SCRANTON – Both Jerome and Nancy Walsh had the same reaction when their son, Bishop-elect Jeffrey J. Walsh, broke the news over a tray of pizza that Pope Francis had appointed him to be the Sixth Bishop of the Diocese of Gaylord.
“I was shocked that night. We’re still in shock. I just can’t believe it’s real but it is. We’re sort of adjusting to it. The more it sinks in, the more it is real,” Jerome Walsh said.
“It is just overwhelming and very humbling,” Nancy Walsh added. “We’re very thankful.”
The road to the episcopacy emanates from the path to the priesthood. Since his appointment became public in late December, Bishop-elect Walsh has consistently cited his parents and grandparents as the most significant formators in his life.
“I never thought he’d become a bishop,” his mother said with a laugh and a smile. “I was very happy to be the mother of a priest.”
The closeness between Bishop-elect Walsh and his parents is easy to see as The Catholic Light recently joined them around the kitchen table inside Walsh’s childhood home in Scranton. It is a home filled with love, faith and plenty of family photographs.
Childhood memories flow as easy as water.
“Growing up, he was a very adventurous boy. He was a typical boy with sports. Whatever ‘ball’ was in season was in that corner. We’re only a block away from the park so he’d be bouncing the basketball all the way from the park. You’d know he was coming. He loved baseball. He was a very good pitcher for the little league. He was a racquetball player, baseball, football, whatever was in season,” his mother recalled.
With his maternal grandparents living only a block away, the church was a big part of this Irish Catholic family’s life. Growing up, Bishop-elect Walsh served as an altar server and always helped at the parish picnic.
“Jeff served up until the time he was a teenager at North Scranton. I think it was sixth grade and he served so many funerals. He’d be a little late for school, about a half hour, and Monsignor would always give him a little excuse. One day the teacher said, ‘I don’t know, isn’t there anybody else, he’s late so much because he’s serving so many funerals,’” his mother added. “Monsignor saw something in him and he told me later on, when Jeff did go into the seminary. He said, ‘I think he has a vocation.’”
Since becoming a priest 27 years ago, Bishop-elect Walsh’s parents have watched their son take on numerous responsibilities in the Diocese of Scranton. They believe God has given him the gifts and talents needed to succeed in any assignment he was given.
“I think he understands people more than a regular person. He can almost feel what they’re feeling. He’s very sincere. He’s always been like that. He’s interested in you and I think it really shows,” his father said.
“I was always amazed that no matter where he was assigned, he fit right in,” his mother added. “We’ve had a wonderful 27 years of his priesthood. We’ve been to every parish. We loved going to his Masses. We’ve met wonderful people, different parishioners from every parish, going to fundraisers and dinners. We have really had a wonderful 27 years.”
With their strong foundation of faith, Bishop-elect Walsh’s parents say it is an honor that their son is becoming a bishop.
“People say to me, he’s always smiling even though he doesn’t even know he’s smiling. That is the truth. He always has a little smile on his face when he’s saying Mass, even though he’s serious, there is a little smile there. He’s just happy doing what he is doing. Different people will say he’s really found his niche and I think he did,” Nancy explained.
During all of his priestly assignments, Bishop-elect has never been more than an hour away from his parents. On his days off, he could often be seen shoveling their driveway or mowing their grass. With his new appointment taking him more than 12 hours away from his childhood home, his parents are preparing to adjust.
“He will be missed here…we’re going to have to adjust,” his father said. “I think he’ll do a good job. He’s got the background now and hopefully, God willing, he’ll do a good job. It’s a big challenge for him. He’s very adventurous so I think he’ll be anxious to see what is out there!”