A Biography of


Francis Walsh was born on the 19th September 1901 at Cirencester, (the Roman Corinium), in the Cotswold hills, near the Welsh border. His father, James Walsh, was a Customs and Excise Officer, presumably from Co. Galway, Ireland, while his mother, Florence Silley, is thought to have been English. Later on, Fr Walsh described himself as a convert from Anglicanism, and this remark to a convert may explain why he was baptised conditionally at the age of four.

Frank was the second of three sons and two daughters. Some time after his birth, his father was moved to Portsoy on the North East Coast of Scotland. Here, Frank met his lifelong friend and predecessor on the See of Aberdeen, John A Matheson. Together they attended the non-Catholic Fordyce Academy. It was here too, that Frank, probably in company with his father, came to know and love the Eastern glens, famous for their whisky as well as for their illicit stills, where the fiery poteen was brewed. Part of Mr Walsh's duties would have been to control this illicit production and many were the battles of wits between the highlanders and the Excise man . . . Later on, Bishop Walsh loved to retire to Fetternear and Chapletown and to take visitors to see the old farmhouse of Scalan, where there had been a small seminary in penal times.

Some time towards the beginning of the first World War, the two friends went to Blairs, the Scottish National Seminary outside Aberdeen. In 1918 they went on to the old Scots College, founded in 1600 in the Via delle Quattre Fontane, Rome, behind St. Mary-Major. This was before the time of Mussolini; cows still grazed in the partly excavated Forum, a warren of streets led up through the Borgo Sante Spirito to Saint Peter's, which burst suddenly on one's view as one reached St. Peter's Square. The open Campagna came right down to the Aurelian walls, where now there is a spread of suburbs. The traffic was mostly horse-drawn.

The two friends explored the narrow streets, the old monuments, the museums, the churches as well as the trattorias. A year or two ago, the Bishop said to a friend “Father! If only you had known Rome as it was in my time!” He learned to speak Italian very well, and at the time of the Vatican Council, could still make use of the Roman dialect in dealing with the taxi drivers. He also went to every opera he could manage to get to and later, at the Novitiate, could sit down and play whole movements from Italian opera by heart.

The two Scots studied at the Gregorian University, where Frank took his doctorate in Philosophy in 1921 and his doctorate in Theology in 1925. They were ordained subdeacons on the 1st September 1924, and deacons in the following December. They were ordained priests in St. John Lateran on 7th March 1925. Mgr. Clapperton, the Rector, wrote to their Bishop, George H Bennett of Aberdeen: "During the whole of his time here, Fr Walsh has always shown an excellent spirit of piety and exemplary faithfulness to the rule. He has been a conscientious and hard working student. He is very fond of sacred music and has directed our choir very successfully in both Gregorian and Polyphonic chant. I have no hesitation in recommending him to your Lordship as an excellent priest." (21st September 1925).

He had also developed a love for ritual and later, when visiting a friend who shared his enthusiasm for the Sarem rite, he would say with dry Scots humour: "I am going for an injection of Sarum!"

For the next four years he worked as curate in the parish in Inverness. The Bishop appointed him Religious Inspector for the schools of the diocese and diocesan director of the APF.

It is not known when he first came in contact with the White Fathers, though in his letter of application to join the Society, he told Fr Voillard, the Superior General, he had thought for years of becoming a missionary.

Both Fr Howell and Fr Arthur Hughes, the future Archbishop, visited Scotland in 1928 and 1929 on the request of the APF, to help to spread the Association. Fr Hughes visited Mgr Forbes, the rector of the Senior Scottish seminary at Bearsden, outside Glasgow, who is known to have had a picture of Cardinal Lavigerie in his office.

However, he heard of the White Fathers, Fr Walsh applied to join them in 1929, the first British priest to do so. Bishop Bennett wrote to Fr Voillard: “I consider Fr Walsh to be an excellent priest, from all points of view; he is pious, prudent, hardworking, submissive to his superiors and he has good health. I am confident that, if his vocation is confirmed, he will render excellent services in the missions. His leaving us will be a heavy loss, but I feel sure that in giving this priest to the missions, we shall draw down on our diocese, the blessing of God.”

On the 7th October 1929, Fr Walsh landed at Algiers and travelled by tram and on foot out to Maison-Carree. The novices were probably some fifty in number, mostly French-speaking, though there were four or five other British and as many Dutch, with one or two Italians and Swiss. The majority, were French, Belgians and French-speaking Canadians. There were two other Bishops (future) in the group, Bishop Joseph Blomjous and Bishop Jean-Marie Ogez. A fellow novice, Fr Arturo Nanni, an Italian, says he was a happy companion, who took the inevitable difficulties of the situation with a laugh. The two of them, along with another famous character, the late Fr Owen McGee, spent many a happy recreation together under the excuse of teaching Fr Nanni to speak English. Towards the end of the noviciate they all spent some time in Kabylia, and this, as far as one knows, was his only direct contact with the missions.

The Novice Master, Fr Betz, reported on Fr Walsh: "He is pious and faithful to the rule, and is just as zealous and hard-working as he was in Rome. Such regularity and obedience are all the more praiseworthy because for the last few years as parish priest (curate?) he has been more or less master of his own time and activity."

