By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Bishop Thomas J. Welsh, 87, retired Bishop of the Diocese of Allentown and a former Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia, died Feb. 19. Bishop Welsh was also the founding bishop of the Diocese of Arlington and a former rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood. Cardinal Justin Rigali will celebrate Bishop Welsh’s funeral Mass at Allentown’s Cathedral of St. Catherine of Siena on Saturday, Feb. 28.
“This deeply spiritual bishop was an ardent supporter of Catholic education and a strong advocate for the unborn,” Allentown’s Bishop Edward P. Cullen said in a statement. “I ask the faithful of the diocese and all men and women of good will to pray for the happy repose of the soul of this faithful servant and devoted bishop.”
Bishop Welsh was born Dec. 20, 1921, in Weatherly, Carbon County, which was then part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia but now part of the Allentown Diocese.
He attended St. Nicholas School and Schwab High School, both in Weatherly, before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He was ordained at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on May 30, 1946, as part of the last class ordained by Cardinal Dennis Dougherty.
After further studies at the Catholic University of America he was appointed to the faculty of Southeast Catholic (now SS. John Neumann and Maria Goretti) High School. He also served as assistant pastor at St. Barbara and Holy Child Parishes in Philadelphia as well as various summer assignments.
In 1958 he was appointed to the archdiocesan Metropolitan Marriage Tribunal, and in 1963 he was appointed vice chancellor for the Archdiocese.
Cardinal John Krol appointed him rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1966. Msgr. Francis Carbine, who was on the seminary faculty at the time, recalls Bishop Welsh as “a priestly administrator.”
“Whenever I spoke to him I felt I was being listened to,” Msgr. Carbine said. “His initiatives were in a large part responsible for preserving and developing the institutional mission of St. Charles Seminary.”
Among these initiatives were the process of Middle States accreditation of the seminary, the updating of the library and the inauguration of the Religious Studies spanision at St. Charles, Msgr. Carbine said.
Msgr. William McGeown, who was a seminarian during Bishop Welsh’s tenure as rector, said he was “one of the most kind and sensitive men I have ever met. He had the spirit of Vatican II and a gentler presence, one of the finest priests I have known.”
In 1970, he was named an auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia.
In June 1974, he was named bishop of the newly formed Diocese of Arlington and installed Aug. 13 of that same year.
During Bishop Welsh’s years in Arlington, he established six new parishes, including the nation’s first Vietnamese personal parishes, welcomed five congregations of women religious and founded the Arlington Catholic Herald newspaper. He was a firm defender of the right to life.
Bishop Welsh “was indeed our father in faith,” said Arlington’s Bishop Paul S. Loverde, “sent by Pope Paul VI in 1974 to form the newly created diocese. Attentively, faithfully and devotedly, Bishop Welsh nurtured this nascent church for nine years until 1983 when he was transferred to the Diocese of Allentown.”
As spiritual leader of the diocese of his own roots, Bishop Welsh established its first Youth Ministry Office, raised $13 million to endow Catholic education, established a diocesan newspaper, the AD Times and was founding president of the board of the Catholic Home Study Institute (now the Catholic Distance University).
Bishop Welsh officially retired in December 1997 but remained active in administering the sacrament of confirmation throughout the Allentown Diocese.
Bishop Welsh died at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest in Allentown after a short illness.
Following his funeral, he will be interred at St. Nicholas Cemetery, Weatherly, in the parish of his birth.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.