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Phillip McDonnell Speech

Remarks @ Mount St. Mary’s Bicentennial
Regional Celebration
Marines Memorial 6/18/08

There are many celebrated graduates of Mount St. Mary’s.  One of them was Father Flannigan, the developer of Boys Town.  I regard my six classmates who died in WWII as heroes in their own right.  One of the founders of the Northern California Alumni Chapter, Admiral Thomas F. Brown, was once ordered by President Reagan to head a battle group of two-dozen ships into the so-called Persian Gulf when that area first began exploding.  The Mount recognized his distinctive service with a Doctorate of Letters.  But another one of my admired Mountaineers was a leader of the Maryknoll Missionary Order, Bishop James Edward Walsh, Class of 1910.

As a student editor, I once interviewed him for the Mountain Echo.  His new fledgling Maryknoll Order was then just in their early activities in China.  Later on in 1951, when he was their executive director in Shanghai, he was arrested by the Communists and placed under strict surveillance for the next half dozen year.  Finally in 1958, he was arrested, interrogated for 18 months and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and denounced as a ”Traitor, Stooge and Spy.”  After serving half his sentence, he became the last Christian religious person remaining in China still under detention.  He was released and walked out of China alone across the Hong Kong border to freedom.

In 1971, after a trip to see his family in Cumberland, Maryland, and the Pope, he came to San Francisco and was a celebrant at Mass in the Cathedral here.  After the service he slowly came down the aisle and I had all I could do to restrain myself.  I wanted to reach out and touch him and remind him of our meeting on Campus thirty years before. I heard a woman behind me whisper to her friend:  “There goes a living Saint!”  I just didn’t have the nerve to follow my impulse.

Hours later my conscience took over.  I felt guilty for not having at least given him a greeting from another Mountaineer.  So I called the local Maryknoll House and asked if I could ring their doorbell and speak with him.  In a surprisingly scolding tone the answer was:  “No, we’re keeping him away from callers, he’s too old, frail and week to see visitors.  Please leave him alone.”  I then requested that he just be told of my call.  Within minutes, the call was returned and the voice said, “Bishop Walsh insists on seeing the “Man from Mount St. Mary’s.”

I took my two young sons alone the next day, who actually added a different touch.  We had a wonderful visit that was duly reported in the next edition of the Mountain Echo.  I was then privileged to introduce him at the following Alumni Dinner in Emmitsburg.  He received the DuBois medal for outstanding service to his country, his Church and his Alma Mater.  The leader of the Maryknoll Order and one of the Mount’s star baseball athletes died in New York State a few years later.  We’ll never know if he was a saint, but to my mind he was one of the Mount’s most famous graduates.

Read Mount history assistant professor Dr. Isabella Notar's entire preliminary research on Bishop Walsh's missionary path. (PDF)

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