Most Rev. John Walsh, DD, Fourth Bishop and Second Archbishop of Toronto
By Monsignor Vincent Foy
A great good gift of Ireland to Toronto was its second Archbishop, John Walsh, successor to Archbishop Lynch. He was born in the parish of Mooncoin, County Kilkenny, Ireland, on May 23rd, 1830. After philosophical studies at St. John’s College, Waterford, he felt called to the Missions, and left for Canada in April of 1852. He entered the Grand Seminary of Montreal as a student for the Diocese of Toronto. Archbishop de Charbonnel ordained him priest on November 1st, 1854, in St. Michael’s Cathedral.
At first Father Walsh was attached to no particular parish, but was sent where he was needed. In 1855 he was appointed to the Brock Mission on Lake Simcoe, where he was its first resident pastor. In 1857 he was named parish priest of St. Mary’s in Toronto and was chaplain to Loretto Convent. He became known for his zeal and genial personality and was considered a fine pulpit orator. Shortly after Archbishop Lynch was consecrated in 1859, Father Walsh was appointed rector of St. Michael’s Cathedral. During the visit of the Prince of Wales to Toronto in 1860, the Orange Order tried to have all welcoming bodies pass under an arch dedicated to the glories of Orangeism. Father Walsh, appealing to Protestants and Catholics and the secretary of the Prince of Wales, organized a group of prominent citizens to request the cancellation of this plan. The appeal was successful and it was reported that “Orangeism received a blow from which it did not rally for years.”
On Easter Sunday of 1862, Father Walsh was named Vicar General of Toronto and the same year was reappointed pastor of St. Mary’s parish. In 1863 he attended the third Provincial Council of Quebec as theologian to Archbishop Lynch. After a trip to Ireland the next year he was busy inside and outside his parish. He preached at the blessing of the bell at St. Michael’s Cathedral in 1866 and at the laying of the cornerstone of the church at Guelph the same year.
In 1867 the bishop of Sandwich retired because of ill health and Father John Walsh was named his successor. His consecration took place on November 10th, 1867 in St. Michael’s Cathedral and his installation at Sandwich on November 14th. The following year he transferred the episcopal residence to London, where it had been previously. He was officially confirmed as second bishop of London on October 3rd, 1869.
For almost twenty years Bishop Walsh served as bishop of London. In three years he liquidated a large debt. He built churches, schools, and promoted priestly vocations. His tireless efforts undermined his health for a time, and he was unable to attend the Vatican Council of 1870.
Bishop Walsh wrote many fine pastoral letters, including an erudite treatise on the magisterial authority of the Church and a letter promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart. In 1875 Gladstone published a pamphlet attacking papal infallibility and Bishop Walsh wrote a learned essay in defense of the Church’s doctrine.
On May 22nd, 1881, Bishop Walsh laid the cornerstone of the new St. Peter’s Cathedral. The homilist was Archbishop Lynch of Toronto. In 1884 Bishop Walsh assisted at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore.
Archbishop Lynch of Toronto died in May of 1888 and in July of 1889, Bishop Walsh was appointed his successor. His installation took place on August 13th, 1889. Bigotry in Toronto was still rampant. On the way from the station to St.Michael’s Cathedral, the procession of carriages was pelted with stones by a mob of Orangemen. One rock hit the Archbishop on the arm, but the injury was not serious.
The zeal of the new Archbishop was soon evident. In chronological order, here are a few of his achievements:
- In 1891 he added St. John’s Chapel to St. Michael’s Cathedral. The blessing took place on June 7th, 1891. The new building served as a “winter chapel” for weekday Masses.
- In the same year the Archbishop initiated repairs and improved decorations of the Cathedral.
- St.Michael’s Hospital was opened in 1892.
- In 1893 Archbishop Walsh founded St. John’s Industrial School.
- The same year he merged the Catholic Weekly Review and the Irish Canadian into the new Catholic Register, with Fr. John Teefy,CSB., of St. Michael’s College, as editor.
- On July 16th, 1894, he laid the cornerstone of the Hospice of Mount Carmel, Niagara Falls.
- In 1894, also, he founded the St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Children’s’ Aid Society.
On December 19th, 1896, he ordained James Dollard. It is interesting to note that Father Dollard, later Msgr. Dollard, was, like Archbishop Walsh, from Mooncoin, County Kilkenny, Ireland, and that they were related. It was because of this relationship that James Dollard applied for acceptance in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Msgr. Dollard, who died in 1946, was one of Canada’s finest poets.
One of Archbishop Walsh’s last acts before he died was the blessing of the new Mount Hope Cemetery.
In general, Archbishop Walsh curbed extreme nationalism, and fostered good relations within the predominately non-Catholic and even anti-Catholic community. In an 1898 article in the Canadian Christian, an Anglican weekly, we read of Archbishop Walsh, “Being what you are, we wish you were ours.”
Archbishop Walsh was liberal in permitting mixed marriages. In the year he died, about one quarter of all marriages was with non-Catholics. This policy was drastically curtailed by his successor, Archbishop Denis O’Connor.
Archbishop Walsh died on July 30th, 1898. In the 1922 history of St. Paul’s parish, we read that he was buried under the sanctuary of St.Michael’s Cathedral. He was the last Irish born Archbishop of Toronto. Now almost forgotten, we surely owe him our respect, our thanks and our prayers.