Retired Roman Catholic Rev. Father Walter Mitchell, the longtime priest of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Manhattan Beach known for giving Easter Mass at the Brooklyn House of Detention and for the daily walks of his dog in his beloved Coney Island, died on March 29 at the age of 80.
Father Mitchell served in various positions within the Brooklyn Diocese for the better part of six decades.
“He was a priest of the people,” said Father Robert Mucci of St. Mark’s parish in Sheepshead Bay. “Pope Francis spoke of being a priest that went out to be with the people, and that was exactly what Father Mitchell was.”
Father Mucci became acquainted with Father Mitchell through the various times he met him at Gargiulo’s Restaurant in Coney Island, where he was a frequent patron.
“I would see lines of people always stopping by his table to say hello,” he said. “He was always generous with his spirituality he was a remarkable, giving and caring man.”
Since his retirement in 2006, Father Mitchell ministered at St. Joachim and Anne Nursing and Rehabilitation Home in Coney Island. Before taking a spill several months ago, that left him with a neck brace and in a wheelchair, Father Mitchell was fond of walking his King Charles Spaniel past Gargiulo’s restaurant every day.
Longtime friend and Gargiulo’s owner Nino Russo met Father Mitchell in 1980 when he was a student at Xaverian High School, where Father Mitchell taught ninth-grade religion, remembered Mitchell as a scholarly genius type who looked to help as many people as he could. He said he helped the priest find an apartment near his restaurant.
“Father Mitchell would eat with us four or five times a week as well as walk his dog every morning,” Russo said. “My family and I were very blessed to have known him and learned from his wisdom, grace, and kindness.”
Russo hosted a luncheon in Father Mitchell’s honor following the burial on April 3.
After receiving ordination from the Immaculate Conception Seminary on June 3, 1961, Father Mitchell ministered at St. Agnes and St. Barbara, Holy Family and St. Peter and Paul. He was Dean and moderator at the Catholic Youth Organization South Eastern Kings, and chaplain at the Brooklyn House of Detention in 1977.
After studying abroad in the North American College in Rome Father Mitchell returned to the United States where he taught at Cathedral College until 1977.
Father Mitchell frequently held Easter Vigil masses at the Brooklyn House of Detention as well as St. Joachim nursing home as a visiting chaplain, and where he resided for the past several months.
A mass was held at St. Mark’s Church on April 3. He was buried at St. John Cemetery in Queens.