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by Josephine Benton

I ask the Lord to keep me living, and my mind
clear, as long as I'm able to function and bring
souls into the message. That's the only thing worth
living for. Oh, it's the only thing!

—Mary Walsh, 1984


 That Little Black Book:

Mary E. Walsh


Licensed minister 1921 to 1981

In Europe, World War I was threatening. However, in New York City young people from around the world could find culture, excitement, and career opportunities. Mary Walsh, from Ireland, returned from nursing duty to her New York City apartment, slipped out of her uniform, and selected a smart dress for evening wear. Adding jewelry, she was soon ready for a night at the opera. Petite, trim, in her early twenties, Mary radiated the inner beauty of intelligence and a strong character.

Studying herself in the mirror, although she looked well groomed, Mary felt uncomfortable. She asked herself, "Would my blessed Lord do what I'm doing?" She decided that He would not. Consequently, she changed her clothes for an evening at home and never again attended the opera, the Hippodrome, or her dancing lessons; she just gave them all up. What occasioned her sudden change in standards for dress and entertainment that night in New York City? A look backward will indicate what had brought her to this point.

Mary Walsh was born a British subject in the northern part of Ireland in 1892. As a teenager she traveled to visit her aunt in New York City. Mary liked life in the United States well enough to remain to study nursing. Although she was far from home, her roots extended to New York City: she lived with her aunt and uncle, and she worshiped at the Roman Catholic Church just as she had in Ireland. Since her uncle was a cousin of Cardinal Farley, on Sunday Mary ordinarily attended the eleven o'clock mass at the cathedral with the cardinal officiating.1

After finishing her training, Mary found nursing work that paid better than wages she would have earned in Ireland. She enjoyed living in a place of her own, buying elegant clothes, and taking advantage of the cultural opportunities in New York City. She attended the opera for entertainment, the lecture halls for enlightenment, and dancing lessons for personal development.

One Saturday evening a friend handed Mary an announcement for a lecture to be given the following night. After the friend left, Mary held the paper in her hand and repeatedly read the bold-type headline: Will This Generation Pass Away Before We Witness the Second Coming of Christ? The question had never occurred to her before, but now she was intrigued by it.

The lecture was scheduled in a theater in a section of the city unfamiliar to Miss Walsh. In order to be sure of arriving there on time the following evening, she set out right then, on Saturday night, to find the place. Consequently, on Sunday evening she arrived on time and located a seat near the front.

Mary supposed she would be hearing a chautauqua2 lecture. When the speaker entered carrying "a little black book," as she described it later, and knelt at center-stage to ask for God's blessing, she was amazed. She had never seen a chautauqua lecturer pray.

The "little black book" turned out to be a Bible, to Mary's disappointment, for that was a book that she conscientiously avoided. Her upbringing as a Roman Catholic had left her afraid of the Scriptures. She had been taught that the study of the Bible was especially dangerous for lay people. A friend who had brought a Bible to Miss Walsh's apartment had been asked, kindly but firmly, to remove that little black book and never bring it again.

Mary remained in the theater, though, and soon the lecturer was making sense to her. He spoke of current events and historical data with which Mary was familiar, for she possessed a bright mind and read widely. Then he showed in the Bible clear predictions of the very events that he had cited from history and current events. Young Miss Walsh thought, "Nobody can predict the future like that! Yet there it is, all laid out centuries beforehand." She left the theater that night convinced that the lecturer's little black book contained, not heresy, but the very words of God.

Being a woman of action, Mary ventured out the very next morning as soon as the shops were open to buy a little black book of her own. She found a copy of the Douay Version of the Bible and began to read as eagerly as a thirsty traveler welcomes a large dipper of water.

Thursday night found Mary at the theater for the second lecture. A typical evangelist might not have been able to penetrate Mary Walsh's prejudice against the Bible, but God in His love had brought her into contact with the right preacher to reach her. Professor C. T. Everson evinced sound scholarship. He was fluent and articulate; she said, admiringly, that he had a "liquid tongue." Even with no electronic projection, his melodious voice carried to all parts of the theater. Mary Walsh respected Professor Everson as a competent, professional person.

Still, there was more. In Professor Everson, scholarship was paired with commitment to Christ. His main purpose was not to trace fulfilled prophecy, but to portray the Son of God vividly and believably. He drew appealing verbal pictures of "that meek and lowly Galilean."

