart. He made his first profession in the Dominican Order on August 31, 1952, receiving the religious name Matthias. He attended the College of St. Thomas Aquinas in River Forest, Ill., receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy.
He spent three years in theological studies at St. Rose of Lima Priory in Dubuque, Iowa. On May 24, 1958, he was ordained a priest and received an advanced degree in theology the following year.
Spreading the faith
We often read about saints who shared and spread the faith in new parts of the world. Father O’Meara pointed out that Father Walsh was one of these missionaries.
From 1959 to 1976, Father Walsh worked in various Dominican ministries in Nigeria, West Africa. At the time he started, Nigeria was still a colony. In 1960, it became an independent country. Father Walsh helped to implant the Church in the new region.
He was vicar general of the Diocese of Sokoto, Nigeria, and pastor for parishes including St. Vincent Ferrer in Malumfashi and Our Lady of Fatima in Gusau. In the 1970s he was a lecturer at the Dominican Seminary of SS. Peter and Paul in Ibadan, Nigeria.
He helped found the Dominican province now existing in Nigeria, serving as its vocation director and novice master. Father O’Meara pointed out that now, 60 years later, there are 20 million Catholics in Nigeria, with five archdioceses and 43 dioceses. There are 100 Dominicans serving in that province.
When he returned to the United States in 1976, Father Walsh served in Minneapolis as a pastor.
Between 1977 and 2000 Father Walsh again worked overseas in the Solomon Islands and Papua, New Guinea, through the Australian Province of Dominicans.
Service in the United States
Upon his return to the U.S., Father Walsh joined Cross International Catholic Outreach to preach as a way of staying connected with and helping people in the developing world.
In his concluding years of service, he was the vocation director and novice master for the Dominican Central Province of St. Albert the Great, as well as director of the Dominican Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus and vicar for Mission Advancement.
Fr. Pat Norris, O.P., noted that “Father Matt loved preaching. And he was good at it. But he also had an internal ministry — a gift that allowed him to be a vocations director and a novice master. Not everyone is good at that part. But he was.”
Helped Lay Dominicans
He also served as a promoter for the Central Province Lay Dominicans, a liaison role between the friars and lay members. A member noted, “Father Matt was well-loved when he served as our hard-working promoter for the Lay Dominicans.”
Father Walsh was assigned in 2005 to limited service, residing at Blessed Sacrament Priory in Madison, where he lived for eight years. Father Walsh, agreed to work with the Blessed Sacrament Parish members who were interested in lay Dominican spirituality.
He helped them establish a formal group within the Central Province. Jean Robertson, O.P., moderator of the Lay Dominican Blessed Sacrament Pro-Chapter, said, “The members are so grateful for the years that Father Matt spent guiding us as our spiritual assistant. He was a wise and holy man.”
“He was such a good listener,” said Jean Tretow-Schmitz, a local parish member at Blessed Sacrament. “He was genuinely interested in what you had to say.”
In April 2013, Father Walsh was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. In a note to fellow Dominicans, he asked that they all pray for his “peaceful transition” home to God. He also expressed gratitude for the wonderful life he had led.
Father Walsh died on November 3 after several months in hospice care in Madison. Members of the Lay Dominicans and the Friars sat with him during the end of his life.
Robertson shared, “At first Father Matt was impatient for God to take him home.” But then he shared with her that he realized that “I just need to get through the next five minutes.”
She said, “He taught me how to die — five minutes at a time. He practiced patience and abiding by God’s timing instead of his own.”
Walsh is survived by his brother, Jim Walsh, of Beloit.
Memorials may be sent to Dominican Friars, Central Province, 2005 South Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL 60608.