Andrew Walther, President of EWTN News, Remembered as a ‘St. Joseph’ Figure
Friends and colleagues say the longtime Church leader’s talents and accomplishments were only overshadowed by his character and fidelity to friends and family.
Though he died just short of his 46th birthday, Andrew Walther left an indelible mark on the world. His tireless work for the Church spanned decades and disciplines, as a journalist for the National Catholic Register, longtime Knights of Columbus communications strategist, advocate for persecuted Christians and, most recently, president of EWTN News.
But to understand the animating impulse of Walther’s life, which ended its earthly course on Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day, after complications from leukemia, his pastor suggests starting from a different vantage point: Walther’s fidelity to his primary vocation, as a husband and a father.
“The image it really conjured up for me was St. Joseph,” said Dominican Father John Paul Walker on witnessing Walther’s simple and steadfast love for his wife of 10 years, Maureen, and their four children. “It’s the most perfect analogy I can draw.”
Father Walker, who has served at the Walther family’s parish of St. Mary’s in New Haven, Connecticut, for five years, fondly recalls scenes of Walther bringing his kids up to the front of the church for a children’s blessing, or keeping an eye on them after Mass so his wife was free to socialize with friends. In the process, Father Walker says Walther revealed the Josephite heart of a man who took seriously even the most basic tasks entrusted to him by God, opening himself up for greater responsibilities.
“When we’re faithful in our primary vocation of life, the graces that flow from that help us in every other aspect of life,” said Father Walker, who characterized Walther as a man of dedication and consistency.
Longtime friends and colleagues echoed Father Walker’s remembrances, quick to point out that while Walther’s natural gifts and professional accomplishments were incredible, it was his character that left the greatest impression upon them. Others remember his calm and unbreakable faith, even in the midst of his leukemia diagnosis.
“Andrew’s smile telegraphed who he was,” said Tom Hoopes, a former executive editor of the Register who hired Walther to work for the paper in the early 2000s. “It told you he was highly competent and friendly and that circumstances that stressed others out only mildly bemused him.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, remembers Walther as “a doting father, madly in love with his wife, and fiercely loyal and loving to his friends.” A longtime friend of Walther, she experienced his attentiveness personally this year when, in the difficult days of COVID-related quarantining, Walther made a point of regularly checking in with her, despite having a newborn at home, working “on the 110 projects he had on his hands” and transitioning to head of EWTN News, a position he’d begun on June 1.
Worker in the Media Vineyard
It was a position well-earned after a nearly two-decade career of working at the intersection of the Church and communications. Walther was remembered by former and current media colleagues as the epitome of a Catholic journalist.
“He had a great ‘nose for news’ and understood the Register’s mission so well that I would use him as an example” of how to write about the intersection of the Church and culture, said Hoopes. “I would tell them, ‘Look at Andrew Walther’s stories.’”
In 2005, his talents and zeal for mission led him to the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council, where he eventually served as vice president for communications and strategic planning. His efforts are remembered by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson as “integral” to a number of initiatives, from launching the Knights’ contemporary communications program to overseeing polling and book-publishing operations. Walther even co-wrote a book with his wife, The Knights of Columbus: An Illustrated History, which was released earlier this year.
Brian Caulfield, a co-worker of Walther’s during his time with the Knights, considers the California native to have been “one of the brightest intellects and most effective strategists in [Catholic media].”
“Even a casual conversation with Andrew would invariably lead to a deeper insight into an issue,” Caulfield said. “He was always on the job, synthesizing knowledge and ideas from a wide range of sources, Catholic and non-Catholic, to come up with original initiatives.”
Walther immediately tapped into this deep reservoir of journalistic and Catholic communications expertise in June when he assumed his leadership role at EWTN News, at a very critical moment.
“In a year that has thrown us all extraordinary challenges, and in which he personally carried the burden of the illness that would take his life, Andrew remained calm and steady — even joyful — at the helm,” Register Editor in Chief Jeanette De Melo said. “His outlook was always the big picture, the long term.