Gifted with a vivid imagination, Mary Walsh could picture just what Jesus looked like as Professor Everson spoke about Him repeatedly on Sunday and Thursday nights. Even though she had been a church-going person all her life, she was finding a new and living experience. "I'd found my Christ," she recalled with gratitude. "I got a real glimpse."As she accepted Christ as her Saviour and invited Him daily to share her life, Mary noticed that her lifestyle was changing. That was how it came about that she stood before her mirror and asked whether or not her Lord would do what she was doing. Concluding that He would not, she changed her ways immediately. Before long she shopped for a different wardrobe—still good quality but more simple. She put her jewelry away.

No one suggested that she make these changes. On her own she read everything she could find, the Bible along with books and pamphlets published by the Seventh-day Adventists on various doctrines and church teachings.

In her precious new Bible, Miss Walsh read the second commandment again and again. Being a good Catholic, she was puzzled by the prohibition of image worship. She kept studying it for three weeks; then she took the icons that had been her objects of worship and destroyed them.

From her reading Miss Walsh concluded that Seventh-day Adventists neither ate meat of any kind nor drank tea or coffee. To someone whose coffee pot was always on the stove, this was startling. Nevertheless one Sunday morning, after she had worshiped on the seventh-day Sabbath the day before, she at one moment gave them all up—meat, tea, and the ever-present coffee.

Mary considered consulting with Cardinal Farley concerning the Biblical truths she was learning. However, she decided that she had been fully confirmed in the truth by the Holy Spirit, and that under those circumstances it might be insulting to God for her to discuss it with a human being. God's Word had become her final court of appeal.

The Sabbath on which Mary Walsh was baptized into Christ as a Seventh-day Adventist by Professor Everson was a high day of celebration for both the convert and the evangelistic company.

Not everyone, to be sure, shared this positive reaction to choices the talented young nurse was making. Her aunt in New York City was dreadfully upset over Mary's change in religious affiliation. No doubt feeling some responsibility to the rest of the family, she told Mary that she now wished the girl had never come across the ocean. The aunt wrote to Mary's father, representing the group Mary had joined as a strange sect. The truth is that the family knew nothing about Seventh-day Adventists and did not care to learn.

At this point Mary felt that the Scripture text, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,"3 spoke quite clearly to the sacrifice that she was being called upon to make. The aunt dropped her, and other family members cut off contact. Mary had disgraced them, to their way of thinking. The least objectionable explanation they could conceive was that by her studies the poor girl had become unbalanced mentally.

This cross of separation from her family has never been removed from Mary Walsh's life, though she has never complained about it<|>to her Lord. Not one of her people has joined her in her beloved faith. They are all in England now, she said, high up in the educational field, "and they think that I have just scandalized them."

To the separation from family were added other privations. The young convert, so excited about her new relationship with her Lord, was disappointed to find that changes in her values and behavior—what she ate and drank, her day of worship, her attire—separated her quickly from people to whom she had been close. Her old friends deserted her, and she was very much alone.

On the other hand, she found a whole new family in the church of Christ. And they encouraged Mary toward a surprising career change.

When Mary Walsh became a Seventh-day Adventist and heard about the denomination's colleges, she thought about attending one of them. Her savings could enable her to go back to school. However, almost as soon as she gave her heart to Christ through the work of an evangelistic team, she was urged to enter evangelism herself.

Her being invited to join an evangelistic team immediately after baptism, rather than being advised to prepare further and season for a while, was connected to the extraordinary circumstances of her conversion. Mary Walsh, for some reason, was not given any Bible studies; she read and reasoned herself into the various doctrines, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When she saw something that she should do, she typically immediately did it. She was an exceptional convert. Therefore the conference president, the evangelist, and the two Bible workers urged Mary to enter evangelism directly.

In response to the clear invitation from church leaders who knew her and, quite evidently, to a call from God, the new Adventist moved to Maine in 1917 to join an evangelistic team headed by Elder A. E. Sanderson.

In contrast to nursing, for which she was professionally trained and well paid, evangelism required tasks some of which she had never seen performed, and for low wages.

