We invite readers to send short stories about the ways in which their lives have been personally blessed by the life and work of priests and religious in our diocese.
By Karina Fabian
Father Joseph Byrne calls himself an ordinary priest getting the ordinary things done, but 50 years of dedication makes the ordinary extraordinary. Father Byrne attended North American College in Rome, Italy, where he was ordained on Dec 8, 1954. He has served at Immaculate Conception Parish in Butte, St. Joseph Parish in Harlowton, St. Joseph Parish in Libby, St. Patrick Parish in Butte, St. John the Evangelist Parish in Fairfield, Holy Rosary Parish in Bozeman, the Cathedral of St. Helena, and Holy Cross Parish in Townsend, where he has been serving for the last 18 years.
Father Byrne grew up in the small town of Kevin, a child of the Depression era. He’s still known to scold people to turn off the lights and close the church doors; no need to heat the outside. So when one of Kevin’s own, Father James de Groat, was ordained, it made a big impact. Father De Groat was also a friend of the family, which had an added impact on 6-year-old Joseph. “I thought, ‘If he could do it, maybe I could.’ You don’t say that that was the reason for your calling, but it helps.”
Now Father Byrne wonders about the callings. There are no priests in the diocese under 30, he noted. Nationally, there are more priests over 90 than under 30, and the average age of ordination is 36, according to an article in Notre Dame Magazine. “Are we cooperating with the Lord?” he asked, “or is the Lord saying we need men with more life experience?”
He would like to see some younger priests. He himself will not retire in part because there is no priest to replace him and he will not abandon the people he’s served so long.
Nonetheless, his vision for the future echoes the message of Advent: better things are coming if we allow God to do his work in us. “If we let him, he will lead us in the way he needs us to go.”
“The priesthood can be a challenge, but a good one,” he added.
In the meantime, Father Byrne will continue making an extraordinary impact by doing the ordinary things.
Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 20, No. 12, December 17, 2004.