EAGLE CREEK — For such a happy man, Father Pat Walsh know that his most important moments in ministry have come amid turmoil and tragedy. Father Walsh, 67, retires this summer after 41 years as a priest.
In fall 1989, he was pastor of St. Mary Parish in Albany. Hours after a usual Sunday set of Masses, the historic church caught fire and burned spectacularly and totally. The town wept. Parishioners, with their priest, lit candles and walked past the ashes, singing "We Will Rise Again."
"We found out that what we always said was true: the church is the people," says Father Walsh, who now lives in a small town in the Cascade foothills. "We tend to fall in love with the building. But then in Albany the building was gone. People told me that Sundays became very important without the church building, because that was when we gathered and the church came into being."
The community convened for Mass in an old gym, at a community college and in an aged Sears store. The priest recalls it as "a most inspiring time." Everyone worked hard to rebuild.
By 1998, Father Walsh had become pastor of St. Alice Church in Springfield. On a spring morning, Kip Kinkel, a freshman at Thurston High School, murdered his parents and then walked on to the campus, killing two more people and injuring several dozen more. Father Walsh, on vacation in Georgia at the time, rushed back to be with the people, especially the youth, with whom he had a special connection. Over the course of years, healing ensued.
Even with these moments of horror and grace, Father Walsh has adored parish life, where he has been involved in the sorrows and joys of parishioners. He has led youth retreats in his spare time.
Born in Portland, he attended Mount Angel Seminary for college and graduate theology. His formation began just as the reforms of the Second Vatican Council were taking effect and found it all thrilling.
Born in Portland and ordained at St. Mary Cathedral by Archbishop Robert Dwyer in 1972, he spent 10 years as associate pastor of St. Peter Parish in the city. He studied sign language and started a lifelong ministry among people who are deaf.
When he was assigned to Albany in 1982 as pastor, he feared he'd be out of his element. But instead, he fell for small town life. He liked being part of the only Catholic presence in town and the ecumenical partnerships that ensued. He is still friends with some of the church leaders he met in Albany.
The small town service continued in Springfield and then at St. Michael in Sandy, where he served for 12 years, including Estacada and Welches for a few years.
"I have always found people to be invigorating," he says. That includes teens, who have always impressed him with the "sincerity of their faith journeys."
Now, he will continue his ministry with the community of Catholics who are deaf. The aging leaders are the same people he served 40 years ago when their were teens and young adults. Father Walsh also will continue to preside at Mass at Camp Howard and will help lead retreats for students at La Salle Prep.