April 29, 2015 — Sister Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., a longtime spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the first female religious to serve on the editorial staff of America magazine, died on April 28 after a battle with cancer. She was 68 and passed away in a hospice in Albany, New York, next to the regional convent of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the religious order she entered as a 17-year-old novice in 1964.
Sr. Walsh had moved to her native Albany from Washington, D.C., last September after it was discovered that the cancer that had been in remission since 2010 had returned.
“Sister Mary Ann,” as she was known, worked at the communications office of the American bishops for 20 years. She became director of media relations for the USCCB — the first woman to hold that position — after coordinating media for World Youth Day in Denver in 1993, which featured a visit by Pope John Paul II.
As a high school student, she had been drawn to the Sisters of Mercy and their commitment of service to the poor, especially women and children. She earned a master’s degree in English from the College of St. Rose in Albany as well as a master’s degree in pastoral counseling from Loyola College of Maryland in Baltimore, and she began her journalism career at the Albany diocesan newspaper The Evangelist.
“I entered media because I wanted to help people,” Sr. Walsh said earlier this year in a video posted by her community. “I saw people over here who had great needs, and I saw people over here who were willing to meet needs.”
She went on to work as a correspondent for Catholic News Service in Rome and Washington before taking the USCCB job. Sr. Walsh coordinated media for the U.S. cardinals during the papal conclaves in 2005 and 2013, and she edited books on John Paul II and Benedict XVI. She also produced videos for the USCCB and regularly wrote op-eds in secular media outlets explaining and defending the bishops’ positions. In July 2014, the Jesuit-run America magazine announced that Sr. Walsh would leave the USCCB to join the publication as a columnist and blogger. In March, the Catholic Press Association gave her its highest honor, the St. Francis de Sales Award, which recognizes lifetime achievement in Catholic media.
In an account of her illness written by her community, Sr. Walsh called her final months “a living wake” as she received prayers and good wishes from so many people she had known through her life, and as she struggled to let herself be taken care of, instead of the other way around.
“I find it hard to receive mercy,” she said in a brief video posted by the Mercy sisters. “I’m used to being independent, and if somebody helps me put on my shoes, for example, that’s humbling. I don’t expect it. Mercy has jumped in from every corner to help me, in ways both large and small. I want for nothing.”