Bringing faith to the marketplace — really

Meet a friar who spent a month evangelizing in the middle of a shopping mall.

From the Catholic Sentinel:

Dominican Father Tony Wall thinks Catholics should spend more time living out their faith in the marketplace.

That’s why he spent every day, except Sunday, for a month in Portland’s Lloyd Center Mall. Father Wall, a priest for 60 years, wore his Roman collar or white friar’s habit, simply making himself obvious for those yearning to talk about life’s greater issues.

“People don’t meet priests any more. We are hiding in the rectory,” says Father Wall, who has moved on to lead missions from the Dominicans’ California headquarters. He plans to return to Portland at the start of 2012 for another month of mall evangelization.

“Jesus sent people out on the road,” explains the 86-year-old friar, who helped found the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. “St. Dominic was out in the crossroads and at the inns. He was not waiting for people to find him.”

Educated in Rome during the 1940s, Father Wall counted the future Pope John Paul II among his classmates. Her served in parishes and was a teacher before starting the Berkeley project. He served as president of the theological union for two terms. Then he joined the Dominican preaching band, men who give retreats on the road in honor of the itinerant charism of their 13th century founder.

In Mexico on a mission, he met a priest from St. Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem. The pastor said his church counted as many as 339 converts in a year and attributed that to the habit of priests standing out on Harlem street corners to engage the people and give them cards with Mass times.

When he visited Holy Rosary Parish in Portland, just down the street from Lloyd Center, he got thinking. There is no priest at the mall, and there should be.

“We are no longer a missionary church,” Father Wall says of Catholics. “We are an absolutely passive church. We stand back.”

Mall officials were receptive. There were limitations, however. Father Wall had to stay put in one place. Amplification and big signage was out.

That all suited the priest just fine. On weekdays, he chose a bench and sat, smiling. On weekends, he donned the habit and rented a kiosk near Macy’s and filled it with free crucifixes, rosaries, holy cards and sacred medals.

Check out the rest.


  1. Brother Jeff says:

    Very interesting story. I think he is right and it would be great to see more priests out there “on the street” though I can certainly understand that there is a fear factor out there now. I think the Franciscans are in an upscale mall in Boston and they actually have a chapel right in the middle of the mall with masses going on while people are shopping outside.

  2. Wow– this is great! I think we do need to get “out there” a bit more. I wonder how the laity can get involved with something like this without it appearing as though we are trying to “sell” the faith, rather than preach it.

  3. …and he is 86 years old…how wonderful!

    I remember the Sisters of Charity who had a constant presence at Penn Station. I am not sure how much money they were able to collect for the poor…but their devotion to the cause and their evangelical witness was inspiring to millions!

  4. Every seminar rector needs to read this one, Deacon Greg. I posted this on my FB and plugged your stellar blog as well. I’m well fed here (though I’ll pass on the cherpumple and pulled pokk & pierogi pretzel).

    Grazie mille.

  5. Should read “Every seminary rector”

  6. Great idea.

  7. Rebecca M. Brooks says:

    It would be such a joy to see this at the malls in Hampton Roads. I really hope this catches on.

  8. Tony Watts says:

    This is refreshing to see. To many of our clergy these days are acting more as corporate executives then followers of Jesus and his teaching as displayed in the post “Catholic Church after pensioner’s sole asset – his home!” on

  9. Beautiful story. Putting feet to our faith. Bless you, Father Tony~

  10. In Massachusetts, there are two chapels and priests stationed in the Malls that I know of…. here: and here: Their Masses get pretty crowded!

  11. I am reminded of a priest who occasionally visited my parents home. I think he was a friend of a friend. He was retired. He performed my sister’s wedding. Nice to see priest’s out and about.

    I would welcome our pastor for a meal or a visit. I think that was common in some places. We have talked at choir parties. This would be great for vocations. I realize that many parishes are too big, but you have to start somewhere.

  12. Wow–a true fisher of men, not just a “keeper of the aquarium”!

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