Father Leo J. Walter, MM
Born: November 25, 1914
Ordained: June 22, 1941
Died: September 20, 1981
Father Leo J. Walter (Philippines) died on September 20, 1981 at Good Samaritan Hospital, Cincinnati, Ohio. When his health failed earlier this year Leo returned to the U.S. in anticipation of his Jubilee celebration. In May, while in Cincinnati, his condition worsened. Leo, quite literally, was living for the Jubilee celebration at Maryknoll, N.Y. He was 40 years ordained on June 22nd. His family attended the Jubilee at Maryknoll at Leo’s request but Leo himself was unable to attend.
Over these last months, Leo’s sister and brothers, as well as their families, have been constantly with Leo during his illness. His brother, Charles, had spent the last night with him at the hospital, and when Leo died he was present along with Leo’s nephew who is also a priest. Leo was sustained during these last months of sickness not only by his family but also by the larger family of Maryknollers who surrounded him with visits and constant prayer. Bishop Joseph Regan was the last to visit with Leo.
Born in Norwood, Ohio, on November 25, 1914, Leo was one of seven sons and one daughter of Frances Doll and Charles Walter. The mission vocation was a slow steady growth, grounded in his extraordinary family, taking root in fifth grade through a school talk of a Solomon Island missioner, and flowering at Purcell High School through contact with Fr. John Coulehan, M.M., in the Fall of 1928. Because of family illness Leo delayed entrance to Maryknoll until 1932 when he began at Maryknoll Junion Seminary, Mount Washington, Cincinnati. Leo said that his motivations were mixed: “a spirit of adventure” and “the desire to spread Christ’s Kingdom in mission lands.”
For ten tumultuous years, from 1941, Leo served our China mission, his baptism by fire. Shortly after arriving he was interned for several months at the Japanese prison camp at Stanley, with 13 other Maryknoll priests, brothers and sisters. Released in 1942, Leo recovered quickly and by January, 1943, was working in Kweilin. In September of 1945 Leo wrote of the Japanese conquest: “The mission is so completely gone that the only way we could tell our property was by a pear tree still standing in the yard. The entire city of Kweilin has been utterly destroyed.” He rebuilt his mission then, only to be evicted by the Chinese Communists in December, 1950.
In 1951, through assignment to the Lipa Diocese, Leo began his Philippine mission career. Over the years he served as Second Consultor and First Consultor to the Regional Superior – and eventually, as Regional Superior himself.
Leo accepted these responsibilities wholeheartedly even though his personal desire was never to be Superior. Always the gentleman, never one to offend, Leo found it difficult to be firm with his fellow missioners. He was truly the friend of everyone he met, both Maryknollers and the people. One superior wrote of him: “A fine priest and gentleman. When he retired as Regional Superior, he gave a wonderful example of accepting so willingly his later assignment. He is respected very much as a person by both priests and people.”
Mass was celebrated on September 23rd at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains, Cincinnati. At Maryknoll the wake service was held on September 24th and the funeral the following day with Fr. James Noonan as principal celebrant and Fr. Walter Maxcy as Homilist. Burial was in the Maryknoll cemetery, with graveside service conducted by Fr. Thomas Marti.
Leo was seen throughout his life as someone who seeks perfection in all things. The Superior General wrote: “He had all the qualities that a good missioner should have, and the development of the human virtues lacking in so many of our men is evident in him.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burden-some, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” (Matt.12:28,29)