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Published: Wednesday, 2/11/2009

Getting to know community was priority for priest

The Rev. James Walsh, 81, a Roman Catholic priest who for a half-century served northwest Ohio parishes, died Sunday in Rosary Care Center at the Sisters of St. Francis in Sylvania, where he had been about six weeks.

He had heart problems and diabetes, but the cause of death was not known, niece Nancy Chew said. Her mother, Janet Blust, was his twin.

He retired July 1, 2004, from his assignment at St. Anthony Church, Milan, where he was pastor since July, 1985.

He made it a point to be part of the community, wherever he was. "In his last assignment, he was pretty well known in the area, mixing with the different community churches," his niece said.

He was a familiar sight astride his motor scooter, whether zipping around town or visiting a parishioner in the country.

"He got around pretty well," his niece said. "He liked to be on the move."

He was assigned to St. Rose Church in Lima in 1971 and was pastor there until July 1, 1985.

A native of St. John parish in Lima, he was returning to the relatives and friends who knew him.

"That was home," his niece said. She added that his mother, Marie, was still living, and "a lot of people knew [her] and respected her quite a bit."

Father Walsh had dual assignments as pastor of St. James in Kansas, Ohio, and St. Mary in Millersville from October, 1968, to October, 1971.

"He was very cheerful," said Ginny Hull, a longtime member of St. James. "I think everybody liked him very well. He had quite a sense of humor."

He was an assistant pastor of St. Patrick of Heatherdowns in Toledo from October, 1967, to October, 1968. For a year before that, he was an instructor at Lima Central Catholic High School and an assistant pastor at St. Charles Church in Lima.

Father Walsh was ordained in May, 1954, by Bishop George Rehring and was assigned in June as an assistant pastor at St. Joseph Church, Tiffin, where he served until October, 1966.

"His love and service to the Lord was important," his niece said. "He also worked very well with people."

He came from a large family with a strong religious background, one of eight siblings and one of only two boys. He attended seminary from ninth grade on at St. Meinrad in Indiana and received a bachelor's degree in 1950. He also attended St. Peter Seminary in London, Ont.

His late sister Mary, known in the family as "Sally," became a Franciscan sister, had a master's degree, was a school principal, and, at St. Joseph Church in Maumee, a pastoral assistant. Both he and Sister Adrian, as she was known, shared an expansive view of women's role in the church, their niece said.

"He was a very smart man, and his vision of the church probably was ahead of himself," his niece said. "He welcomed women in the ministry."

He had a series of vans and, when he had a few days off, he traveled to "the Smokies or Florida or Alabama or visited his sisters up in Wisconsin," his niece said. "The man traveled quite extensively to every state in the United States [and] over in Europe."

He was a "gentle lion," his niece said - unwavering in some of his views, but "he had a compassion.

"Children were drawn to the man," his niece said. "I remember as a little girl, we'd see his car turning the corner, and all the neighborhood kids would start running. Of course his Dum Dum suckers had something to do with that."

Surviving are his sisters, Rosemary Hinkfuss and Ruth Bruin.

The body will be in St. Anthony Church, Milan, from 5 to

8:30 p.m. today. Services will be at

11:30 a.m. tomorrow in St. John the Evangelist Church, Lima, where the body will be after

9:30 a.m. Arrangements are by the Coyle Funeral Home, Toledo.

The family suggests tributes to the American Heart Association, Hospice of Northwest Ohio, or St. Anthony Church, Milan.



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