Goats and God: A Franciscan family’s tale


Photo provided by: Walker Family

How did the Walker family end up at Franciscan University of Steubenville? It all started with a Google search. 

In 2015, Matt Walker — who is now a senior at Franciscan — was looking into colleges. His father, John Walker, helped him search. Since Matt was interested in theater, John found Franciscan’s theater page and noticed a job opening for a theater professor. He jokingly showed his wife Cathy. 

“She goes, ‘Well, you’re going to put in for it,’” John recounted. “I go, ‘No, I’m a goat farmer.’ She goes, ‘You’re a goat farmer with a terminal degree in theater and a professional actor. Just put your paperwork together.’” 

John applied and was hired, and he began teaching as a visiting professor in fall 2015, later becoming a full-time professor. Prior to teaching at Franciscan, John Walker was indeed a goat farmer, but this was not always so. 

John Walker grew up in Massachusetts, raised by a Lutheran mother and agnostic father. He always considered himself Christian, and at age 13, with encouragement from his Catholic friend, he slowly read the entire Bible. It was then that he discovered he barely knew God, and he set out to find him.  

John pursued acting, which took him to Hollywood, California. Cathy also landed in Hollywood around the same time, working as a makeup artist.  

Cathy grew up in Maryland. When she was 20, her mother died from cancer. She recalled telling her sister: “I want to be happy again.” Her sister’s advice: go where you were last happy. And that place was California. About a week later, with $500 to her name, Cathy moved west. 

Cathy met John in Hollywood, and they began dating. Both recalled one of their early dates. When John asked Cathy where he should pick her up, she said she would be coming out of Mass. Still searching for God, John asked to join Cathy at Mass, and they continued going to Mass together throughout their relationship and into their marriage. Eventually, the couple moved to Vermont to raise their children away from Hollywood. 

“I realized when I had kids that my kids were seeing me at Mass every day, but I wasn’t in the Church,” said John. It was then that John realized he had a debt he could never repay, and so, his response had to be gratitude and service. At age 43, John entered the Catholic Church.  

Since then, their faith has guided everything they have done. John worked in the university system in Vermont, but the two did not mesh well. “They really resented my Catholicism,” he said. “I remember one day they came in and took down that icon, which was a gift, and took my rosary beads off my desk and locked them away.” 

“I left that position, and we didn’t know what we were going to do. We literally were going to lose the house, maybe live out of the car,” John remembered. 

When his pastor gave him contact information for a caretaker position of a monastery, his family jumped in. The monastery sat on 400 acres that had fallen into disrepair, and the Walkers rose to the challenge. 

“Cathy and I went there and rolled up our sleeves, hired everybody who we knew was out of work from our church and their kids, and we renovated the entire place from top to bottom,” said John.  

The Walkers turned the monastery into the Mary Theotokos Retreat Center. “It was a lot of work that first year. When we finished, we prayed about it, consecrated our lives to Mary, … and retreats just started happening,” John said.  

The Walkers ran the retreat centers for years, until it was time for change. Both John and Cathy began praying.  

“As he was in the barn with the animals, I was in the garden,” said Cathy. “We didn’t know we were praying for the same thing. … ‘Lord, either send us help or replace us.’” 

The university job opening was indeed an answer to prayers. In fact, while John was interviewing, a group of Franciscan friars from Boston was at the retreat center, praying for him.  

The Walkers moved to Steubenville, Ohio, and now, they are caretakers of another sort. John still teaches theater at the university, and as of last fall, Cathy is residence director of Assisi Heights.  

This family is a family for others, and they are intricately connected to the university now. In addition to their son Matt, their daughter Anna attends the university as a sophomore. Emily, their youngest daughter, also attends Catholic school. Together, the Walkers continue to grow as a family in faith. 

“My family has placed ourselves in the Lord’s hands, and that is the whole reason we are here on this campus,” said Cathy. “I’m living an adventure. … We have experienced many adventures, and I feel like this is part of an adventure and another adventure will be coming. We don’t know what it is, but we’re in the Lord’s hands.”  

The Walkers are still writing their story, and ink on a page is not substantial enough to truly tell it. At present, this family is here to stay — as long as the Lord desires. And they are OK with that.

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