“They said you haven’t done anything wrong, but I was still a little bit uncertain,” said Walsh, who has been pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church near WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta since 2008. “I wondered what he could need to see me for the next day.”
Walsh said he was relieved when he arrived and saw other priests going into the building. A total of seven entered a conference room to wait for the archbishop.
“Just at 12:30, he came in and had some files or folders under his arm,” Walsh said. “He said, ‘Good news, you’re all monsignors.’ ”
Walsh was one of nine Atlanta Archdiocese priests (two weren’t in attendance that day) that Gregory recommended as monsignors. Pope Benedict XVI granted the request just before he resigned on Feb. 28.
Walsh said he wasn’t expecting to be named a monsignor because the distinction is handed out so rarely.
“It’s an honor,” Walsh said. “The title is a privilege, recognition for service to the district.”
Gregory praised Walsh, who has served in the Atlanta Archdiocese since 1977.
“I am delighted that Monsignor John Walsh has been named ‘Chaplain of His Holiness’ and recognized with this papal honor by Pope Benedict XVI,” Gregory said. “Monsignor Walsh is one of our finest priests.”
A native of Ireland
Walsh came to the Atlanta area from his native Ireland. Before coming to Marietta, he was a pastor at churches in Conyers and Peachtree City for 10 years each.
Walsh said he enjoys being at St. Joseph, which is attended by about 4,600 families. It has its own school, with 500 students, and sponsors doctors who make mission trips to Guatemala. Walsh said he believes that Pope Francis will share St. Joseph’s emphasis on helping the poor.
The church also serves the needs of a growing Hispanic community, holding bilingual masses on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Walsh said about 2,000 of the families who attend the church are native Spanish speakers.
With the hospital complex across the street, Walsh said priests at St. Joseph are often there to counsel patients or administer last rites.
“One of us priests go back there nearly every day,” he said.
Julia Skeen of Marietta, who has attended Catholic church for all of her 48 years, the last 13 at St. Joseph, said Walsh is a “wonderful priest.”
“Besides the fact that he’s from Ireland, he’s very kindhearted, he’s really welcoming,” Skeen said. “If he’s doing a service and he knows that there’s a lot of people visiting, he always takes time to explain (different) parts of the Mass to them.”