As was the custom of the time, priest novices had to do a year's probation before being admitted to the oath. Fr Walsh spent this time teaching at the Junior Seminary of the Society at Bishop's Waltham, Hants. Here, he initiated both staff and students into the mysteries of Jones' Phonetic Dictionary, though he stoutly defended the cultured Scot's right to pronounce English in his own way.

He was also in charge of the choir and of public reading in the refectory. The chapel served also as the village parish church and here he took his regular share in preaching. His sermons tended to be somewhat academic and one particular learned one, on the proofs of the existence of God, left his largely farming audience impressed, but not very enlightened.

At the end of the year he returned to Maison-Carree, and his superior, Fr Bouniol, reported on him: "He is an outstanding person; throughout the year he has given me complete satisfaction, and he has exercised deep salutary influence on both Fathers and students. He is certainly the best educator on the staff here." He took his missionary oath on 9th September 1931.

On his return to the U.K. he was sent to Scotland to obtain permission to do promotion work and to open a Junior Seminary there. He stayed mainly with old friends from his Scots college days, especially with the late Canon Davitt of Bo’ness and Canon McGarvey of Lochore, Fife. But there were few presbyteries where he was not welcome . . . Scots hospitality is proverbial, and in any case, he was a charming companion.

He arrived by bus or train, carrying with him a heavy case filled with clothes and his habit, and a ponderous projector with a box of large, hand-painted slides on life in the missions. Later, he bought a very old Baby Austin and somehow folded his limbs into it.

The National Council of the Association for the Propagation of the Faith (APF) had been founded in Scotland in 1923, but several years earlier there had been Scots studying at Bishop's Waltham. They came mainly from the Clydebank area and were sent, it is believed, by a Fr Brotherhood. More arrived after Fr Howell and Fr Hughes had visited Scotland, but it was not until Fr Walsh was working regularly in Scotland that the stream became a flood.

Some of the students he sent down to Bishop's Waltham, but others he advised to stay on in Scotland and get their Highers, and then enter the British School of Philosophy at Autreppe in Belgium. He was always a great believer in the influence of a good Catholic home, and a firm supporter of the Scottish educational system.

Many of his recruits have played leading roles in the Province and in the missions: Fr Andrew Murphy became British Provincial after working for years in Uganda, and afterwards founded the house in Australia; Fr Francis Briody was for many years Provincial Bursar; Fr John McNulty pioneered the Credit Union Movement in Ghana; while many others are still doing great work in Seminaries and parishes in Africa and at home.

Archbishop Andrew Joseph Macdonald OSB, of Edinburgh and St. Andrews, readily gave permission for a missionary college to be opened in his diocese.

Through his agent, Fr Walsh acquired a large semi-detached red stone house in Melrose, not far from Abbotsford, the home of General Sir Walter Maxwell-Scott. He was a descendant of Sir Walter Scott, the novelist, via the Hope-Scotts, converts of Cardinal Newman.

There is a private chapel at Abbotsford, where White Fathers said Mass for many years. The new house had rooms for the staff as well as for several postulants. Miss Gallacher and a Miss Macdonald had donated the essential furniture, and Fr Walsh himself arranged the furniture and made the beds.

Fr B Drost, a veteran of Bishop's Waltham, Cleveland and Quebec, who had spent many years as Bursar General in Uganda, was recovering in London from a serious illness.

Brother Modeste, another Dutchman, had been cook at Maison-Carree and for years he had helped Brother Aubert to run the farm and slaughterhouse at Bishop’s Waltham, and had also looked after the lawns and kitchen garden. Fr Drost and Br. Modeste arrived by train at Galashiels on the 15th December 1932. Fr Walsh met them and took them round to the Catholic Presbytery, where Fr Alex O'Donoghue gave them supper.

Then they went by bus to Melrose and found that Fr Walsh had not forgotten to put hot water bottles in their beds to air them. Melrose (Gaelic Maol Ros, the uncultivated peninsular) is famous for the majestic ruins of a large Cistercian monastery, destroyed by the English in the 16th century. The newspapers were quick to remark that the White Fathers had come to replace the White monks of old. There is still a small statue of Our Lady on the village cross, which has somehow survived the iconoclasts.

A few miles over the Eildon hills, lies the village of St. Boswells, named after the Celtic saint who had preached in the district. Here, close to the site of a Roman camp of Trimontium, lies a small mixed farm of Hawkslee, with a hill at one end dominating the rest of the property and overlooking the Tweed valley and the ruins of another Cistercian Abbey, that of Dryburgh.

Unfortunately, the Douglases who farmed it, refused the offer made to them by Fr Walsh's agent. Fr Walsh went to see them himself and, over a cup of tea in the farm kitchen, persuaded these good Presbyterians to sell him the farm at his price for a Catholic missionary college.

Meanwhile, Brother Modeste and the postulants had cleared the wilderness, which was grandiosely called the garden. Very soon, a profitable barter system was established with the district nurses next door, who were intrigued by these monks and especially with this patriarchal figure with a flowing beard.

Visitors began to arrive; Mgr. Clapperton from the Scots College, Mgr. McGettigen VG, who shared Fr Walsh’s enthusiasm for plain chant, the Maxwell-Scotts who gave a statue of the Sacred Heart, Mrs Loftus, a teacher in the local Catholic School, along with her husband, who worked in a paper mill and who adapted two tabernacles, one of which had served in the POW camp at Galashiels during the 1914 war.

Mr Downey, the marine artist, provided the money for buying Hawkslee, in memory of his wife, Helen. The farm was re-named after her.

