Friday, August 9, 2013

Poem Honoring the Retirement of Fr. Francis P. Walsh

Fr. Francis P. Walsh

I just heard that Fr. Francis P. Walsh, priest of the diocese of Cleveland, is retiring. Fr. Walsh is remembered very fondly by me and my brothers and sister for his years of service at St. William's in Euclid (1957-1962). My mother and father were also very fond of Fr. Walsh. Below is a poem I wrote some time back that mentions Fr. Walsh. The poem takes some minor liberties with historical fact:

Sr. Muriel’s Boys’ ChoirSt. William’s Church, Euclid, Ohio, 1959

Solemn High Midnight Mass, near the end of an era
(one that would end in gunfire from a grassy knoll in Dallas,
In a hellfire of napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam,
And a medieval Church damaged by patriarchy and the weight of time) . . .

There in that modest church on East 260th Street,
In a working-class suburb of a city in its death rattle,

Right there, 28 boys led by an Irish nun of the Ursuline order,
Sang so beautifully it would make the angels weep.

In the hushed darkness of midnight, as Monsignor John Fleming
Processed into the church, with Fr. Walsh as deacon, and Fr. Praznik as subdeacon,
Behind a cross raised high and candles lit against the darkness,

The boys sang “Gesu Bambino,” in English:

When blossoms flowered 'mid the snows
Upon a winter night,
Was born the Child, the Christmas Rose,
The King of Love and Light.

The organist played softly as the boys’ voices soared:

The angels sang, the shepherds sang,
The grateful earth rejoiced;
And at His blessed birth the stars
Their exultation voiced.

And then the chorus, “Venite adoremus”:
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
As Monsignor Fleming mounted the steps to the altar,
The church lights came on, and for the last time in the season, we sang “Adeste Fidelis.”
We sang it in perfect church Latin diction, following Sr. Muriel’s instructions for each syllable.

Fr. Fleming began the mass, “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti . . . .”
Then, “Introibo ad altare Dei.”

Two eighth grade boys, in surplices and cassocks, responded,
“Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutum meum.”
The response was quick and natural—and not fully understood by the boys
Or the hundreds of people in the pews. In three or four years
This Latin would be obsolete, not to be heard again.
The medieval period, which stretched across hundreds of years,
Was ending. And yes, good riddance! Yet—

There was great beauty and pageantry there,
And to this little choir boy,

Mystery and power in the Latin,
The incense, the sincere prayers of so many of these people,
My friends and neighbors (so many of them now gone).

When it was over, about 1:30 a.m.,
I walked out of the church into the brisk, snowy night,
And walked, my 11-year-old self, the mile home,
Down East 262, to Forestview, to East 266, then home.

All was silence, that night so long ago, as I entered the dark house,
Past the darkened Christmas tree, the unopened presents,
Up the stairs to where Denny and I shared a room.

And I fell asleep, the last Christmas of the Medieval,
With “Gesu Bambino” dancing in my brain,

And hoping one of the presents under the tree was a pair of baseball spikes.

[Bob Coughlin. Chardon, Ohio. January 6, 2013]

My sister Mary Ellen sent me a photo of Fr. Walsh and his sister Maggie--from father's retirement party:

Fr. Francis P. Walsh and his sister Maggie

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