October 2, 2020

Defining moments shape the life of new vice chancellor of the archdiocese

By John Shaughnessy

Chris WalshFrom his background as a singer-songwriter, Chris Walsh learned long ago the importance of sharing the heart of what’s important to him.

That quality shines through as the longtime Catholic educator talks about how his faith will be his guiding focus as he starts his new role as the vice chancellor of the archdiocese on Oct. 5.

“My Catholic faith is foundational,” Walsh notes. “It is elemental, the primary substance of my endeavor to serve God. It is the means of my salvation.”

As vice chancellor, the 47-year-old Walsh will serve with chancellor Annette “Mickey” Lentz for the next nine months, with the plan being for Walsh to become chancellor in early July of 2021—a transition that will come during Lentz’s 60th year of serving the archdiocese in numerous capacities.

Married for 18 years to his wife Sallie—whom he has known since their Catholic grade school years together—Walsh comes to the archdiocese from his latest positions as the associate dean and chair of the college of education at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky.

Walsh was praised by Lentz, who was heavily involved in the interview process for her eventual successor. She noted his communication skills, his emphasis on Catholic identity and his educational experience as a teacher, campus minister and principal in Catholic schools.

“His faith, family and friends are an integral part of his life,” Lentz said. “He’s a fine person committed to service and dedication to the Church. He’ll grasp the role quickly. I look forward to walking the journey with him.”

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson noted about Walsh, “I believe that he possesses those qualities that Pope Francis often mentions when encouraging us to greater accompaniment, dialogue and encounter—namely courage, humility and generosity.

“He brings to the position of vice chancellor an ability to listen, respect, learn, teach and easily share his faith.”

The archbishop expects the partnership between Lentz and Walsh will be “tremendous,” noting that beyond their shared “background and passion in Catholic education, they both exude a love for their Catholic faith and the joy of the Gospel.”

The archbishop also expressed his thanks to Lentz for serving as a mentor for Walsh.

“We are so grateful to Mickey’s incredible generosity and willingness to continue until the beginning of July in order to provide Chris the opportunity to engage in such a tremendous learning process. While no one can replace Mickey, I am confident that Chris will continue that Christ-centered legacy of life, ministry and service that is so evident in both these wonderful servants of God.”

Here are three defining moments from Walsh’s life that the new vice chancellor has shared with The Criterion.

Vice chancellor’s responsibilities
Chris Walsh will have a number of major responsibilities in his new role as the vice chancellor of the archdiocese. Here are four of his primary duties:
• Assists with responsibility for the canonical records of the archdiocese, ensuring that accuracy and integrity of the archives is maintained.
• Attends monthly meetings with the chancellor and directors who report to the chancellor.
• Assists with facilitating the development and monitoring of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Plan.
• Reviews requests for professional development by Catholic Center employees.

‘The most important decision of my life’

As a singer-songwriter, Walsh has produced two collections of original songs in a style that has been described as “soulful Americana.” While music remains a part of his life, there came a time when he realized it could no longer be his sole focus.

“The first 10 years of my adult life were marked by inconsistency and failure to commit to a particular course or path in my life,” he recalled.

“I loved to write and play music, which are essential elements of my makeup and good, virtuous activities. Still, I did not recognize the difference between this avocation and the vocation that I was lacking, a path that would lead to success and a productive life. Thus, I could not possibly hope to positively affect the lives of others, though I did sincerely hope to do so through my writing and my music.”

Walsh’s change in focus came in 2000, when he moved from Kentucky to Colorado for a year—a year, he says, that “served as a kind of contemplative retreat from which emerged some basic facts and insights that I needed to confront.”

While spending time in the mountains, Walsh decided he needed to return to school to earn his undergraduate degree to become a teacher.

“I knew that the call to teach was inseparable from my call to be a faithful Catholic,” he noted. “Essentially, I knew that in turning my life over to God and fully embracing my Catholic faith that my way would be made clear. This decision was the most important decision of my life.

“Not that I am ashamed of my early adult life. I simply recognize that it was more centered on ‘me’ and less centered on service to God and to others. That contrast is something I remind myself of as I remember that I had to commit myself to God to learn about sacrifice for, and service to, other people. It’s when I committed to my faith—both with and through my marriage—and to my vocation as a Catholic school educator that my life in Christ was transformed.”

It was a transformation that began with a touch of humility, Walsh said.

‘Wonderful mix of humility and pride’

Walsh’s first job as an educator came in 2002 when he was hired as a part-time teacher and the assistant coach for the boys’ soccer team at Bethlehem High School in Bardstown, Ky.

“I signed my first contract for a little more than $20,000 and thought I was on top of world for the simple fact that I was a ‘teacher,’ ” he recalled. “Next, of course, was the not-so-simple task of actually learning how to teach! Thankfully, I was blessed with a natural talent for teaching, and I was blessed with some fantastic mentor teachers.

“At the end of my first academic year, I was hired as a full-time social studies teacher and soon experienced another thrilling milestone—I got my own classroom! I really cannot overstate the sense of pride that I had in knowing that I was exactly where God wanted me to be: teaching in a Catholic school. I still remember standing in the doorway of my classroom and gazing with intense pride at the learning environment that I had prepared for my students before the first day of school in August 2003.”

Walsh says the beginning of his educational career is a time he strives to never forget “because it serves to remind me of the wonderful mixture of humility and pride that comes through serving Christ through Catholic education.”

In the years that followed, he became a campus minister, assistant principal and principal before earning advanced degrees that led him to become a professor, followed by his roles as an associate dean and chair of the college of education at Spalding.

“It is important for me to relate this narrative because it reminds me that it is the teacher in the classroom who serves as the primary vessel for the mission of the school, and it is the teacher in the classroom who instills that mission in the lives of the students who are forever enriched because of their interaction with that teacher.

“I think that my progression and growth as a professional are rooted in those early experiences as a teacher. By remembering how I got my start, I can offer empathetic and empowering leadership to others with the understanding that we are called to serve others through a Christ-centered, Catholic approach to human development through education.”

‘The desire to please God’

Walsh stresses that there is one more important element that has led him to pursue his new role of serving the people in the archdiocese: the roots of family and faith from growing up in a community in Kentucky that emphasized both.

“From my earliest memories, our Catholic faith was the organizing principle of my family’s relationship to each other and to the broader world,” said Walsh, the fourth of five children in his family. “My parents instilled in each of their children an understanding that we should lay all that we are at the foot of the cross.

“Sallie and I were both immersed in our Catholic faith quite literally from birth as baptized Catholics and members of a community whose identity is irrevocably tied to the courageous individuals who established the Diocese of Bardstown in what was then a western wilderness. The history of Bardstown and its indelible ties to Catholicism permeate the environment in which Sallie and I were formed.”

As proud as he is of that foundation, Walsh views his own life from a standpoint of humility.

“We are given to good intentions and outright failure more often than we would like to admit. In those moments, however, I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s prayer wherein he states, ‘The fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.’

“The desire to please God and to live a life that fulfills the promise of Christ’s sacrifice is what led me to a career in Catholic education, and this remains a primary component of my faith. Moreover, it is the primary component of the sacramental foundation of my marriage and my life with Sallie.”

It’s all part of the journey that has brought him to serve people in central and southern Indiana, Walsh said.

“God has provided me with a multitude of wonderful experiences and has blessed the path that has led me to the current opportunity to serve the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.” †

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