By June 1943, the whole community had moved to Newtown St. Boswells. The farmhouse became the community house, and to the side of it, a hut was erected to house the postulant Brothers, who now numbered some ten or more.

The ploughman’s cottage became Fr Drost’s office and bedroom, while a very small room, hardly bigger than a cupboard, became Fr Walsh's bed-sitter. For years, Fr Drost wrote thousands of letters by hand, and addressed all the magazine envelopes for the White Father subscribers in Scotland. He also bottle-fed any orphan lambs rejected by the other ewes, and saw that the community followed strictly Greenwich time. An older ploughman's cottage was adapted as a chapel. Canadian Brother Philippe de Neri came to look after the farm, and was involved in at least one epic runaway horse in the village. Brother Modeste ran the kitchen garden as well as the garden of Mrs Ritchie, the neighbour, who was to prove so great a friend during the war, when the "White Feathers", as they were known locally, were suspected as Catholics and some of them as foreigners, of signalling to enemy aircraft.

Fr Walsh met a retired builder, Mr Hughes, living at Saltcoats. He was the father of a Mill Hill Father He was also a skilled stonemason. He became foreman and did yeoman work until his death after the war. He almost literally died on the job.

The architect, Mr Campbell, a young Catholic, later killed in the bombing of London, designed a very functional building, which, in its incomplete state was known as the "jam factory". Mr Hardy, a joiner, moved in with his wife and child and built a large wooden hut, which housed the building community of four German Brothers, and later, became the school Gym. Hedges were torn up, often with the help of Fr Walsh, deep trenches dug for the drains, and a rough wooden cross was erected and blessed by Bishop Henry Graham, himself a borderman and a convert from Presbyterianism.

Next year, Archbishop Macdonald laid the first stone. On both occasions, the local Catholic baker, as later at the time of the fire, provided all the food free of charge.
The Featherstones for many years, provided bread for the college and for the scholasticate at Monteviot. The German Brothers returned home after a year or so and were replaced by a local building firm and Brother Romeo Lamoureux. Fr Walsh was deeply influenced by Eric Gill, the sculptor and his artistic community at Ditchling near Brighton, Sussex.

He was associated with the “back to the land” movement, and GK Chesterton’s distributive league. He was friendly with Hew Lorrimer, the Scots sculptor, and with Peter Whiston, the future architect of Nunraw, who as early as 1936, designed a very modernistic monstrance for St Columba’s College, which was irreverently dubbed “the microphone”. he would only allow a minimum of machinery, preferring horsepower whenever possible.


But Mr Hughes was allowed to acquire two wooden "crans" and an electric winch to draw sand and gravel up from the river bed, well below. An old mansion out on the moors round Hawick, called Wauchope, was bought and pulled down by the Brothers and brought over to St. Boswells in an old lorry, nearly always overloaded, which sometimes attracted the attention of the police. After the war, Fr Walsh, who was then living at the college, did not care to visit the farm when the new Superior was using a tractor.

When in the summer of 1936, Fathers Marchant and Taylor arrived to prepare for the opening, only about a quarter of the final building was roofed, but mainly without doors or windows. Their first job was to put glass in the basement windows. However, the College opened its doors to ten or twelve students, mostly miner's sons from Fife. There was a shortage of everything, especially cash. One shilling and sixpence was the daily budget to feed, heat and light the students. There was a modern self-feed boiler, but the hopper had to be filled twice a day and the clinker removed - a job for the Superior. The staple diet was porridge and mince, with marg and jam. Classes were given in part of the dormitory, in the "dining room" or even in the stokehole. The boys all wore the Hunting Stewart kilt, even when serving Mass. The Border game of Rugby replaced the "fiba" better known to the students, and at times the referee had to take on the duties of a policeman and maintain order. St. Columba's Own Scout Troop flourished up to the war. There was no real trouble finding a camping site; there was the nearby glen and the River Tweed with a pool deep enough for swimming.

After the building firm had been paid, Fr Hughes, Mr Hardy and Brother Romeo continually added bits and pieces to the College, and finally a large dining room and study hall, though for the time being, the dormer served as chapel. Canadian Fr Chateauvert was added to the staff and the number of students increased until the outbreak of the war. It really did begin to look like a seminary. Initially, there were only the two lower classes there, with the students going on to Bishop’s Waltham afterwards.

Fr Walsh had always wanted his college to be built with the pennies of the poor, though he did not refuse more important gifts. With Mr Hector Smith and Mrs Frank McSherry, both parents of future White Fathers, he organised the White Fathers Parents and Friends Association. Reunions were held yearly in Glasgow, and later on in Edinburgh, Paisley and Motherwell, where the parents and friends could meet and spend an afternoon in one another's company. The first was held in Falkirk. Coach tours were organised to St. Boswells to see how their pennies were being spent. Mr Henry Dilworth of Edinburgh and Mr Joe Featherstone, looked after the feeding of the guests, who sometimes numbered more than one hundred.

Groups of promoters distributed the magazine and collected subscriptions. A magazine for children, called Kizito, was started and this, together with the Wopsy books of Fr Scriven WF, made the White Fathers of Fr Walsh, as they were called, very well known in the Catholic schools of Scotland. A teacher called Miss Cissie O'Malley acted as "Aunt Margaret" and answered children's questions.

