"That he should die on a Sunday, on the Lord's Day (during the season of Advent) was altogether fitting, for Father Debold-a priest for more than 64 years-was most certainly a man of our Lord," SHU President Msgr. Robert Sheeran stated in a broadcast e-mail.
Father Debold, a beloved priest and educator and a longtime member of the SHU community, died at age 90 on Dec. 10, 2006, after a lifetime of service to a university that he dearly cherished (see The Catholic Advocate, Jan. 10). He had served as an assistant professor of Religious Studies at SHU, but his wisdom and love extended far beyond the reach of any classroom.
First ordained as a priest in 1942, Father Debold was a renowned educator and faithfully served the Catholic Church for 64 years. His life was marked with incredible stories and experiences throughout which he carried his intense faith and devotion to God.
"Father Walter was a priest's priest," Father Gabriel Costa said. "He had been a chaplain in WWII, he was respected by his peers and was a popular professor. Father Walter's ever-ready smile made one always comfortable to be with him at the dinner table. He could speak about theology one minute and baseball the next.
"He was clear and strong about his opinions, but never forced his convictions on others. He was a guide and mentor to many people,including priests and although his body aged, and walking became increasingly difficult, I never knew him to complain. Lastly, he had a beautiful mind."
Father Costa, a son of Hoboken, a mathematics professor and avid NY Yankees baseball fan, is on "ongoing academic leave from SHU" to serve as a professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY (see The Catholic Advocate, Sept. 6, 2006).
Living on the sixth floor of SHU's Xavier Hall, Father Debold was a constant figure in the lives of students. "He loved living in Xavier because, as he often said: ‘The kids keep me young,'" Msgr. Robert Wister, a professor of Church History at Immaculate Conception Seminary, recalled.
Father Debold welcomed visitors and loved interacting with his floor mates. "Father Debold had a heart for all of the students on his floor, and always wanted to know what everyone was up to," said junior sixth-floor resident assistant Brian Ricker. "He constantly asked that I keep him updated on all that was going on and loved to be involved in the floor."
Even as his health deteriorated, Father Debold never lost his love for life and learning. "Father Debold was somewhat deaf in his latter years, but it was only a physical deafness," Msgr. Francis R. Seymour, archdiocesan archivist, said. "He always heard very clearly the pleas of those looking for help and he responded with his ever loving heart at all times."
"He was a lifelong learner and this made him an engaging professor," Father Lawrence Frizzell, the director of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at SHU and a columnist for The Catholic Advocate, said.
"Two years ago the major seminary in Monrovia, Liberia (a nation in west Africa on the Atlantic Coast), was returned to the Church after the defeat of Charles Taylor's regime," Father Frizzell continued. "The library was in ruins, so Father Debold offered a large number of theology and philosophy books to the education of clergy in an impoverished archdiocese. His spirit and learning will continue to be shared as his gift to Seton Hall and the Church."
"Father Debold was a gentle soul, cheerful in the face of infirmity, uncomplaining as old age gathered upon him, a loyal son of Seton Hall, above all a dedicated priest who embraced the fullness of his calling over a long and well-lived life," said Dermot Quinn, SHU professor of history. "I can think of no more beautiful death than his; to have stood in the place of Christ and then to have been called quietly home to Him."
(Editor's note: this article originally appeared in the Dec. 14, 2006 edition of The Setonian, the student newspaper of SHU.)