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The calm after the storm

· Spokeswoman for the USCCB Sr Mary Ann Walsh dies ·

It was a memorable afternoon in March when — after climbing the Janiculum Hill — we entered apartment n. 4 at the North American College. Waiting for us was one of the most dynamic, determined and calmest women with whom we had ever conversed. It was 2013 and it was raining in Rome. While the cardinals were in the Sistine Chapel voting for Benedict xvi’s successor, we finally met Sr Mary Ann Walsh, who was at the time spokeswoman for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference. Sr Mary Ann died on Tuesday, 28 April, at the age of 67, after a long battle with cancer. She had been staying at a hospice located next to the convent of the Northeast Community of the Order of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in Albany, New York, which she had entered at the age of 17.

Journalism was important to her from the start: “I have loved journalism since my childhood”. “As a child”, she said, “my heroine was Helen Thomas, a famous American reporter. I've always loved to write, and, as has happened to so many, I was very active in the school newspaper. My teacher continuously hammered two points into our heads: clarity and accuracy. She taught us a valuable lesson — and not only for those in the world of communications but for life in general. When I entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas — there were those who worked in healthcare and in school, as well as with the poor — I thought my career as a journalist was over. But... after all, working in the media and with the media was an apostolate for education!”.

After working at The Evangelist, the newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, and then at Catholic News Service, beginning in 1983 as a correspondent in Rome and then as media director in Washington, Sr Walsh was the first woman to serve as director of media relations for the U.S. Bishops’ Conference. Everything changed when she was chosen as media relations coordinator for World Youth Day 1993 in Denver. When they hired her, they said: “You like the Pope, you like young people, you like the media, you are just perfect for this role!”. Thus Sr Mary Ann began working with the U.S. bishops at the media relations office, eventually becoming its director.

“I like working with the media”, she said, despite the fact that she served as spokeswoman during some of the hardest moments in the life of the local Catholic Church, including the sex abuse scandal. “I love the challenge of the encounter. I love the world of journalism, when it voices a serious search for the truth”.The author of several books, she also wrote for other publications including The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, USA Today, America magazine, U.S. Catholic and Catholic Digest, earning numerous prizes in journalism, including the prestigious ‘St Francis de Sales Award’, which is the Catholic Press Association’s highest honor.

She often said that she started as a journalist because she liked helping people. And so she did, leaving behind a treasure for the Church in her country. It was thanks to Sr Walsh that the world learned the other face of the Catholic Church in the U.S. — a smiling, friendly and proud face, one which was ready to open up and dialogue after a storm of scandals.

Giulia Galeotti

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