The Rev. Thomas Walsh, a Franciscan friar and pastor of a Rosedale congregation who had been the longest-serving Archbishop Curley High School religious faculty member, died of a heart attack Saturday at Union Memorial Hospital. He was 60.
The pastor of the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation, he had spent more than 25 years as a teacher and guidance counselor at the Northeast Baltimore boys school, which will be closed Friday to honor his life and to allow students to attend his funeral. He was also a Johns Hopkins Hospital weekend chaplain.
His family said he was born in Fulton, N.Y., and that as a boy, he developed a curiosity about animals and nature. He kept saltwater aquariums and raised orchids.
"He fed injured baby birds with an eyedropper," said one of his sisters, Kathleen Mowery of Pittsburgh. "We had hamsters, rabbits, ducks and fish tanks. Everything but snakes."
He decided to pursue a religious vocation and entered the Franciscan Friars Conventual in 1972, making his first vows a year later.
He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Granby, Mass., and a master's degree in divinity from St. Anthony-on-Hudson Theological Seminary in Rensselaer, N.Y. He was ordained in Albany, N.Y., in 1980.
That year he joined the faculty at Archbishop Curley, where he taught English and religion and was a guidance counselor.
"One year he brought in bags of mulch and built a garden with trees and shrubs inside the cafeteria for the junior prom," said Sylvia Davis of Forest Hill, who worked as an assistant at the school. "People remember it as 'Father Tom's Prom,' it made such an impression. Although he was unassuming and casual, he had an enthusiasm that could transform an event."
Friends said he became a sought-after college admissions counselor and always was ready to listen to those seeking advice.
Roger Czerwinski, who also worked with him at the school and became a close friend, recalled Father Walsh him as patient, kind and gentle. He said he was also a peacemaker.
"Father Tom commanded respect, but he also gave it back," said Mr. Czerwinski, of Red Lion, Pa. "He had a calming aura about him, and in a volatile situation, he took control and defused it."
He said Father Walsh's ability to tame a situation served him well when concerned or distraught students needed someone to speak to.
"His whole ministry was about helping others, guiding them," said Mr. Czerwinski.
Nick Brownlee, a Perry Hall resident and former student, recalled Father Walsh's tough love. "He held you accountable," he said. "But he walked alongside you. I can hear him saying, 'I stay here and I work here because I see people change. They become better people.'"
About five years ago, Father Walsh left the school and became an associate pastor at Rosedale's St. Clement Maria Hofbauer and was later named pastor of the Church of the Annunciation.
"In his preaching, he was a teacher at heart. He loved to ask his congregation questions," said a fellow Franciscan, the Rev. Donald Grzymski of Baltimore.
Friends said that Father Walsh retained his love of animals and kept an African gray parrot, finches, fish tanks and coral arrangements.
"His bedroom was like sleeping in a botanical garden," said the Rev. James McCurry, provincial of his religious order, who lives in Ellicott City. "A major theme in his life was his harmony with God's creation, a harmony that allowed him to relate to his students and his congregation."
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday at the Church of the Annunciation, 5212 McCormick Ave.
In addition to his sister, survivors include a brother, Edward Walsh of Denver; another sister, Maureen Johnson of Lansing, N.Y.; and nieces and nephews.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun