Montreal’s iconic Father John Walsh was named “Irishman of the Year” at the Erin Sports Association’s 42nd edition of its annual pre-St.Patrick’s Day breakfast this past Saturday. Aside from a short biography that describes Father John as a man who “...displays a profound ability to forge ties and dialogue between faith communities,” the Governor General’s office went on to describe Father John Walsh as the man who “...fosters exchanges and promotes understanding and reconciliation, ” when they decided to give him the nation’s highest honor – The Order of Canada.
As opposed to the usual wooden thank- you speeches delivered by individuals who have not spent the last few decades preaching to hundreds of people on a weekly basis, Father John’s speech was a short, and frankly funny effort that had a lot to say about today’s Montreal.
“We must redefine our lives in new ways, just as much as we must redefine our faith in new ways,” said Walsh. “We must redefine what it means to be Irish!”
Following a brief reference to the city’s Irish community’s history and its collective memory of what it was like to come to Canada because of the horrors of the 19th century famine that killed millions of people back in Ireland, Walsh reminded his community, “...that we’re not refugees anymore, but we can still remember what it was like to be welcomed with open arms in the new land.”
After cracking up his audience with an amusing anecdote about the poor man with a sore head who lost an argument with his wife following a night out on the town, Walsh reminded his audience that such stories “...remind us about what it means to be human.”
While that tolerance is now known to be one of the city’s virtues, Walsh went on to remind his audience why “... it’s our turn to extend our welcome to the immigrants who come to our shores because they want to build a new life.”
Following a reference to the fever sheds that sheltered thousands of sick immigrants who were fleeing the famine, Walsh referred to “...the French and the English, the Catholics and the Protestants,” who cared for the sick as they lay dying of fever.
“...And had the Irish immigrants not been cared for and welcomed with open arms, we would have no history to speak of.”
As Montreal’s newest ‘Irishman of the Year’, Walsh concluded his speech with a blessing and a wish that everybody “...have a happy St. Patrick’s day.”