In June 1939, Fr Marchant was appointed to Uganda and then seconded to the Army as chaplain for the duration. Fr Stanley came up from the Priory, Bishop's Waltham, to take over. With the outbreak of war, conditions in the British Province became extremely difficult. The Generalate in Algeria could no longer provide funds and Fr Brown, the Provincial, had to find ways and means to look after his large family.

The school of Philosophy at Rossington was taken over by the Army, and the philosophers were sent to the French house of Kerlois, where later, they were captured by the Germans, and the non-Irish interned at St. Denis, near Paris, for the rest of the war. The Priory had to be closed because of the air raids on nearby Southampton, and the students sent home or north to St. Boswells. The farm and the college were used for different purposes and finally, at the end of the war, the ex-internees and the new novices made their novitiate at the college.

It seems that during the war, Dr. Walsh, as he was called in Scotland, taught philosophy. His consolation was the farm, which under Brother Albertus, had become a paying concern and provided funds as well as food. There amid the sheep, Jersey cows, Don, the bull, the horses and the cultivated fields, Fr Walsh felt really at home. Many of the border folk still regarded the "White Feathers" with suspicion. The farm was searched for a radio transmitter which people said was hidden there. Fr Drost, as an alien, was deprived of all his beloved maps, and one of the Brothers was taken to court and fined for not putting out a rubbish fire, which flared up with the wind during the night. There was trouble also at the college. During the night, the blackout was taken down to let in fresh air. Occasionally, a boy would get up in the night and put on a light, which could be seen for miles around. More fines and suspicions! Finally a boy called Innocent, dropped some small stones on a passing train and was recognised by his kilt. Next day the papers proclaimed: "Innocent pleads guilty!"

Sometime during the war, a house was opened at Monteith Place in Glasgow and Fr Walsh and Fr Drost took up residence there. The latter was the next best thing to a walking chronometer, a priest of the old school, faithful but precise. One night, during an air raid on Glasgow, many people were killed and wounded and the priests of the parish had been out all night. Next morning at the usual hour, Fr Drost arrived to say his Mass and was surprised to find the church still locked up. After ringing the bell at the presbytery for some time, he was answered by a bleary-eyed priest in a dressing gown, who mentioned the air raid. "Yes! I know", replied Fr Drost, "But it is time for my Mass!"

During all these years, one is astonished by the amount of work Fr Walsh got through. He kept in touch with his artistic and musical friends, attended many functions, preached and lectured up and down the country, even in the smallest parishes, preached retreats, including one to the Philosophers at Autreppe. He kept in touch with the president of the White Fathers Association, and with his promoters, interviewed candidates, as well as their headmasters, parish priests and families, and helped many a priest and lay person through a difficult patch in their lives. As one lady was to say later on: "What he did for his housekeeper, he did for us and for many others." People who knew him, or even just met him, wrote to say: "He was a holy priest. He struck me as a real priest! He was a good, kindly priest!" Many a vocation he inspired, many a marriage he saved. Many a person he directed towards a religious life. His approach to women was very direct. "Either get married or become a nun!”

A lady doctor relates the story of her first meeting with him: “Being a Catholic I had to look round very hard for a job in a hospital. Fr Vincent McNabb OP had advised me to do midwifery and gynaecology rather than psychology.
I found a job in Edinburgh at £20 a year. I knew nothing about Edinburgh, except that priests had been attacked in the Canongate (during the Eucharist Congress in 1935). The first morning, I set out to go to Mass—hardly daring to ask anyone the way, as one goes out behind the Iron Curtain—but seeing an innocent woman with what seemed like a Bible, I asked her. She told me where and said I would be in time for the Mass if I hurried. When I returned, she was still standing on the same place of pavement as before and she asked me if I was a doctor and if I knew Joab Meiklejohn (a retired lady doctor who worked for Bishop Roy in Bangweulu until her death at the beginning of 1939). I answered: "Yes" and "No" respectively. Two days later, I was called to the phone and a voice said "I am a White Father and I would like to visit you!" I said "Oh No, this is a Protestant Hospital run by women." Back in the refectory someone said: "I thought you knew nobody in Edinburgh? How come the phone call?" I said: "Oh! It's a sort of a monk." Someone said: "Oh, do ask him to come here so that we can see what he looks like."

Back I went and invited him to tea! He came and sat nervously on the edge of a chair and as soon as we were alone, he said “How long have you been a Catholic." I said: "About 3 years!" He said: "What have you done for God in that time?" No reply. Then - "Have you any dependents?" "No" - "Then, you are wasting your time here; you should be in Africa!" "I'm not wasting my time. I am getting baptisms (and I was secretary of lots of Catholic things). Besides, my parents are alive.”

"Have you been a Catholic three years and not read your Gospels? Go to Africa and I'll guarantee you a thousand times more baptisms."

She adds: "He was wrong there!" But she did go to Africa in 1939 and is still working among the Africans in Rhodesia.

After the war, Monteith place was closed down and all promotion work concentrated on Sutton Coldfield. Fr Walsh thus came under the authority of Fr Scriven, a situation he accepted without a murmur. Later, he returned to Scotland, to open the University hostel in St. Andrews, in what had been a small hotel called the Canmore, after one of the Scottish Kings. This was on the Scores, almost opposite the Catholic church, where Canon Grey, an uncle of the Cardinal, boasted of the tricks his people, makers of poteen, used to play on the Excise man—possibly James Walsh. The Archbishop had hoped to open a hostel in St. Andrews for his own seminarians and thereby create a strong Catholic influence in the University. Opposition from certain Protestant sources checkmated this plan, but soon after, the main opponent died, on the occasion of a visit from the statue of Our Lady of Fatima but by then the Grand Hotel had been discovered to be riddled with dry rot.


Our Lady Queen of Apostles Church,
at Heston

In 1949, the new Provincial Fr Howell brought Fr Walsh down to Heston as Parish Priest and First Counsellor of the Province. His Parishioners soon came to know his pastoral zeal and endless charity. His sermons, though somewhat academic, always carried a punch line, which left one or other of his parishioners reeling. Tramps increasingly found their way to the front door. One even took up residence in the garden tool shed and came to be known as St. Joseph because of his patriarchal appearance.

On the 22nd January 1951, Fr Walsh's name was put forward (secundo loco) to Rome as Bishop of Nyassa, and at the same time as Bishop of Aberdeen. Previously he had been considered for Uganda and Bangweulu. Bishop Matheson of Aberdeen had died of cancer after only three years on his See. Fr Walsh was highly recommended by Bishop Durrieu, who also, it seems, advised Fr Walsh to accept Aberdeen because of the great help he could give there to the missionary cause in Scotland.

His appointment was announced on the 28th June 1951. The next day was the Silver Jubilee of Fr Howell and of his old friend from Columbier days, Bishop Durrieu. This Jubilee was first celebrated at Heston where Bishop-elect Walsh, as Superior of the house and Parish Priest, spoke at the lunch. He recalled the close links that bound him both to the Provincial and to the Society.

On Sunday September 12th, Fr H Cote, an assistant to the General, Fr Howell, the Provincial, and the Canadian Fr Connolly, left London for Aberdeen. They arrived there on the evening of the 14th and were entertained to supper by Bishop Walsh. After supper, he quite simply invited them to make their visit to the Blessed Sacrament with him in his private chapel. All through his life, Bishop Walsh continued to make his spiritual exercises as he had been taught to do at the Novitiate and at the Scots College.

Next day all the Scottish Bishops, except one who was ill, assisted at his consecration in his own Aberdeen Cathedral, by Archbishop Campbell of Glasgow assisted by Bishop Scanlan of Dunkeld and Bishop Black of Paisley. Bishop Grant of Argyll and the Isles preached the sermon. His Metropolitan, Archbishop Gray of Edinburgh, would not be consecrated himself for another week.

At the meal which followed, several speakers congratulated the new Prelate on his return to his own diocese. Bishop Walsh replied “It is very kind you to tell me how happy you are at my return to the diocese of my youth. But, however true it is to say that it is a real joy for me to return home, it is not less true that it has meant leaving a family very dear to my heart: I mean the White Father family, where for 21 years I have enjoyed a happiness I shall never forget."

(source : Sister Mary Potts WS)

As his motto, the new Bishop took the words: "Ut sint unum!" All his priestly life he had maintained friendly relations with non-Catholics. It was mainly with them in mind that he had earlier written and distributed, at his own cost, a somewhat erudite book entitled "Mosaic of Man."

At Canmore he had received into the house a convert Presbyterian Minister, who had an Arts degree in Latin. The White Father students going to the University were somewhat surprised to find that their Latin was not sufficient for a Protestant University and that their tutor was a convert layman. Now in Aberdeen, the Bishop could give free rein to his Catholic outlook.

He became very friendly with the university authorities and with the Presbyterian Clergy at St. Machar’s Cathedral (the founder of Aberdeen), who publicly referred to him as the successor of St. Machar and of the "Auld Kirk" (the Roman Catholic Church). No doubt he was also thinking of the need to establish closer links between the old established churches of the world and the young churches of the Third World. Did he also have in mind a more equable sharing of resources inside his own diocese and between the various dioceses of Scotland?

His coat of arms was a real masterpiece, drawn up by Mgr. David McRoberts. It is crowned by a single mitre (the Scottish custom), the shield is Gules (red with vertical lines) representing the modern town on the mouth (Gaelic Aber) of the Dee. A second river flows out nearby, and is referred to in the Latin name of Aberdonensis. Three silver fish in a triangle (representing the Holy Trinity) recall the River Don, on which the old town of St. Machar was first built.

The golden net suspended by a ring and spread out at the bottom is the net mentioned in St Matthew 13, 47: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, that brings in a haul of all kinds.” Some think that he should have read on “When it is full, the fishermen haul it ashore and, sitting down, collect the good ones in a basket and throw away those that are of no use.” But he took seriously Our Lord’s warning “Judge not and you shall not be judged!”

He was soon appointed National Director of the Pontifical Works for the Propagation of the faith, and in this capacity, he insisted on all missionaries doing what he had always done, visit every parish, however small, however difficult to reach.

Many excellent vocations have come from the far north and from the Isles. The people there are extremely generous. Many of them spend up to two years at a time chasing whales. The two northern dioceses of Scotland were the most generous in their donations to the APF of all the dioceses in the UK (per capita). Mr Hector Smith, the first President of the White Fathers’ Association, collected among the mostly poor crofters of South Uist, the full cost of the building of St Andrew’s School, Nandom, Ghana.

