Man known as ‘Pilgrim George’ makes final journey
Tom Walter would cross paths with his older brother, George Walter, on occasion over the past several decades.
It usually happened when George would walk to his home in Albany, N.Y., or if Tom was on business trips where George was passing through on one of his thousand-mile journeys, which earned him the nickname “Pilgrim George.”
It is estimated that George Walter, of Jefferson Township, walked 40,000 miles over his 82-year lifetime, telling people he came across on his journeys that he was “en route to heaven.”
On Sunday, Sept. 17, George Walter completed his journey when he died of kidney failure, for which he refused dialysis after being diagnosed. According to Tom Walter, George Walter’s viewing and funeral, scheduled for Friday, Sept. 22, and Saturday, Sept. 23, respectively, will probably get a lot of attendance.
“He knew people literally all over the world,” Tom Walter said Thursday, Sept. 21. “Before the internet came along, he would correspond with people. He would write 500 a letters a year.”
Born July 25, 1941, Walter was the son of the late Florian and Mary Rita Walter, formerly of Hampton Township.
George Walter said in an interview about 10 years ago that he was called to walk to Jerusalem in 1970, after attending seminary for four years. He took a freighter from New Orleans to Barcelona, Spain, in May 1970, and made the 4,000-mile walk to Jerusalem. He said that after that yearlong walk, he wanted to continue walking to “come to know the Lord in a personal way.”
“I felt I needed to get to know Jesus in a personal way,” George Walter said. “I realized, if God made me, I belong to him, and my purpose of my life is to return home to him in heaven.”
Tom Walter said he was born about eight years after his brother, so by the time he was in elementary school, George Walter was already going into seminary. Tom Walter said his brother decided after a few years of attending school at St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe that he didn’t want to be ordained, but instead wanted to become a deacon.
It was after that decision, and some traveling around the country, that George Walter found his calling to make constant pilgrimages.
“I give George all the credit for sticking to his guns,” Tom Walter said of his brother’s decision. “He worked in the parish office for a while, and before that, he was out on the West Coast. He was casting about for what his decision of life was going to be. That was a hard decision.”
According to his obituary, George Walter grew a full beard in 1967 and never trimmed it after 1988. He always dressed in a handmade robe of patched denim and sandals he made out of tire rubber, with the glasses on his face being the only other constant. He was almost always seen carrying a staff topped with a crucifix on his journeys.
George Walter was a 1963 graduate of the Athenaeum of Ohio, where he received a bachelor 's degree in philosophy. He also received a bachelor of divinity degree when he attended St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe from 1963 to 1967.
Since the 1970s, George Walter regularly made walking journeys to religious shrines in more than 40 countries. His trips included walks through India and the former Soviet Union, his obituary said.
On his travels, George Walter would stay with people he met on the road; sometimes even staying with them over the winter, Tom Walter said. Once in a while, he would stop at his home base in Jefferson Township.
“When he was overseas, he would winter wherever he found himself. People were very welcoming to him,” Tom Walter said. “When he was older, he would come back to the same place near Butler.”
Walter spent the last 10 years surrounded by fields of corn in a small house on the grounds of the former Holy Trinity Monastery, a Byzantine monastery in Jefferson Township, his obituary said.
Tom Walter said that no matter where he went, George Walter shared love with others, and that sentiment was almost always returned to the traveling pilgrim.
“He was an amazing guy,” Tom Walter said.