“In less than five months with EWTN News his impact was wide, and his leadership will be greatly missed.”
Although his time as president and chief operating officer at EWTN News was brief, EWTN CEO and Board Chairman Michael Warsaw said Walther “had already accomplished so much” for the organization.
“His death is a great loss for all who knew him, for EWTN and for the Church,” said Warsaw.
An initiative that Walther’s colleagues agree was most important to him was coming to the aid of persecuted Christians, especially those in the Middle East. Walther traveled to Iraq several times, befriending local clerics and organizing the Knights’ Christian Refugee Relief program, which has distributed more than $20 million in aid to Christians from Iraq, Syria, and the surrounding region in the wake of violent persecution by the Islamic State. Walther also helped to write a pivotal report on the Islamic State group’s attacks on Christians and other religious minority groups, which led then-Secretary of State John Kerry to declare the atrocities as genocide in March 2016.
Bishop Bawai Soro, who leads the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy in Toronto, described Walther as a “compassionate leader” and a well-respected negotiator who played a pivotal role in securing support for persecuted Iraqi religious minorities from the Trump administration and Congress.
“He was so easy to reach and lovely to collaborate with,” said the bishop. “His personality was characterized by joy, charity and determination.”
Father Benedict Kiely, the founder of a charity dedicated to relieving persecution of Christians in the Middle East, met Walther in 2015 after making his first visit to Iraq. The priest describes him as one of the few people who actually were capable of making a difference in the perennially complex and fraught region.
“His influence in Iraq was astonishing,” said Father Kiely, a priest of the personal ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. “He truly had a passion for the persecuted and used all his considerable skills to raise the issue and provide support.”
In keeping with that passion to assist victims of persecution, Walther also worked to mobilize assistance for Nigerian Christians who have also been the targets of violent attacks by Islamist militants.
A Final Task Completed
Walther’s passing is certainly a sad event, and his friends and colleagues express their deep condolences to his wife, Maureen, their four children, and his entire family.
Some are also taking solace in some of the providential circumstances surrounding Walther’s passing. For one, Walther passed away on All Saints’ Day, the Church’s great celebration of the communion of heaven, and news of his passing was learned by many on All Souls’ Day, a day dedicated to praying for the dead.
“I’m not going to proclaim that he’s a saint — we pray for our departed — but from everything I had seen in him, I have every reason to have that well-founded hope that, if not now, then sometime soon, he’s enjoying the Beatific Vision,” said Father Walker.
Lopez agrees and says her friend’s passing on All Saints’ Day should be a reminder of what a Christian life is supposed to look like, “however many years we get.”
“Live every day to the fullest in joyful obedience to God. That’s what Andrew did. That’s the way to live,” Lopez said.
Matt Meeks believes there’s a possible reason for Walther’s otherwise tragic departure.
“He was a brilliant man; he was a good man,” said Meeks, a Catholic communications expert, in a Facebook post. “And I am sure he was only taken early because he will do even more for the Church and those he loves than we could ever imagine from heaven.”
The proximity of Walther’s death to the Oct. 31 beatification of Father Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, also cannot be overlooked.
Walther considered Father McGivney to be a friend and was dedicated to his canonization cause, working closely with Caufield, the vice postulator of the priest’s cause for canonization, even after Walther had technically begun his work with EWTN. On the day Father McGivney’s final miracle was approved and the Vatican announced its intention to beatify him, Father Walker remembers Walther coordinating media coverage at St. Mary’s, the parish where the Knights of Columbus founder had started the first council and where he is entombed.
Walther died a day after his spiritual friend formally was recognized as “Blessed.”
“Our prayers go out to Andrew Walther’s loved ones and the entire EWTN family,” said White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews. “He leaves behind an extraordinary legacy of service to the Catholic Church and defending persecuted religious minorities throughout the world. May he rest in peace.”