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Long IslandObituaries

The Rev. Paul Walsh, retired auxiliary bishop of Rockville Centre Diocese, dies at 77

Rev. Paul Walsh, who assisted Bishop William Murphy

Rev. Paul Walsh, who assisted Bishop William Murphy in his duties for nearly a decade until his retirement in 2012, died. He was 77. Photo Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

He would walk the streets of Freeport, the parish where he was last stationed, wearing khaki pants, a Providence College sweatshirt and a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap.

If you didn't know the Rev. Paul Walsh, colleagues said, you would have no idea the unassuming man was one of the highest-ranking priests in one of the largest dioceses in the country, elevated by Pope John Paul II to the post of auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

"He was definitely a people's priest and a priest's priest," said the Rev. Douglas Arcoleo, pastor of Our Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church in Freeport, where Walsh spent the final years of his retirement. Walsh "did not aspire to be a bishop, but he accepted God's will."

Walsh, who assisted Bishop William Murphy in his duties for nearly a decade until his retirement in 2012, died Saturday. He was 77.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre. Burial will follow in St. Patrick's Cemetery in Smithtown.

"He touched hearts and changed lives simply by being the holy man everyone loved as 'their priest,' " Murphy said in a statement. "His gentle demeanor and his kind disposition are hallmarks of a priest" who affected many lives.

When Walsh preached, Arcoleo said, he had a knack for taking sometimes complicated church doctrine and making it accessible to everyone, such as throwing in references to the television show "Everyone Loves Raymond."

And he was so modest that it was years before owners of an Oceanside store where he often went to buy some of his favorite candy learned he was an auxiliary bishop, the priest said.

Walsh grew up in Wantagh, attended Seton Hall High School in Patchogue, and went on to Providence College in Rhode Island. He joined the Dominican order of Catholic priests and at one point was the order's director of formation.

But he yearned to return to his native Long Island and serve as a parish priest here, colleagues said. He did so in 1983 and was "incardinated" -- that is, made a permanent priest of the diocese -- the following year.

For many years, he served at St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Smithtown. His ministry included time in parishes in Centerport and Roosevelt, and he was a chaplain for the Suffolk County Police Department.

Walsh was so well-liked that fellow priests sought him out for spiritual direction and counseling, Arcoleo said.

The Rev. Brian Barr, a former vocations director for the diocese, said many new priests were assigned to work with Walsh so he could mentor them.

"It says a lot about the respect the church had for him," Barr said.

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