WASHINGTON, D.C. — People who know Bishop-designate William D. Byrne, named by Pope Francis Oct. 14 to head the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, say he reflects what Pope Francis has called “the joy of the Gospel” — happily sharing Christ’s love and hope with others.
“Every day, Father Bill lives the joy of the Gospel in his interactions with people, in his attitude, in the joy he has as a priest,” said Stephen Riley, executive director of Potomac Community Resources Inc., which since 1994 has been serving teens and adults with developmental differences and provides 35 community-based programs for them.
That agency’s offices are housed at Our Lady of Mercy Parish, where the newly named bishop has been pastor since 2015. The agency began its outreach when a concerned group of parents met with Msgr. John Enzler, who was Mercy’s pastor at the time and is now president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.
As Our Lady of Mercy’s pastor, Byrne has continued that parish’s strong support for Potomac Community Resources.
He serves on its board, is a volunteer in its programs and chairs the separate PCR House Inc., board, which owns the James M. Sullivan Memorial House on the campus of Our Lady of Mercy Parish. Dedicated in October 2019, the facility is home for four young women with developmental differences.
“He (the new bishop) is a wonderful friend to PCR, a great advocate for people with developmental differences who promotes inclusion,” Riley said. “When he volunteers at the Tricia Sullivan Respite Care Program, he does it joyfully and demonstrates great respect for the members as individuals. He demonstrates his recognition of the inherent value of every human life.”
The respite care program, operated by Potomac Community Resources, serves teens and adults with significant intellectual or developmental differences and complex medical needs, including young women and men who are nonverbal. The five-hour program gives parents and caregivers an extended break.
When Byrne volunteers with that program, he smiles and greets the members like old friends and joins them in their activities, sharing laughs with them as he does with his parish and school families.
Before becoming pastor in Potomac, he was pastor at St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill and also has served as the chaplain at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland at College Park, where he helped inspire 14 young men to become priests and five young women to become professed religious.
One of those young men is Father Kevin Regan, now vice rector for the Archdiocese of Washington’s St. John Paul II Seminary.
“Having known Bishop-elect Byrne for most of my adult life, he was particularly present to me during college and was an integral part of my vocation to the priesthood,” Regan said in an email to the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper.
“From his hands,” he added, “I grew in love for the Eucharist, adoration, Our Lady and the church, leading me to desire more to serve as a priest. There were many others as well who were supported in their vocations by his spiritual fatherhood.”
Regan called Byrne’s appointment “a great loss for our local church, but a great gain for his new diocese and the church universal as the gifts he has will go to keep so many others connected to the heart of Jesus.”
Susan Timoney studied with Byrne in Rome before earning her doctorate in sacred theology.
She is as an associate professor of practice in pastoral theology and the associate dean for undergraduate studies in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America. She also served as the assistant secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington when Father Byrne led that office.
“Pope Francis says the most attractive face of holiness is joy,” Timoney said, adding that when you encounter the newly named bishop, “what you see immediately is a joyful priest and a man who loves the Lord.”
Timoney noted that when Byrne served as the archdiocese’s secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns, he expanded the archdiocese’s outreach through the Department of Special Needs Ministries to reach out to a larger number of people in the deaf community, and he helped pastors and parish staff increase their outreach to people experiencing domestic violence in their communities.
“Something that has really struck me (was) he recognized the need to reach out to people on the periphery,” she said.
When Byrne was serving as pastor at St. Peter’s Parish on Capitol Hill, Timoney was among his parishioners there. “He’s a pastor who wants to be near his people.”
He is “a man of deep personal prayer,” she added. He started a prayer group for moms, who gathered with him for 30 minutes after they dropped their kids off at school there, according to Timoney. She also noted his involvement in developing a large marriage preparation program there, as well as his ability to speak Spanish and his support for Hispanic ministries.
The jovial priest also was known for walking his late dog, Maggie, in the neighborhood around the Capitol Hill parish.
He’d visit St. Peter School with his dog, a tradition he has continued at Our Lady of Mercy Parish and School with his new dog, Zélie, which he has said is not only a good way to exercise, but also is a fun way to evangelize people.
Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.