Saint Joseph High School community remembers Father Walter Bly

Longtime theology teacher, football coach, and chaplain passes away at age 90
Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 10:59 AM EST
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - A staple in the Saint Joseph High School community has passed away.

Father Walter J. Bly passed away Thursday night at the age of 90. The news was confirmed by WHME Sports Director and Countdown to Kickoff co-host Chuck Freeby on social media Friday morning.

Father Bly was a longtime theology teacher, football coach, and chaplain at Saint Joe. He committed his life to faith, service, and generosity — but he had a special connection with the Saint Joseph High School football team.

“The idea of faith and doing the right thing and doing what God would expect us to do was always foremost with him,” said Henry Chandler, alumni coordinator for Saint Joseph High School. “He was always somebody you could go to and talk to and get advice from. And he knew students, and he knew how to get through to them.”

He attended Fordham University in 1955 and played football. While a shoulder injury in college ended his playing career, that didn’t keep him away from the game or from imparting wisdom to his players and students.

“Well into his 80s, he was able to watch varsity football games just from the sidelines, and actually, I would talk to him after games, and he’d be sharing some insights that people on the staff didn’t even notice, and they were always spot on,” said Ben Downey, head football coach at Saint Joseph High School.

Father Walter Bly Foundation Inc., essential in securing funding for the field dedication, released the following statement on Father Bly’s passing:

(16 News Now)

Fr. Bly spent over 50 years at Saint Joseph High School, teaching and coaching students for what comes after high school.

“The lessons that he taught, you know, they were often really creative,” Downey said. “They were often funny, but they definitely hit home, and he brought home a lot of really important messages for the players.”

Those close to him told 16 News Now that he lived his life through conviction and that his faith, passion, and dedication could help all who crossed his path.

“He was always a man who wanted the best for all of his students and for all his players,” said Ted Pajakowski, teacher and assistant football coach at Saint Joseph High School. “He always wanted everyone to succeed in the role that they wanted to live after Saint Joe High School, and he would go above and beyond to seek students out to help them get to the goals that they wanted.”

He was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame on June 27, 2003, but that wouldn’t be the last time he was honored for his commitment to coaching and education.

“It’s Father Bly Field at Leighton Stadium, and it’s a real tribute to somebody who’s a St. Joe Legend, someone who is larger than life at Saint Joseph High School,” Chandler added.

In September 2012, Saint Joseph High School dedicated its new football field in honor of Father Bly, with officials saying, “it was the least we could do.”

“When it came time to figure out who to dedicate the field to, there was probably one person to choose from,” Downey said. “He meant that much to Saint Joe, the football community, and for so long, so it was only fitting, and as I said, there was no one else it could be named after.”

Saint Joe’s football team also honored Father Bly at a practice dedicated to him on August 9, 2022, with current and former players spending time catching up with their favorite coach.

“When Father Bly was around, we knew we were playing this tough, contact sport, but the way we played it was very important, and he stressed that with me, he stressed that with our coaching staff, he stressed that with the players,” Downey noted. “So, he made sure that we’re playing the game the right way on the field, but that we’re also behaving the proper way off the field, and prayer was always a big part of that.”

Dr. Michael Agostino, treasurer of the foundation, released a statement regarding the man he so profoundly revered, saying in part:

(16 News Now)

In a video taken by Redeemer Radio, Father Bly stopped by the practice and said, “I’m here for one purpose, that all these players get to heaven along with me. I have no other purpose.”

“As they’re going about the daily routine as a student-athlete and they’re focused on their grades and focused on performing out there on the field, here we had a guy who always made sure they were doing things the right way; that they were representing the Saint Joe Community, and he was just giving these really important lessons to these young men that I know for a fact because I still talk to a lot of the players that experienced this,” Downey explained. “They still use the lessons that he taught them long ago to this day.”

Former students told 16 News Now that the community had just lost a caring mentor and devoted friend.

Maggie Gotsch, a former student of Fr. Bly, told 16 News Now that he was well-known for his control of the classroom, saying “stu-dents” confidently to quiet them down, but he didn’t just capture their attention, he also earned their admiration.

While Bly was growing up, Fordham’s offensive line was full of NFL-caliber players, including Vince Lombardi. The line earned the nickname “Seven Blocks of Granite.” College Football Hall of Famers Jim Crowley and Frank Leahy coached the squad.

Father Bly was also a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

He was born on July 24, 1932, in Yonkers, N.Y. He passed away on January 26, 2023, in South Bend.

Saint Joseph High School released a statement on his passing. Read it in full below:


Correction: This video stated Bly played under Crowley and Leahy, but they had already left the school by the time he was enrolled.

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