Although she knew nothing about conducting an evangelistic effort or giving Bible studies aside from having attended one series of meetings, Elder Sanderson promised to train Miss Walsh "on the job." This promise he faithfully kept.

Starting out in a new calling, Miss Walsh was timid just ringing the bell of a home for the first time. She was careful to sit "just so," never crossing her legs, because of her very proper upbringing in Ireland. Her native British reserve was frequently misinterpreted as pride.

Applying her keen mind diligently under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Mary Walsh became equipped for her new ministry. She acquired Bible Readings for the Home Circle and all similarly useful material that she could find.

One of her duties was to teach people in their homes the truths of Scripture. She not only taught but also counseled, prayed, befriended. With the Holy Spirit's guidance she brought many converts into the church, making sure they understood clearly both doctrines and practice.

The Sanderson and Walsh evangelistic team moved from city to city. Working with very small budgets, they nevertheless produced many baptisms. When they were sent to evangelize New York City with a total budget of 1,000 dollars, they felt that amount was not adequate to enable them to reach the nation's largest city. Miss Walsh and her co-laborers held days of fasting, calling on the Lord to do something. And He did.

Miss Walsh gave Bible studies to two prosperous elderly women. They accepted the Bible message, joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and then gave generously to the cause of God. On one occasion they handed Mary, to put into the bank for the Lord's work, $15,000. Others gave also, while Mary fasted, prayed, and worked. She saw how God in heaven accomplished His purposes as she depended on Him.

Miss Walsh moved to Boston, where she became part of an evangelistic team headed by Elder Robert S. Fries. As she grew in experience, her responsibilities increased and diversified considerably. For one thing, before the main lecture of the evening by Elder Fries, Miss Walsh always delivered a short presentation on a selected topic. This occurred early in the evening format but to a full house, for the people arrived promptly to hear her. One evening when she was descending from the platform as Elder Fries was coming on, the elder whispered, "My, my, you've stolen my thunder!"

She quietly retorted, "Well, I'm thankful that I did! You used to steal my thunder." It was an affirmation that she has never forgotten. The evangelist and his assistant shared a comfortable, complementary working relationship.

Mary Walsh respected Elder Fries, whom she considered to be a mighty evangelist. He had studied medicine at the University of Denver,4 and Miss Walsh appreciated the way he skillfully included health evangelism as part of their public efforts.

Miss Walsh's responsibilities included handling the question box. People were invited to drop their questions about Bible topics into a box before the meeting. Then at the close of the service, all those who had questions were asked to meet in another room where the box was opened for puzzling texts and problems to be addressed. It was a tremendous test of a minister's Bible knowledge, faith, and presence of mind to answer such inquiries "cold." Yet Mary Walsh was asked to take that risk.

Shortly before she became the "question answerer," Mary was actually terrified. She asked the Lord how she was ever going to be able to answer questions right on the spot without passing out. The night before her first question-and-answer session, she tumbled about sleeplessly in her bed. Finally she got down on her knees to seek help from the God who had called her into evangelistic work in the first place. Beside her bed she prayed for some kind of reassurance, a promise. Her prayer was that the God of heaven would stand by her side. Without His help, she couldn't do it.

On her knees she leafed through her Bible, and this promise came to her eyes: "Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist."5 Believing that the Lord had given her the promise she had requested, Mary slid back into bed and slept.

With God's blessing, Mary Walsh's question box became an important part of the evangelistic series. It was advertised in the paper, "Bring your questions," and those attending brought them on every subject imaginable. The answers Miss Walsh gave not only blessed people spiritually but also boosted the attendance at the series.

In spite of all her continuing study and preparation, occasionally a question would pose a true surprise. There were suspenseful moments when she wondered whether or not she would be able to find relevant Biblical material on a subject quickly. But God had promised to give her "a mouth and wisdom" which all her adversaries could not gainsay or resist. God has never failed her.

Because of her effectiveness and skill, another challenging assignment came her way. The Boston Commons was a place where individuals or organizations could reserve space and speak on issues of their choice, and a great deal of discussion took place there. The Seventh-day Adventists were assigned a spot by a special tree at one end of the mall. The Catholics were at the other end. Various Protestant denominations ranged in between, each at its assigned concession. Often considerable bitterness was generated between Catholics and Protestants during this period of heated religious debate.

