Fr. Alphonsus Walsh, C.Ss.R.
by Fr. Noel Gartlan, C.Ss.R.
Born : 22 February 1927 in Shankill, Co. Dublin
Professed : 21 November 1948 in Dundalk
Ordained : 21 August 1955 in Cluain Mhuire, Galway
Died : 20 September 2013 in Cebu, Philippines
His parents were John James Walsh and Mary Josephine Hickey.
His uncle was the Redemptorist Matt Hickey famous for setting up the congregation in Sri Lanka and India and for working there for many years. He died in 1969.
Fonso, as he was always called by his confreres, followed in his uncle’s footsteps and entered the Redemptorists in Dundalk at the age of 20. After his profession in Esker, Co. Galway. He studied for seven years in the major seminary. His classmates were Frs. Vincent Kavenagh, Brian McGrath, Jim Murphy, Colm Norris, Patrick O’Connell, and Michael O’Connor.
At the end of his studies he spent some time in Ireland giving missions and retreats and then came to the Philippines in December 1957. The Cebu chronicles for December 11 has “Our community is complete. Our community receives our two brand new Fathers from Ireland, Frs. Murphy and Walsh. Ad multos annos. Tomorrow is a recreation day in honor of the great occasion and to explore the crates brought out.”
We find Fonso preaching already in Cebu church on January 26, 1958 and after that constantly on Sundays and Wednesdays. He gave retreats and helped with supplies of different kinds. Already on March 4-7, 1958 we find him in Dumanjug on Cebuano work, and also in the TB pavilion hearing Confessions and celebrating Mass.
In April 12-19 he is working in Marawi City and from April 19-26 in Malaban. In September the same year he is on mission in Sandangan and in November in Sogod.
In August he is Prefect of Masses. In October he is temporary Superior for Fr. Myers is sick. Between 1959 and 1968 he was on 31 missions and several retreats.
Fonso’s mechanical and electrical talents which he showed in the studendate were put to good use on the missions when after the 1966 Mission Council changes came into our mission method. He was enthusiastic in modernizing the missions with tape recorders, trumpas, cines, etc.
In 1968 Fr. Fonso takes the place of Fr. Cruise in Dumaguete and in June that year he takes over the job of Fr. Rocks as minister in Dumaguete. In August and November he takes his turn in looking after the Bais Sugar Central. In August 28 the Curcillo (no 16) was held in the Redemptorist convent and Fonso joined it with 21 others.
In 1969 it was discovered that Fonso had a brain tumor and after a very successful operation and a month in hospital he was given three to four years to live. He went back to Dumaguete and some months later went to Ireland.
When Fonso returned from Ireland in 1971 he went to Davao to do a six weeks language course at the Maryknoll school.
In 1970 Fonso is back in Dumaguete. In a letter from Fr. Mahony (Cebu Vice-Provincial) to Fr. James McGrath (Irish Provincial) we read “Fr. Walsh is now Chaplain to the Central and is doing fine.”
In 1973 Fr. Fonso is Vice-Rector to Fr. Patrick O’Connell. He was very active in those years for even while in Dumaguete he was Econome to the Vice-Provincial so was constantly going back and forth from Dumaguete to Cebu.
In 1975 (January) Fr. Fonso wrote a letter to Fr. Josol (Cebu Vice-Provincial since 1972). It shows Fonso’s spirit of obedience, his humility, his faith and his sense of humor.
Dear Fr. Abdon,
Your letter through Fr. Allen came as a bit of a shock to me. Not so much about going to Cebu, as I had more or less taken it for granted when Phil returned that I had better return to Cebu – but the question of taking over DYRF for six months! As I told Allen – I know nothing about the job – despite that he says I do not need to know anything. But if you and the others feel that I can hold down the job for the six months – I appreciate the fact that you have a higher opinion of my abilities than I do myself.
What can I do but say, if this is what you, Pat and Peter want, it is all right with me. I am still old fashioned enough to feel that a Redemptorist should make the best of what he is asked to do. I know that I am not much of a CSsR – but all I can say is that I am willing to do whatever you all want and I am sure the Lord will be there to lend a helping hand so that I will not make too much of a mess of it.
All I can say is “Thank you for the vote of confidence.” I wish I felt the same way. God bless and pray for the success of this madness.
For many years Fonso was Vice-Provincial Treasurer. His record books are meticulously kept. He had often to make appeals to the communities for money and his letters are wonderfully diplomatic.
When Fr. Tom McMahon died in 1978 (March 8) Fr. Fonso generously offered to take his place. When he took over there were about 500 seriously ill patients and about 1,000 ex-patients with their spouses and children making a colony of about 5,000 people in five villages. Fonso threw himself into the work of taking care not only of their spiritual needs but also their housing, water, food needs and got some industries going like, dressmaking, soap making, bamboo crafts. The biggest enterprise of all was the housing. 49 houses were built and land was acquired for another 30.
He tried to run the leprosarium on Basic Christian Community lines.
In 1979 we find him in Rome making deals for religious objects for the missions.
After 1989 he had several mild strokes that impaired his hearing and his speech but he still remained chaplain to the Eversley.
In 1997 he was chosen as one of the ten most outstanding elderly people in the Philippines. He went to Manila to receive that award and there he said “It should rather be the leprosy patients themselves who should receive the award since they gave meaning to my life.”
In 1998 he went to Ireland with Fr. Patrick Martin and returned two months later with his sister, Celine and her husband Denis Johnston. That same year Fonso celebrated his Goldren Jubilee of Profession. Fr. Mulrooney paid tribute to him for three things – his piety, his patience in times of illness, and his practical common sense.
Fr. Fonso’s involvement in the Leprosarium was reduced to a Mass on Monday and Wednesday. Fr. Rocks did all the rest.
In 2000 Fonso came back from Ireland. Fr. Rocks left for the USA.
It was only in 2002 (March) after another stroke that, following a formal letter from the Rector, Fr. Patrick Martin, Fonso retired from the Chaplaincy of Eversley.
In 2005 he is confined to a wheel chair with two care givers in constant attention. After a while he was confined to bed unable to hear or speak and only fed through a tube. His life was sustained by the tender loving care of the care givers who attended him night and day.
In 2013 in the middle of September he contracted pneumonia and after being anointed by Bishop Amantillo and later by the Rector, Fr. Cruzito Manding he went ever so quietly back to the Lord. It was 4:05 on the morning of September 20.
At his own request he was buried in the cemetery of the Sacred Heart Chaplaincy beside the grave of Fr. Tom McMahon the former chaplain of the Leprosarium. On September 23 at 10:00 Bishop Amantillo was the main celebrant at the requiem Mass. There were about 20 Redemptorist concelebrants and well over a thousand people present. Fr. Manding preached the homily.
Fonso now enjoys the crown promised by St. Alphonsus to those who remain faithful in the Congregation.