JAMES WALSH, K.C.S.C.
TwENTY years ago it was unusual for one Catholic paper to mention another by name. There was no particular reason for the convention, since each paper then, as now, had its own distinctive character ; but perhaps there was a vague idea that readers might be claimed by a rival who was given any credit for exists ence. That unworthy spirit in a common field of Catholic Action has vanished utterly; otherwise this profile would have to be written for the Catholic Times, the Editor of which, with habitual modesty, would refuse flatly to print it. James Walsh. who has edited the Catholic Times for some ten veers, came to Fleet Street by way of Rome and an accountant's office in the City. He is a layman who has a seminarist's knowledge of ecclesiastical matters; a business man with a flair for journalism; and a journalist who can devote his experience in other fields to the service of his craft.
ANATIVE of Swansea, he was born at the turn of the century and educated at Douai and in Rome where he studied for a double doctorate. When he went to Rome, Cardinal (then Mgr. }Tinsley) was Rector of the English College and his contemporaries as students included Cardinal Griffin. Archbishop Masterton, whom he had known previously at Douai, and Bishop Ellis. They were vintage years, during which young men fresh from school studied in company with men, some almost equally young, who yet were veterans from the Navy, the Army and the infant Air Force. 'Pope Pius XI was at the beginning at his great Pontificate, Cardinal Gasparri was completing the codification of Canon Law and the first signs had been given of the approaching settlement of the Roman question. There were thus historic events to he witnessed within the setting of the living historicity of the Eternal City, and memories were stored that became invaluable in the later years. Contrary to the expectation of his friends, Dr. Walsh did not find his vocation in the priesthood. After taking his degrees, he returned to England and qualified as an accountant. Then for several years he practised accountancy, writing occasionally in his spare time and taking an active part in the work of various Catholic societies. The first step towards a new profession was taken when he accepted an invitation to join the Board of the Catholic Publishing Company, proprietors of the Catholic Times. The paper was in a state of transition, changing gradually from a newspaper with a strong hold on circulation M the North to the combination of newspaper and review seeking readers on e more national scale. The change called not only for editorial judgment, but also for reorganisation on the business side. To this Dr. Walsh gave personal attention as a director and later as Managing Director. In 1937 he became Editor. It is not the purpose of this profile to appraise his journalistic work beyond saying that he enjoys the great goodwill of all his colleagues on the Catholic Press. Perhaps his purpose and his devotion to Catholic Action may best be exemnlified by reference to his work during the war, for which he was knighted last year by the Holy Father.
THIS began in conjunction with the Vatican InforMation Office which
was set up by the.Holy Father te bring relief to war victims, to trace refugees, and, where possible, to reunite dispersed families, and to establish contact between prisoners of war and their anxious relatives. News obtained through nunctatures and delegations was circulated to all the belligerent countries, and registers were compiled and checked of missing combatants, who when traced as prisoners were given the opportunity to send personal messages to their relatives. Apart from the large volume of correspondence to and from the Secretariat of State, regular broadcasts front Vatican Radio gave names and home addresses of prisoners of war, in the hope that relatives would be freed from anxiety, without having to wait for the slow action of official machinery. To further the work of Vatican Radio Dr. Walsh and his secretary, Miss Lord, who also has been honoured by the Holy Father, listened day after day to the broadcasts, compiled lists of British prisoners, and relayed information by post to relatives. Sometimes reception was so poor that names would he heard partially or addresses would be missed, in which event publication in the Catholic Times gave clues to neighbours who acted as unofficial messengers. Sometimes, too, listening was hazardous, particularly during the length of the blitz. It became difficult as well when the offices of the paper were rendered uninhabitable by bombs and new offices had to be found in Fleet Street. There was, however, no interruption in the compilation of the names, which relieved the fears of thousands of farnilies, very few of whom were Catholic families. In the experience of one helper, every name conveyed verbally to relatives reached them before news was received through official channels and in not a single instance were the relatives Catholics. In one period of six months nearly ten thousand names of prisoners of war were broadcast from Vatican Radio. Of these. all With addresses in Great Britain were taken down and relayed by Dr. Walsh and Miss Lord. Last year Dr. Walsh returned to Rome to receive the brief and insignia of a Knight Commander of St. Gregory in recognition of signal acts of mercy. But he would probably minimise his responsibility by saying that it is the duty of the Catholic Press to find the most convenient and effective method of circulating good news.