Catholic Media Correspondent inspired by Simon & Garfunkel, Sister Mary Ann Walsh Has Passed Away
Last week, the world lost one of its most prominent Catholic media correspondents in Sister Mary Ann Walsh.
The Catholic Church lost one of its finest correspondents and media professionals on April 28th with the passing of Sister Mary Ann Walsh. The often quiet appearing nun had a spunky personality when needed and had a keen wit which made her perfect for her very public role as a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and in her role as a journalist or media relations person.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh was 68-years-old and passed away in an Albany hospice after her battle with cancer. Walsh had returned to her hometown of Albany from her stay in Washington September 2014 after it was discovered that she was no longer in remission from her previous battle with cancer in 2010. Her decision to return allowed her to live out her remaining days with the Sisters of Mercy right next door to the convent where she had become a novice in 1964.
“I got into media because I wanted to help people.”
Walsh became the first female media relations director for USCCB after her work in coordinating media for World Youth Day 1993 in Denver which proved to be hugely successful due to a visit by Pope John Paul II. She cites the band Simon & Garfunkel as inspiration for her career. “I saw people over here who had great needs. I saw people over here who were willing to meet needs. And I thought ‘I can be the bridge.’ It was the time of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters,’ and what’s what I wanted to be, I wanted to be the bridge over troubled waters.”
Sister Mary Ann Walsh’s job was often an important yet complex one amid various difficulties encountered by the Catholic Church during her years of service and, although Walsh would joke with friends that her work at the USCCB would make her time in Purgatory shorter, her job was always completed with the utmost in faith and effectiveness. Walsh’s up-front and direct style helped her to deal with other journalists and advise them on how to get it right next time. Her loving and kind heart and concern for the feelings of others, however, led her to perform such tasks quietly and with consideration.
Walsh was drawn to service by what she saw displayed by the Sisters of Mercy in her hometown of Albany. These sisters served those who were poverty stricken, especially women and children encountering difficulties. After entering as a novice, Sister Mary Ann Walsh earned degrees in English at College of St. Rose in Albany and began teaching elementary and then high school.
In addition to her English degree and work with marginalized women, Walsh attended Loyola College of Maryland where she earned a pastoral counseling master’s degree and began her journalism career at The Evangelist, the Albany diocesan newspaper. Her contribution to the church, the people, and to media made her a well-respected and admired woman throughout her service to the church and in her time spent as a spokesperson and journalist. Her spunky personality led her to use her position as a media spokesperson for good and she often battled negative press, as was seen in her counter story which shot down TV host, Phil Donahue’s statements regarding nuns who had taught him in grade school.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh later worked as Catholic News Service correspondent in both Washington and Rome before she took on her position in the USCCB. Walsh’s work involved the coordination of high-profile and important media coverage events such as the papal conclaves in 2005 and 2013. In addition, she also edited books written on the papal lives of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, and produced videos for USCCB, and wrote in defense of the Church’s positions.
As she was about to leave her position at USCCB to take on the role of columnist and blogger, Sister Mary Ann Walsh began to feel ill and consulted her physician only to discover the return of her breast cancer. This diagnosis didn’t seem to stop her, and Walsh continued to write in support of her sisters, columns and blog posts. In March, Walsh earned the Catholic Press Association’s St. Francis de Sales Award which is its higher honor recognizing lifetime achievement in Catholic media. Her ability to remain positive and live in the spirit of her faith led her to share her last few months with her sisters around her in celebration of life and living. In a piece written about her illness by her community, Walsh was quoted as stating her final months were a “living wake.”
Her life’s work and desire was to bridge the gaps between the Church and media and her success at doing just that has left many feeling as though they have lost a great friend and advocate for the betterment of all.