Every Sunday Elder Fries and Miss Walsh spoke and answered questions at the Commons. Many people would have avoided such direct confrontation. "But that put us on the map," Miss Walsh explained. "This is why we could get advertised."According to Mary Walsh, Elder Fries was a master of the situation in the give-and-take on the Commons. "He was a military man before he became an Adventist," she explained. "And he had that military bearing, impeccably dressed and groomed. When he would get up, I was proud of him."6 Mary Walsh would also walk down the Commons flawlessly attired and cheerfully ready for the unexpected.

In the aggressive manner of the times, the pastor of one of the largest churches, a Baptist, advertised in the paper that he would speak against the doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventists. He was nationally known and drew a packed house. It seemed unbelievable to the Adventists that any preacher would rail against them and their teachings in the way this man did.

Accusations that she considered to be untrue and unfair did not set well with Mary Walsh. When she found Elder Fries with some of the other workers looking at the advertisement for the attacker's meeting, Miss Walsh exclaimed, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?"7

The moment she said it, she sensed that she was doomed. Elder Fries insisted that Mary Walsh was the very person to answer the accusations—not only in the church, but also on the Boston Commons. Over her protests he proceeded to advertise that this would happen.

"Beg, and plead, and tease, and weep—no sir! I had to do it," she recalled. "He went ahead and put my name in the paper. I wish you could have seen that crowd on the Boston Commons!"

The prayer and fasting with which Miss Walsh and her co-laborers sought the Lord strengthened them to do battle for Him. Miss Walsh defended Bible truth admirably. She rejoiced when listeners made decisions to live according to the Biblical truths they heard. Some of them even defected from the challenger's church.

Mary Walsh did not resent the frequent moving required of evangelists. She was content to share a Christ-centered message taken from the little black book that has power to change lives.

She started out working for seven dollars a week. Young men who held the same credentials were paid more; in those days it was assumed that it cost a single man more to live than a single woman. However, Mary felt no bitterness. She depended on her God to supply all her needs. "Money, who cares about it?" was her attitude.

Because of her higher wages as a nurse, Miss Walsh had plenty of money for her clothes and other expenses at that stage in her life. When she entered evangelism, fortunately she already had assembled a classic wardrobe. Never able to tolerate wearing "cheap" things, she had always bought the best quality, and consequently her clothing lasted for years.

Miss Walsh was licensed as a minister early in her career because of the volume of public work she carried on. The presentations she made as part of the evangelistic series made her a familiar figure and facilitated her entry into people's homes later on.

Besides her ministerial license, Miss Walsh also carried a press card from the church, issued because she frequently wrote articles for denominational periodicals. Her press card once gained her entry into the House of Parliament in London.

Miss Walsh wrote a series of six articles on the topic "How to Reach the Catholic Mind." These helpful pieces appeared in the Review and Herald between April 3 and May 8, 1947. In the first article of the series, "Our Duty to the Roman Catholic," she wrote,

I once stood in the Basilica of Saint Peter's in Rome and watched men, women, and little children bow before the black figure of Peter, the supposed first pope. I saw many kiss the protruding toe with deep veneration; others, who were small of stature, extended the right hand, and after a gentle touch of the same toe, pressed their hand to their lips. Could anyone witnessing such idolatry and knowing this message, be indifferent to the needs of these people? No!8

Mary Walsh felt welling up in her soul a fountain of sorrow for such people. She longed to be God's instrument to liberate them from the bondage of their idolatrous practices. She added that one doesn't have to go to Rome to feel this burden, and mentioned her concern at seeing people in a Catholic church in Baltimore prostrating themselves before a large crucifix and kissing it.

In work with Catholics, Miss Walsh recommended strengthening the listener's faith in the Bible and showing how the first advent of Christ had been chronicled beforehand by the prophets. One cannot help noticing that these are the very methods that Professor Everson employed to good effect when preaching to Mary Walsh. She pointed out that stressing the importance of Christ's miraculous birth, of living a pure and holy life, and of Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection will have a strong appeal to a Catholic's mind.

