Lima-area priest named bishop in Iowa

DELPHOS — The pastor at the Catholic churches in Delphos, Landeck and Spencerville will soon oversee an entire diocese in Iowa.

Pope Francis appointed the Rev. Dennis G. Walsh as Bishop of Davenport, Iowa. Cardinal Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, publicized the move Tuesday morning.

Walsh, a native of Lima, served as pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church in Delphos and St. John the Baptist Church in Landeck since 2015, also working as pastor of St. Patrick Church in Spencerville since 2016.

“I’ve lived in different parts of the country throughout my priesthood and throughout preparation for priesthood,” Walsh, 58, said at his introductory press conference Tuesday. “But I’ve always remained a son of the Midwest. I know the values that are important here. There are values that place faith, family and community at the top.”

The people of St. John’s learned about the move Tuesday morning, including Brenda Walsh, who works alongside her brother at the church’s ministry center. He was in Davenport on Tuesday morning for his introduction there, she said.

“It’s still sinking in,” Brenda Walsh said. “We’re so excited for him.”

Their mother, Marilyn Walsh, first heard about it two weeks ago but kept the news under wraps, Walsh said. His father and the owner of the former Dan’s Barber Shop, Daniel Walsh, died five years ago and “would be so proud right now,” Brenda Walsh said.

“When I asked the nuncio for permission to tell my mother, my mother was shocked, probably more than I was,” the bishop-elect said. “There is some grieving that takes place, not only my part but her part as well. I’m only 20 minutes from home, and it’s been a great blessing for me. There is that understanding, the realization that that is not going to continue as it has. That’s a difficult part of the whole thing.”

The family grew up attending St. Gerard Church in Lima, a Redemptorist parish. The family knew from an early age he was destined to be a priest, she said.

“Since he was 3 years old, I think he’s wanted to be a priest,” Brenda Walsh said. “We had a woods behind our house, and he was always responsible for the church.”

Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of the Diocese of Toledo said in a press release that Walsh was “one of our finest pastors and such a splendid priest” in sharing the news. Thomas said it was the first time the pope chose a priest from the Toledo diocese to become the “Ordinary” of another diocese.

“As a bishop, his fidelity to Christ and His Church, his pastoral and practical wisdom, his administrative and leadership aptitude, his love for the people of God, and his warm and jovial personality will serve him well as he shepherds the local Church of Davenport,” Thomas said. “I have had the pleasure of working closely with Father Walsh for almost 10 years, and have found him to be a spiritually grounded and trusted advisor who lives out his vocation in joyful obedience.”

The Rev. Dennis G. Walsh, left, has been named bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, effective Sept. 27. He’s pictured with Bishop Daniel Thomas, of the Diocese of Toledo.

Photo courtesy of Diocese of Toledo

He joins Bishop Bruce Lewandowski, an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore, as men who grew up in Lima who became bishops.

Bishop-elect Walsh enjoys golf and history, according to a press release from the Diocese of Davenport. He spoke of his fondness for attending festivals and fairs, getting a laugh at the crowd when he spoke of eating elephant ears, caramel apples and grape snowcones.

He also loves movies and incorporates them into his homilies.

He showed that skill during his introductory press conference, quoting from 1995’s “The American President” while answering a question about growing the faith. He recounted a line about thirsty people drinking the sand because they “don’t know the difference” from real water.

“I think that’s the real task that I see, is that people don’t know the difference between life in Christ and all these other ideologies that people are pursuing,” he said. “I think we just have to provide witnesses to people that we are people of joy, and people are filled with the life of Jesus Christ.”

The Diocese of Davenport included 11,438 square miles, with 83,000 Catholics and 74 parishes in an area with a total population of 787,159. Walsh becomes the 10th bishop for that diocese. He will be ordained and installed Sept. 27. The diocese has been led by the Very Rev. Kenneth Kuntz as diocesan administrator since last October, when Thomas Zinkula became archbishop of Dubuque.

Walsh began his priesthood on May 9, 1992, for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, or the Redemptorists, a clerical missionary community founded in 1732 dedicated to service to the poor and neglected. He served in parishes in Baltimore and the Bronx. He became incardinated as a parish priest in the Diocese of Toledo on July 19, 2000, serving in Sandusky (1998-2002), Defiance (2002-2007) and Toledo (2007-2015) before coming to Delphos, Landeck and Spencerville.

He also has administrative experience, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, serving as a member of the Catholic Foundation Board (2008-2011, 2017-2019); member of the Diocese of Toledo’s Priests’ Retirement Fund Board (2010-2022); member of the diocesan Presbyteral Council (2015-2022); dean of the Saint Junipero Serra Deanery (2015-2021); trustee of the Diocese of Toledo Health Benefits Trust (2016-2022); trustee of the Diocese of Toledo Property and Casualty Trust (2016-2022); member of the College of Consultors of the Diocese of Toledo (2006-2016, 2017-present); and a member of the Diocesan Catholic Investment Trust Committee (2019-present).

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.