The new Bishop at once set to work to know his clergy and his diocese. His friends, the Barrys, had given him a fine car, but he exchanged it for something more simple. Some of the older clergy he knew from before 1929 when he left to join the White Fathers, and many of the others he had met on his promotion tours.

In some quarters, there was an understandable reticence towards a pastor who had left the diocese to become a missionary only to return as its Bishop. He drew up a list of all his priests and the various parishes they had occupied over the last 20 years. He sent round a form asking for details of their revenue under various headings: collections, stipends, stole fees, candles, etc. One dear old priest started to fill in the small amounts he had received, then gave up and wrote across the paper: “Cui Bono?” (What’s the use of all this?). That made the Bishop chuckle.

His was a truly missionary diocese, outside the towns; some of the older parishes had less than fifty parishioners, the people having abandoned the glens for the towns and for America. Even some of the town parishes had no more than five or six hundred Catholics to look after, though their numbers did increase during the summer months. He devised a scheme whereby the resources of the diocese would be more evenly shared out, and this plan was eventually adopted.

He started an enquiry into the possibility of drawing up a more biblical catechism. Long before the Vatican Council, he re-modelled his Cathedral on the lines of the Roman basilicas. In the process, certain people were offended either because their ideas were not accepted or because he removed a double row of statues that had gathered the dust for ages—“The Rogues’ Gallery” as he impiously called them.

There was no lift between the kitchen and the dining room. His housekeeper had been very ill after nursing his predecessor devotedly for over a year, when he was dying of cancer. To save her the trouble of carrying everything up and down the stairs, he took his meals in the kitchen and helped with the washing up. One day, when driving to Huntly, his car developed a bad rattle. His garagist got under the car and reported a broken back axle. There in the High Street, My Lord Bishop got down on the ground and wriggled under the car to see for himself.

He wrote a series of pastoral letters, very much in the spirit of Vatican Il. An article he wrote on the Highlands was quoted in the Parliament at Westminster. An intervention by him on Indulgences was read at the third session of the Vatican Council, from which he was absent, and was the only public intervention of the Scottish Hierarchy. Amid all this intense deskwork he had a relaxation which he had missed most of the time he was with the White Fathers, his piano. He would go over and play on it for ten minutes or so and then return to his desk.

After consulting his clergy, and praying and meditating on the subject, on the 18th of May 1961, he convoked the 7th Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Aberdeen to be held since the restoration of the Scottish Hierarchy, on the 4th March 1878. It met in his cathedral at Aberdeen on the 27th June 1961. In his opening speech, the Bishop recalled that the 6th Synod had been convoked by Bishop Aeneas Chisholm to proclaim Our Lady of Aberdeen, the Patroness of the Diocese, and he urged his clergy to foster devotion towards her.

The pre-reformation statue of Our Lady of Aberdeen is preserved in the church of Finistere in Brussels, under the title of Notre-Dame du Bon Succes. It was taken there for safety in penal times. Bishop Walsh made an unsuccessful appeal to have the 15th century statue returned.

Many of the synadol statutes are legal items based on those of Pope John's Roman Synod of 1960. Others have a more modern ring about them. The Bishop emphasised that "the subject which should be the outstanding preoccupation of every priest, is his personal spiritual life. A priest who is not a man of prayer is a sacrilegious contradiction in terms."


This was no pious official statement. In his private letters he states what peace and comfort he found in the four main occasions he spent each day before the Blessed Sacrament. He talks with St Theresa of Avila of the “dreadful adventure into the life of prayer.” He affirmed that the clergy must do all in their power to interest young people in the vocation to the priesthood and to the religious life. Well before Vatican II, he devotes a whole section to “The Apostolate of the Laity”, calling it an integral part of the mission of the Church.

He stressed that by its very nature, the Church is missionary, and that even in the smallest parishes the laity must be trained and held together in an active apostolate, in view of fostering the faith among their fellow Catholics, and extending the Church both at home and abroad.

The Apostleship of Prayer and the Catholic Truth Society were to be established in every parish. The laity were to be given the opportunity and encouragement to study the social teaching of the Church and urged to take an active part in their Trade Unions and Professional Organisations. The Prefects of the Apostleship of Prayer could be entrusted with the setting-up of circles of the Pontifical Works for the Propagation of the Faith. The recreational and social side of Catholic life, were also to be encouraged.

Active and intelligent participation of the laity in liturgical functions was to be promoted and this required previous instruction. All parish moneys were to be lodged in a joint account with equal operational powers vested in the parish priest and in the Bishop. Every effort was to he made to pay servants a just wage. Every priest was due a decent maintenance from the parish, plus a salary of £104 for parish priests and £80 for a curate. (In some cases this money had to come from extra-parochial funds!). Stole fees could be accepted but should not be demanded.

Some eight new parishes or Mass Centres were opened during his time as Bishop, though some older and almost abandoned parishes in the glens were reduced to out-stations. He first turned the Golden Square residence into a students' hostel and the university Chaplaincy, and then sold it to pay for his new school.

Back in 1960, the Bishop had started to examine the possibility of opening a Secondary school for boys whose parents could not pay the fees at the Abbey School, run by the Benedictines at Fort Augustus. The Land Association offered him eight acres in the town at a Feu Duty of £500 a year. When Haughton House, Aldford, 20 miles inland from Aberdeen became available, he decided on a boarding school. Fees, including board and lodging, were to be £120 a year. In many case it was hoped that County Authorities would make grants. A Jesuit Father was to join the staff, but the first headmaster was Fr Patrick Grady, who had done part of his secondary studies at The Priory, Bishop’s Waltham, where the Bishop himself had taught for one year in 1930 - 31. In May 1963, the head was Mr Dugald MacPhail, MA. The school was closed the Easter following the crisis.

