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The Spike [: or, Victoria University College Review 1957]

Fr. Francis Hugh Walsh

Fr. Francis Hugh Walsh

Father Francis Hugh Walsh, son of Peter and the late Mary Walsh, was born in 1910 in Christchurch, where he pursued both his primary and secondary education. Entering St. Bede's College in 1924, he early displayed those traits of deep scholarship and intellectual brilliance which were so much to distinguish his subsequent career. His love of the Classics and English literature manifested itself in these formative years, but another influence was at work which was to determine page 38 his life vocation. He could not have been in doubt as to the rich talents that were his, and, even in his St. Bede's years, he had determined to lay them at the disposal of his Maker by embracing the life of the Catholic priesthood.

In 1929 he sought admission to the Society of Mary, and proceeded to the Marist Novitiate at Highden, near Palmerston North. But such was not to be his destiny, the life of a religious, for a call to become a member of the diocesan priest-hood became insistent, and towards the end of that same year, he was accepted as an ecclesiastical student by the Archdiocese of Wellington. In pursuance of his goal he entered the National Seminary of Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, in 1930, and very early in his career at the College made his mark as an exceptional student. His love for languages revealed itself in his study of Hebrew, a self-set task, outside the ordinary seminary curriculum of studies. It surprised no one that at the end of two year's study of Thomist philosophy and one of theology he was selected to proceed to Rome in 1933. A resident of the Irish College, he attended lectures in theology at the Lateran University, and was ordained to the priesthood in March, 1934. In 1935 the University awarded him the accolade of Doctor of Divinity. Towards the end of the same year, Father Walsh returned to New Zealand, and was appointed curate at the Sacred Heart Basilica, Thorndon.

With the advent of the World War, Father Walsh was selected as a chaplain, and proceeded with the New Zealand Division to Egypt in 1940. In this entirely new sphere he won golden opinions from all ranks of the Armed Forces throughout the North African and Italian campaigns. A splendid mixer, a brilliant conversationalist, he was ideally suited for the task. It was little wonder that after the close of the European operations of war he was selected to proceed as chaplain with the New Zealand forces to Japan. War in Europe had given him the opportunity to return again to that continent, the love of whose culture was so potent a force in his life. Above all, France, his second home which he had come to revere so much in his Roman student days, again refreshed his spirit, and he took every opportunity of renewing acquaintance, or forming new friendships, with outstanding French scholars.

Returning to New Zealand from Japan, in 1946, Father Walsh resumed his pastoral ministry, working with his wonted devotion till 1949, when he was sent to Oxford University to pursue an arts course, with specialisation in history, leading to the B.A. degree. For three invaluable years he lived at the distinguished Jesuit House of Studies, Campion Hall, coming under the influence of one of the Church's most renowned scholars, the then Master of Campion Hall, Father Martin Darcy, S.J. He read a brilliant course at Oxford, and in 1952 gained his degree of Bachelor of Arts. In term vacations he ranged wide over the Continent, making his first visit to Spain, a country which had made a profound impression on him, as well as extending his travels to such founts of culture as Greece and the isles of the Aegean. These were the influences that mould Father Walsh into the finished, educated and cultured man who was able to walk with ease and grace in any circle.

Towards the end of 1952 Father Walsh returned to New Zealand, spending three months en route in the United States, lecturing upon Europe and the Far East to many distinguished audiences.

On his return Father Walsh was entrusted will the formation of the new parish of Featherstone, and it gave him, a true priest first and foremost, a deep satisfaction page 39 that now for the first time he was a pastor of souls. But University halls were destined again to know him, for the following year he moved to Wellington to become assistant lecturer in history and political science at Victoria University College. The quality and brilliance of his lectures is still gratefully recalled. It was the height of tragedy that life so rich, mind so cultured, should have been cut off in its fine flowering by his sudden death in May, 1956. It can truly be said that New Zealand has known few more truly educated men.

Rev. Father N. H. Gascoigne

To Be Taught History or political science by Frank Walsh must have been a unique experience. No one could have been further removed from academic convention. His first impact conveyed the impression of genial chaos, of inexhaustible, bubbling humanity, of warm feeling for life in all its rich variety. Nor was this impression wholly dissipated by later experience. He could stand a simple administrative direction on its head during the time that it took a man to climb a flight of stairs, and the examination of a detailed problem could be as readily overlaid by discussion of the European aristocracy or the merits of Tuscan wine as by a scholarly exposition. No conversation with Frank Walsh was dull or likely to proceed for long without some quick thrust or revelation of knowledge in an unexpected quarter. He was a widely cultured man; and his sincerity was none the less apparent because genially worn, and well accustomed to meet, in the cut and thrust of civilised talk, men of strongly contrary judgment.

As a historian his knowledge went deep into some aspects of medieval times, and into the age of Louis Quatorze. Yet he could cheerfully turn his hand to any part of the wide field included in the Oxford History Schools. His talk flowered when it dealt with worthwhile individuals, living or dead. His handling of theological problems was frank and scholarly, though readily softened by a kindly understanding of human frailty. Such kindliness incidentally, made him a quite ineffective critic, as he could hardly bring himself to believe that"—when allowances had been made"—anyone's work really deserved a mark less than B minus, or a comment of the devastating kind sometimes thought to be helpful by his colleagues.

His service to the University was tragically short, and other hands must write of his wide experiences before he came to us. He was a priest, a scholar at Rome and at Oxford, chaplain to the forces in Africa and Italy and Japan, a popular lecturer in the United States, and an enthusiastic musician. One of his last acts was to conduct a memorial service to Archbishop O'Shea, and the magnificently sung Requiem Mass in the Basilica seemed to a great congregation, drawn from all sections of the community, somehow to derive from his work. It was a fitting tribute to a gifted man who gave of his talents with irrepressible generosity.

F. L. Wood