New campus ministry director Fr. Peter Walsh values open communication with students

‘We need to understand better to do better’

By Netty Jurriaans | November 21, 2022 5:30pm
Fr. Peter Walsh is the new director of Campus Ministry.
Media Credit: Shruthi Vijukumar / The Beacon

If you listen closely outside of Walsh’s door in Corrado Hall you might be able to hear the strum of a guitar and a folk song being sung. A lover of the arts and nature, Walsh brings a new vision for Campus Ministry to UP as the new executive director of mission and ministry. 

While Walsh arrived here on campus as the new director of campus ministry his role has now been expanded. After Laurie Laird stepped down from her position as the director of the Moreau Center, Walsh now oversees both Campus Ministry and the Moreau Center. The University is still looking to hire a new director of moreau center that will work under Walsh.   

Before coming to UP,  Walsh worked as director of campus ministry for St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. Making this his first experience living in the Pacific NorthWest. 

“I am looking forward to the change in scenery,” Walsh said. “I'm looking forward to exploring a new part of the country for me”.

Walsh grew up in the Dorchester area of Boston, Massachusetts. Growing up in New England gave Walsh the ability to appreciate the changing of the seasons — something he missed while living in Texas. Now that he's in Portland he can once again bundle up for the colder months instead of wearing shorts and a t-shirt on Thanksgiving. 

As the leaves change with winter quickly approaching, Walsh is looking forward to his first real fall and winter in 10 years. On campus you might catch him admiring the variety of trees that live here, wandering down to river campus or stealing some basil from the SLUG garden to make fresh pesto. 

“The most remarkable thing is the size of the trees,” Walsh said. “I know you probably don't even notice it, but the trees out here are huge, I feel like a hobbit.”

When not immersing himself in the nature around campus and in Portland, Walsh will most likely be listening to or making music. He can be found strumming along to songs from some of his favorite artists including The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers.

The guitar he strums has been with him since he was 18 years old and often makes an appearance around the dorm hall. According to former classmate and colleague Patrick Hannon, though Walsh is humble about his playing, he is a very talented musician. 

“He's a really good guy and a beautiful singer,” Hannon said. “He of course plays the guitar quite well and he is a good preacher with such a great sense of humor.” 

Fr. Peter Walsh playing guitar with Patrick Hannon. Photo courtesy of Peter Walsh.

Hannon is an English professor here at UP, as well as a Holy Cross Priest and the pastoral resident of Christie Hall. He has known Walsh for 37 years, ever since they were classmates during their time together at Notre Dame. 

Because of the positive impact Hannon feels Walsh has had on his life, he also believes Walsh will make a positive impact in Campus Ministry. 

“He's the kind of guy that will gather people together, you know, and want to spend time with them,” Hannon said. 

While Walsh’s love for nature and music is an integral part of who he is, spirituality and faith is what brought him to UP.

“Holy Cross is, from my experience, a very welcoming community,” Walsh said.

He entered the seminary at 22 years old and has now spent 33 years as a priest. He previously worked for several years in campus ministry at Yale University as well as the director of campus ministry at St. Edward's University. 

He was introduced to Holy Cross when he attended Stonehill College and further decided to enter the seminary. He was motivated by the welcoming environment and the significant impression priests left on him as a young student.

Walsh treasured the close-knit relationships priests shared with students at Stonehill. Not only did students help guide him in his spiritual journey, but they also were there to help in other aspects of his life. 

“There's that commitment that Holy Cross has had, traditionally, to really sharing life with students that I benefited from as an 18 year old,” Walsh said. 

With his experience at St. Edward's University, Walsh hopes to bring a perspective of acceptance and understanding to Campus Ministry.  He wants to bring the same welcoming holy cross environment that he experienced in college to the students at UP. 

“One of the key initiatives that St. Edward’s embarked upon while I was there was really making a commitment but also following through on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice initiatives” Walsh said. 

At St. Edward’s, Walsh worked with lay presidents just as he will with UP President Robert Kelly. Walsh is excited to continue bringing ideas from St. Edwards to UP about how we can engage better with students of different backgrounds. 

“[At St. Edward’s] We make a commitment to say well, how are they?” Walsh said. “Who's doing well and who isn't doing well? Who is accessing resources and who isn't? And finding out what the barriers would be and how to increase our own capacity to meet students where they are.” 

Fr. Peter Walsh with faculty from St. Edward's University. Photo courtesy of Peter Walsh.

With tensions rising between students and campus ministry over the last year, Walsh has been working with the Gender and Sexuality Partnership (GSP) to help bridge the community. GSP’s spiritual connections director, Ben Wolff, is working closely with Walsh. 

“He has been really great this year when it comes to ways that we can incorporate GSP and campus ministry into events on campus,” Wolff said.

Wolff sees Walsh as someone who can create change and make amends. 

“We want to look at everything with an eye of looking forward into the future and partnering together, instead of holding any animosity,” Wolff said. 

Walsh feels strongly about creating a welcoming environment for queer students. One of the key Holy Cross principles Walsh is passionate about is meeting students where they are. 

Walsh worked with GSP to put on the National Coming Out day vigil and doesn't plan on stopping there. He is hopeful that Campus Ministry and GSP will be able to work together to put on more events. 

“We make the effort to really get to know and understand the students not only individually but also in terms of their identities, and to find ways to bring greater equity into their student experience,” Walsh said. 

Walsh has also made it a point to listen to student perspectives to know how Campus Ministry can better support students whose identities may have not been fairly represented in the past. 

“There's an obvious rub between certain sexual identities or gender identities and traditional religious communities,” Walsh said. “But let's explore it and not make it a conflict.”  

Walsh recognizes how impactful open communication is between the church and queer students. He believes that although those conversations can be tough they are still a vital part of mending the relationship between Campus Ministry and students. 

Campus Ministry services are available to all students regardless of how they identify. Walsh is determined to listen to students and be the resource that they need. 

“It's at the structural level of looking at identity in terms of systemic obstacles, racism, sexism, homophobia, but then also, to just get to know the person and to see what they're bringing to this relationship.” Walsh said. “I'm the one doing the listening. You don't have to listen to me.” 

Netty Jurriaans is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at