Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Auxiliary Bishop Gerald T. Walsh, who reached the normal retirement age of 75 in April.
The retirement of Bishop Walsh, who serves as vicar for clergy in the archdiocese, was announced in Washington, D.C., Sept. 5 by Msgr. Walter Erbi, charge d’affaires at the Vatican’s nunciature there.
Bishop Walsh has accepted a reappointment by Cardinal Dolan as vicar for clergy for one year.
“I am very grateful to Cardinal Dolan for giving me the opportunity to stay on,” Bishop Walsh said. “I feel that all of us should continue working as well as we can, as long as we can.”
Two words that were never used in conjunction with each other when Bishop Walsh was a seminarian were “priest” and “retire,” he said.
Throughout the archdiocese, “we have a lot of things going on,” the bishop said: “working on helping the schools survive, merging the parishes, looking for vocations.”
Cardinal Dolan, in a statement the day of the announcement, said, “I am grateful that our Holy Father took his time in accepting his retirement, as I have come to know what my predecessors surely did: Bishop Walsh is one of the finest priests I have ever met, whose sole focus has been, and continues to be, serving Jesus and His Church.
“Fortunately, he has assured me that he intends to remain active in his retirement, and I am pleased that he has accepted my offer to reappoint him to his current role as vicar for clergy for a term of one year,” the cardinal added.
Bishop Walsh says his 50 years in the priesthood have “gone by very fast.” He was ordained in 1967 by Cardinal Francis J. Spellman at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
After spending three months in the archdiocese’s Spanish language immersion program in Puerto Rico, he received his first assignment, parochial vicar of Holy Trinity parish in Manhattan.
“When you came back, you stayed at your parents’ house until you got your letter in the mail from Cardinal Spellman, which normally came on a Wednesday, telling you where you were assigned and to be there…Saturday, three days later, in time for the confessions,” Bishop Walsh said.
The next day, after receiving his assignment, he went to see the pastor of Holy Trinity. What happened next set the stage for how personable and pastoral Father Walsh would be throughout his ministry. “I parked my car on Riverside Drive and 82nd Street, and walked up to the church.” En route, he ran into three sixth-grade boys wearing Holy Trinity shirts—“Edmundo, Peter and Anthony,” Bishop Walsh recalled.
He stopped to chat with them and asked if they attended the parish school. They replied that they did and he introduced himself. “I remember that very clearly,” Bishop Walsh said. “And I know where they are now. One has died,” he said of Anthony. “The other is up in Garnerville and the third is in Florida.”
He remained there as a parochial vicar for 13 years and in residence for another nine after he joined the staff of the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities, in 1980, first as the associate director and then the director of family and children’s services.
In 1989, he was named pastor of Incarnation parish in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, a monsignor in 1990 and in 1996 secretary to Cardinal John J. O’Connor. Two years later, he became pastor of St. Elizabeth parish, also in Washington Heights.
He was named vicar for development in 2003, and a year later St. John Paul II appointed Bishop Walsh as an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese. Cardinal Edward Egan ordained Bishop Walsh along with Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan, who is now Bishop of Camden, N.J.
Bishop Walsh served as rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary, 2007-2012, and in that capacity he welcomed Pope Benedict XVI to the seminary in 2008.
He recalled advice he has given to priests about to be ordained. “The most important thing you do every day is the Mass—no one else can do that. So I encourage you, I ask you: be reverent, don’t rush it. If you’re going to give a homily, prepare it. Don’t wing a homily at 7 o’clock in the morning, because it will take 10 minutes; a prepared homily can take two minutes in the weekday morning. These people are going to work. If you’re going to talk 10 minutes, they’re not coming back tomorrow, they’re going to be late for work—no work, no pay,” he said matter-of-factly.
“The second thing is…I would speak of the ‘theology of hanging out.’ Hang out in front of the church after every Mass on Sunday, even the ones you’re not saying—get to know your people. Hang out in front of the school—get to know the kids and their parents. Walk the streets, and go to the hospital. And while you’re in the hospital, even if there’s no one in your parish in the children’s ward, go over there and take a look and see who’s got problems. And the third thing…your home is the rectory…”
He also served as vicar general of the archdiocese, 2013-2014.
Since 2012, Bishop Walsh has served as vicar for clergy and episcopal vicar for the Rockland, Central Westchester, South Shore and Yonkers vicariates and deaneries.
Born in Manhattan, Bishop Walsh graduated in 1959 from Power Memorial Academy there and began studies at Iona College in New Rochelle. He entered St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers in 1961, earning a bachelor’s in philosophy and a master’s of divinity. He earned a master’s degree in social work in 1983 from Fordham University.
“I’ve been very happy,” Bishop Walsh said.
—Catholic News Service contributed to this article.