Father John T. 'Knobby' Walsh, 94; founded parish, campus ministries - Catholic Courier

Father John T. ‘Knobby’ Walsh, 94; founded parish, campus ministries

Father John T. "Knobby" Walsh, the founding pastor of St. Paul Parish in Webster, died Aug. 6, 2012, at the Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Pittsford. He was 94 years old.

Father Walsh grew up in St. Stephen Parish in Geneva. He attended Geneva’s St. Stephen’s School and DeSales High School, and went on to Rochester’s St. Andrew’s and St. Bernard’s seminaries. He was ordained June 3, 1944, by Bishop James E. Kearney at Sacred Heart Cathedral. He completed his graduate studies at Catholic University of America, the universities of Ottawa, Villanova and Marquette, Boston College, the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas. It was during his seminary years that Father Walsh acquired the nickname "Knobby," a reference to the Knobby Walsh character in the old Joe Palooka comic strip.

Father Walsh served as assistant pastor at Immaculate Conception in Ithaca from 1944-50; Holy Cross in Charlotte from 1950-51; St. Margaret Mary in Irondequoit from 1951-54; St. Mary in Elmira from 1954-59; St. Joseph in Penfield from 1959-60; and St. Mary in Auburn from 1960-67. He founded two Catholic campus-ministry programs, serving as Ithaca College’s chaplain from 1944-50 and in the same capacity at Elmira College from 1955-59. He also was Catholic chaplain at Auburn Community College (now Cayuga Community College) from 1960-67.

In April 1967 Father Walsh became founding pastor of St. Paul Parish in Webster, where he remained until his retirement in 1988. In a 2009 Catholic Courier article commemorating his 65th anniversary as a priest, Father Walsh noted how the timing of St. Paul’s founding — two years after the Second Vatican Council concluded — allowed it to be a fully Vatican II parish. "Many people were saying, ‘We’re used to doing it the old way’ — but we (at St. Paul) didn’t have an old way. So, it was a marvelous time to start," he remarked in the article.

"He stimulated so many programs, so much that it helped all of us to grow in our faith," said Marie DeMarco, who with her husband Charles have been St. Paul members since the parish’s early years. "He was truly a beloved pastor."

Father Joseph A. Hart, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the Pastoral Center, resided with Father Walsh from 1981-88 at St. Paul and from 1998-2012 at Our Lady Queen of Peace in Brighton. He described Father Walsh as a priest who "had a great pastoral sense and really wanted people’s input in the management of the parish. He preached brief homilies with an important message but always with a few humorous asides." Father Hart added that "he took great care of the sick, the dying and the bereaved."

Father Walsh had a strong interest in adult education, and a library was begun in his name at St. Paul Parish after he retired.

"We wanted something to honor him that was a very active part of his personality," DeMarco noted.

He also was a passionate aviator, gaining a private pilot’s license in 1950 and maintaining membership in the National Association of Priest Pilots. Father Timothy Brown, a close friend and fellow NAPP member, said Father Walsh looked forward to attending the organization’s national convention each July.

"He loved the camaraderie of fellow priests and pilots," Father Brown said, adding that Father Walsh "was a very proficient pilot and stayed current with flight technology."

Father Brown said that neither he nor Father Walsh owned a plane, but often shared the expense of renting one in Rochester. "We had a great time. We would fly to Alexandria Bay on occasion for lunch, a beautiful flight along the Lake Ontario shore line. Knobby would call those lunches ‘going for the hundred-dollar hamburger,’" remarked Father Brown, who serves as parochial vicar at Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish.

Father Hart added that in addition to his flying exploits, Father Walsh was an avid reader "who enjoyed serious theology as well as pulp fiction."

Upon his retirement, Father Walsh moved to St. Margaret Mary in Irondequoit. In 1998, he took up residence at Our Lady Queen of Peace before moving to the SSJ motherhouse in early 2012.

He is survived by his sister, Mary F. Cabrero; niece, Sheila Cabrero-Heaviside; and grandnephews, Michael and John Heaviside.

Father Walsh will lie in state at St. Paul Church on Wednesday, Aug. 8, beginning at 4 p.m., with evening prayer beginning at 7:30 p.m. His funeral Mass is set for Thursday, Aug. 9, at 10:30 a.m., with Bishop Matthew H. Clark serving as celebrant. Interment will be at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to Seminarian Education Fund, Diocese of Rochester, 1150 Buffalo Road, Rochester, NY 14624.

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