In 1948, the Marquis of Bute bought the ruined Pluscarden Priory, which had been founded in 1230. He invited the Benedictines of Prinknash, the successors of the ex-Anglican monastery on Caldy Island, to send a colony north. Bishop Walsh often visited the Priory and on one occasion he met the wife of a Presbyterian minister, who had become a Catholic and had separated from her husband. The Bishop took pity on her and thought he could employ her as a housekeeper in one of the parishes of the diocese. However, because of Scots law, which presumes adultery in certain circumstances, his priests were unwilling to accept her. The Bishop's own housekeeper had left and he kept the lady on with another woman, who also left in due course. Some of his clergy thought he was unwise and complained to the Apostolic Delegate, Archbishop O'Hara. Other members of his clergy stood up for him, so that there was division in the diocese. So the Apostolic Delegate ordered the Bishop to send the lady away.

Considering that he had been judged without a hearing and that the time allowed was too short, he appealed to "Caesar". He flew to Rome and stayed with a friend there, not to involve the White Fathers. Although it was Holy Week, Cardinal Confalonieri, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, received him for one hour. The Bishop had hoped to see Pope John, but the Holy Father was a dying man. The Cardinal maintained the Delegate's order but extended the time to three months.

Bishop Walsh left the audience with a feeling of not being understood. He did find two situations for Mrs Mackenzie, but on both occasions she returned to him and he felt he could not just turn her out into the gutter. So for the sake of peace in his diocese, he resigned at the end of the three months and was transferred to the Titular See of Birta on the 12th September 1963. Two months later, St. Columba’s College, into which he had put so much of his energy, was burnt down. As a friend remarked later, the Good God really did mean to strip him of everything and nail him to the cross. It should be emphasised that at no time did Rome or any other Church authority make any imputations against his personal integrity.

Later, Archbishop Cardinale, the new Delegate, personally assured him that the Holy See had never any doubts on this point. It was a question of the good of the diocese and the union among its clergy.

"Archbishop Gray took over responsibility for the Diocese until the appointment of a successor. His words to the press when the crisis broke may serve as an epitaph for Bishop walsh : "He is a deeply spiritual man of outstanding Christ-like charity. It is tragic that the exercise of such charity should result in any embarrassment to so good and sincere a person."

Bishop Walsh was to suffer a personal agony well beyond embarrassment, and died far from his diocese . . . He is still remembered by many with deep affection."

An extract from a shortened version of "The Catholic Church in Aberdeen" by Mgr Alexander MacWilliam for the centenary of St Mary's Cathedral in 1960 along with some interpolations from a later work "St Peter's Church, Aberdeen, 1804-1979"

source: John and Margaret Morton, February 2004

Archbishop Gray, the Administrator, arranged for him to be paid a reasonable pension, which later on was increased to meet the extra cost of living. To this amount in recent years, the British province of the White Fathers added some £400 a year. The Bishop offered to resign from the Society but the General Council answered that there was no call for such action, and Bishop Walsh lived and died an honoured member of the Society.

The Provincials of Great Britain and of Ireland kept in touch with him and he was visited by the then Superior General, Fr Volker. A high-ranking ecclesiastic in England discussed with the Provincial, Fr Andrew Murphy, ways and means of using the Bishop's talents for the good of the Church in England.

So the Bishop retired to Ireland, a somewhat hurt man, smarting under a sense of injustice. He bought a tumbledown property in Coolmakean, Co. Mayo, which he set about re-habilitating. He followed a strict life of prayer and study, varied by gardening, which always remained with him both a duty and a joy. He was convinced that a time of famine was coming fairly soon when many people would return to the land, and the glen parishes in his old diocese would again flourish.

Perhaps it was when his friend Archbishop Walsh of Tuam died that he sold Coolmakean and moved to Shanbally, Corrandula, Co. Galway. In any case, the life of a "wandering Jew" that he had led as missionary promoter had made it difficult for him to settle down anywhere for very long. It seems that towards the end of his life he contemplated having a boat built for himself and sailing from port to port like his great hero, Sir Francis Chichester, who had recently sailed round the world on his own. In 1972, he sold up his house and came to England, partly because feeling in Galway about events in the North were making things difficult for his English housekeeper.

As the money he had received for his Irish house was too little to buy a house in England, he stayed for several weeks at the White Fathers, St Edward’s College in Totteridge, North London. He went to Spain with the help of his nephew in Dublin, but soon returned from there. He had given away all his furniture and books and kept the bare minimum. He now gave all his money to his housekeeper, who went off to follow a course in journalism, while he set out for the White Fathers’ House at Templeogue, Dublin.

On his way, he stayed at the house of the Divine Word Fathers at Hadzow, where he had a serious heart attack. When he was somewhat recovered, Fr Jones, the Irish Provincial, came over and accompanied him to Dublin. Here, he once again settled into a life of prayer and reading.