Besides writing for the journals, Mary Walsh prepared two sets of study guides,9 The Apocrypha,10 and The Wine of Roman Babylon.11 A descendant of many generations of faithful adherents to Catholicism, herself baptized into the Roman faith when she was only a day old, Mary Walsh was motivated to present what she considered to be a practical and candid treatment of the papacy and Catholic teachings. Her prayer in the final paragraph of The Apocrypha is, "May our Lord do for all of us, Protestant and Catholic alike, what He did for the disciples of old: 'Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.' "12

Besides all the public presentations, the question box, the article and book writing, Mary Walsh engaged in personal work with people in their homes. Many present church members can trace their roots in Adventism back to a parent's becoming an Adventist through Mary Walsh's ministry.13

Because of her expertise in giving Bible studies, Miss Walsh was asked to prepare others to pursue that kind of ministry. From 1943 to 1953 she was employed by the Columbia Union Conference to train lay people and church employees for evangelism. She inspired members of the local churches to work effectively as lay evangelists.

During her decade with the Columbia Union Conference, her co-workers recall that she seemed to work without ceasing, and that her whole life centered around the single focus of bringing people to Christ.14 A colleague described Mary Walsh as an interesting speaker, a successful Bible worker, very much dedicated to freeing people from Catholic domination.15

Miss Walsh was called to the Pacific Union Conference to work in the home missionary department in 1953. In the 1960 Yearbook she is listed as the assistant secretary for the home missionary and civil defense department in the Pacific Union. Her designation was modified in the 1965 Yearbook to assistant departmental secretary for laymen's activities, civil defense, and Home Study Institute. One would find it difficult from her active life to detect that she had applied for "retirement" in 1963 at the age of 70.16

Mary Walsh was a licensed minister from 1921 to 1981. Then, after 60 years of being a licensed minister alongside the men, she was moved into a status created primarily for women in ministry and men in non-ministerial positions, that of a licensed commissioned minister.17 This did not disturb her. She remained consumed with her calling from the Lord to share the gospel.

Concerning her work after she had reached her 90s, compared with the heavy and wide-ranging responsibilities she had carried and the wide areas she had traveled in the past, Miss Walsh said,

I'm just in a little corner. But I ask the Lord to keep me living, and my mind clear, as long as I'm able to function and bring souls into the message. That's the only thing worth living for. What have I lived for all these years? For the work of God.18

The coming of the Lord has ever been central in her thinking. The message into which she has brought hundreds of converts will march on triumphant, victorious, to the end of time—never has there been a doubt in her mind. From the year of her own conversion she has consistently given her entire life to bring others to rejoice with her in worshiping the lovely Jesus.19


1 Mary Walsh, Berrien Springs, Michigan, interview with the writer, July 13, 1984; Mary Walsh, Glendale, California, telephone interview with the writer, July 20, 1989. All quotations from Mary Walsh in this chapter not otherwise credited are taken from these interviews.

2 An educational presentation. Often lectures and entertainment were combined in a series, modeled after summer schools established at Chautauqua, N.Y.

3 Matt. 10:37.

4 Robert S. Fries, obituary, Review and Herald (Oct. 24, 1946): 20.

5 Luke 21:14, 15.

6 Walsh interview, July 13, 1984.

7 1 Samuel 17:26.

8 Mary E. Walsh, "How to Reach the Catholic Mind: Our Duty to the Roman Catholic," Review and Herald (April 3, 1947): 7.

9 Mary Ellen Walsh, "Bible Lessons for Catholics" (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1967), loose leaf, and "Doctrinal Bible Studies for the Layman."

10 Mary E. Walsh, The Apocrypha (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1968).

11 Mary E. Walsh, The Wine of Roman Babylon (Nashville: Southern Publishing Association, 1945).

12 Ibid., 104.

13 Example: Dr. Valerie Landis, of Beltsville, Maryland, whose mother was converted through Mary Walsh's work in the New York City effort at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1939.

14 Telephone conversation, Zella Holbert and the writer, Takoma Park, Maryland, 1989.

15 Telephone conversation, Elder M. E. Loewen and the writer, Silver Spring, Maryland, 1989.

16 Sustentation Fund Application Form, submitted January 28, 1963. General Conference Archives.

17 See footnote 2 on page 210 for a discussion of this change in credentialing.

18 Mary Walsh, Glendale, California, telephone conversation with the author, July 20, 1989.

19 Mary Walsh died September 21, 1997, in Glendale, California, having passed her 105th birthday.

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