Fr Paul Byrne OMI 1932-2018
Paul Byrne was born in Inchicore, Dublin on the 8 August 1932, the first child to John and Lavinia Byren (née Nightingale). After secondary school CBS Synge Street and then Belcamp College Paul entered the novitiate at Ardagh, Co. Limerick in September 1951. Four years later, after completing a BA at UCD, he began thological studies at the Oblate Scholasticate in Co. Kilkenny where he was ordained a priest on 21 September 1958. Those who knew Paul will be aware of his talents, particularly for his gifts of intellect, imagination and soul – all used to wonderful effect throughout his long life as a missionary priest. A keen sportsman from his you, he was physically strong and courageous, qualities that served him well in his life’s work.
His was a busy and effective life of service to people in need; it was anchored in his dedication to daily prayer and Eucharist, the celebration of the other sacraments (he loved weddings and baptisms) and his hope-filled missionary vision. That was also nourished by many wonderful friends, by a reach and varies social life and the evident joy he got from playing golf with friends, good conversation, song, good food and wine. He loved life and lived it to the full.
Since news of his death filtered through, students from his early years as a teacher at Belcamp College have been reminiscing about his kindness and fairness, his joyful presence and his boundless energy. But it was in the years following Belcamp that full rein was given to Paul’s range of talent.
His work in voluntary bousing in Birmingham and London transformed the sector. Recently a hosuing executive from Dublin spoke of a meeting of voluntary housing organisations he had just attended in London at which people spoke glowingly of Paul’s foundational contribution to the sector. He wondered if the Oblates had any idea of how much he is appreciated by leaders in the field today. Paul was awarded an OBE for his inspirational leadership in this work on behalf of those without a home.
Again as Director of the Irish Episocpal Commission for Emigrants, he quickly set about adressing the exclusion and alienation felt by many Irish emigrants. in 1998, he commissioned a report on the issues, which, in turn, led to a government Policy task force emigration, the recommendations of which were accepted by the Irish Government. The result was a major increase in funding for emigrant services overseas, an acknowledgement of the outstanding service given by the Church agencies to Irish Emigrants around the world, and the formation of a dedicated unite within the Dept of Foreign Affairs.
In 2003, he was given the task of setting up an Oblate Mission Devt. Office with the brief to raise awareness of the Oblate missions worldwide, and to promote the mission development work of those missions to funding agencies, communities and individuals. When Eugene de Mazenod, founder of the OMIs, was canonised, Pope John Paul II said of him, ‘He had a heart as big as the world’. So too had Paul; he revelled in the challenges of this work and was fully supportive of the increased cooperation among missionary organisations, with a view to maximising the benefit of their efforts on behalf of the poor communities around the world. Until retirement he remained an active and inspiration presence in this work.
That kindness, generosity of spirit and humility, noted by the students he taught 60 years ago, remained throughout his life, and where there through the difficult final months of his life.
Ar dheis De go raibh a anam usual.
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