In 1975, Mgr John Barry, Rector of the Edinburgh Senior Seminary at Drygrange, near Melrose, came to Ireland with his brother Peter, to assist at the ordination of one of his students. He stayed at Templeogue and had long conversations with the Bishop, whom he found in fine fettle mentally. He invited the Bishop to the Open Day celebration of the 20th anniversary of the opening of the seminary. After some hesitation, the Bishop accepted. Cardinal Gray met him at the airport and took him to his house in Edinburgh for two days. Then they went down to the borders where Bishop Walsh presided at the Cardinal's side along with other prelates. He met many old friends and stayed for a time with Mgr. Barry at Colinton, who had always been so good to him.

He probably saw the new college at St. Boswells, rising from the ashes of the November 1963 fire. It must have been a bitter-sweet moment for Francis Walsh, as he remembered all his old collaborators, lay and clerical, in particular, old Mr. James Hughes and above all, his faithful secretary, Fr Baltazar Drost, whose unfailing rule was never to go to bed while one letter remained unanswered. (He now lies buried in the little cemetery at St. Columba’s). But as Fr McNulty was to say at the Bishop's Requiem Mass during the General Chapter in Rome: "If you wish to find a moment in commemoration of Francis Walsh, you have only to consider the contingent of Scots White Fathers. They are, as it were, the living stones in the work of the Society, which was begun in Scotland by Fr Francis Walsh." One hopes this thought consoled him, as he considered the college on the point of being sold as a residential school to the Glasgow Educational Authorities and the farm, where, as he describes in an early letter, he had taught the young bull calf, Newton Don Emperor, to drink milk from a bucket by wetting his fingers in the milk and letting Don suck his fingers, and where Fr Drost had fed various orphan lambs with the aid of a bottle, now sold to Peake Pasha of Lawrence of Arabia fame. How many memories must have flooded back into his mind. His visit to Scotland was a graceful act on the part of the church authorities there and a great joy at the end of his life.


On his return to Ireland, he fell grievously ill and towards the end of 1973 he entered St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, for a six-hour operation on his throat and stomach. His housekeeper had returned and mainly for her sake he decided to return to England. He knew he had not long to live and wished to make a suitable provision for her future. He also wanted peace and quiet to prepare to meet the Master he had served so well. He rented two small caravans in a farmyard outside Spalding. Then, with financial help from Bishop Foylan of Aberdeen, he bought a mobile bungalow near Grantham. Mgr Barry again visited him and found him quite clear mentally. Most days the Bishop concelebrated with a priest staying nearby and it was this priest who finally gave the Sacrament of the Sick, to Bishop Walsh.

The parish priest of Grantham informed Mgr. Barry that the end was near, but already Bishop Francis Walsh, DD, WF, was with God. He had wanted a quiet funeral, but his friends would not hear of it. Cardinal Gray came down from Scotland with the Vicar General of Aberdeen, representing Bishop Foylan. On Wednesday October 30th 1974, the Cardinal, assisted by the local Bishop of Nottingham, three Monsignori, and eleven priests including four White Fathers, concelebrated at the Requiem.

In his homily, the Cardinal said: "As we prepare to celebrate this Mass, may I remind you that joined with us in prayer is a great host of men and women - priests, religious, laity - whose debt of gratitude to this much-loved and great-hearted priest is greater than words can tell . . . He was selfless in his service of God and of those entrusted to his spiritual care. And that dedicated apostolate he continued in his years of retirement, and especially in these last years of illness, by his life of prayer and his acceptance of suffering. In an age of human self-sufficiency, when too frequently activity is regarded as the criterion of a useful life, his dedication to spiritual values in the communion of prayer can be a salutary lesson to each one of us."

"He was a man brilliant in intellect, possessed of a restless mind, a step ahead of most in his thinking—as when he planned the renovation of the Cathedral to suit a vision of a renewed liturgy that became a reality—and the building itself, a monument to his foresight. But above all, he was a man with a great heart, with no thought of himself: a man for whom the material things meant nothing, save in their value to give them away to those in need.”

“To those who have lost a dear friend in life, I offer my prayerful sympathy. But, as the liturgy of the requiem Mass so beautifully expresses, the certain hope that he who died with Christ will rise again with Him, and enjoy His presence in eternity—where every tear shall be wiped away—where, please God, we shall meet again.”

Cardinal Villot, the Vatican Secretary of State, sent a telegram to Bishop Michael Foylan of Aberdeen: “The Holy Father offers prayers for the late Bishop Walsh, evoking upon him eternal repose in the peace of Christ.”

At Rome, the newly elected Superior General of the White Fathers, Fr Jean-Marie Vasseur, concelebrated with the capitulants, a Mass during which Fr John McNulty gave a much appreciated homily, in which he stressed above all, the charity and holiness of his friend, now in Heaven.

On November 27th, Bishop Foylan, accompanied by his Vicar General, the Administrator of the Cathedral and many secular and religious priests, concelebrated a “Month’s Mind” for the Bishop’s soul, at which the choir from the nearby Blairs College sang the Mass. It was from Blairs College that Francis Walsh had started towards the priesthood and its culmination on his own particular calvary. He often returned there for peace and quiet to pray, and could have been seen on occasion with his Archbishop, re-painting the seminary walls.

The writer of a biography once wrote: “Let the reader of anyone’s life by anyone else, close the book and ask “When I come to die, how much will those who come after me be able to discover about my most intimate relationships?” and in the light of his conclusions, let him estimate the value of the volume in his hand.

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