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Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande
Le Père William BYRNE

 byrne wiliam  né le 9 février 1911 à Kilnock
dans le diocèse de Tuam, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 10 juin 1933
prêtre le 21 décembre 1935
décédé le 6 décembre 1974
 

1936-1952 diocèse de Kaduna, Nigeria
1952-1953 Ballinafad, économe
1953-1968 diocèse de Kaduna
1969-1970 Galway
1970-1971 Springfield
1972-1974 Liverpool

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 6 décembre 1974,
à l'âge de 63 ans

Father William BYRNE (1911 - 1974)

William Byrne was born in Kilnock, Claremorris, Co Mayo, in the archdiocese of Tuam, on 9 February 1911. He died in St. Patrick's hospital, Wellington Road, Cork, on 6 December 1974.

Willie's grandmother was one of those who witnessed the apparition at Knock. Willie studied in the Sacred Heart college, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (1925 1927) and St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork (1927 1930), before entering the novitiate and house of philosophy, at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. He studied theology in the Society's seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down. Willie was admitted to membership of the Society on 10 June 1933, and was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 21 December 1935. He was one of a group of twenty-one ordained on that day.

Willie was to spend over thirty years in Africa, in the north of Nigeria. In 1934, the year before Willie arrived, the prefecture of Northern Nigeria was divided into two separate jurisdictions, the prefecture of Jos and the prefecture of Kaduna. Willie was assigned to the Kaduna jurisdiction, under Thomas Hughes (later to become a bishop in western Nigeria). Willie worked in this prefecture from 1936 until 1952. Joining a staff of twelve missionaries, his first appointment was to Kaduna district where he began learning local languages. After two months he was re-assigned to the district of Zaria, where Denis Minihane was superior. In 1939 Willie was appointed to Kontagora, a busy Moslem town north of Minna (with a large rural hinterland populated mainly by animists) and a year later he was posted to the district of Gawu, where he was made superior. Gawu station had been founded in 1938 by Robert Stitt. Willie found that there was only a single outstation and a community of 9 Catholics; however the large number of catechumens, over 100, gave hope for the future. In 1941 Willie returned to Ireland on his first home leave.

Delayed because of the world war, it was June 1942 before he secured a passage back to West Africa. Willie spent most of his next tour of duty, until 1947, in Gawu district, although he also had brief spells in Zaria and Kano. When he returned after his next home leave, in 1948, John (Jack) McCarthy who had become prefect in 1943, re-appointed him to Gawu. Assisted by Eric White and Michael Toner, Willie presided over a catholic community which had grown to over 100 members, almost 300 catechumens and which now had 14 secondary stations. In 1950 Willie was appointed superior of Kano district, the largest centre of Muslim population in Nigeria. The principal station, Kano, had been founded in 1919. In addition to his pastoral responsibilities Willie was also appointed one of two councillors to the 'visitor', Michael Moorhead, who was responsible for the welfare of the Irish confreres in northern Nigeria.

It was no surprise when Willie was elected by his colleagues in the north as their delegate to the Provincial Assembly of 1952. After the Assembly the incoming administration retained him in Ireland to serve as bursar at Ballinafad. However after nine months his pleas to be relieved of this post were heard and he returned to what had become Kaduna diocese in the same year (1953). Willie attended the episcopal ordination of the first bishop of the diocese, John McCarthy, on 15 August 1954. He was to remain in the jurisdiction until December 1968, witnessing the transformation of the diocese over those years. In 1959 he saw the jurisdiction elevated to the status of an archdiocese. Further tokens of progress were the detachment of large areas and their erection into separate jurisdictions (Sokoto diocese, 1953; Makurdi diocese, 1959; Minna diocese, 1964). Above all there was the extraordinary growth of an indigenous clergy. One of those whose ordination he attended (in 1963) was Peter Yariyok Jatau, who in 1972 became archbishop of Kaduna. During these years Willie was a tireless worker on behalf of the Gospel. In 1954 he was appointed superior of Kontagora/Zuru district, which had been established two years earlier. Two years later he returned to Zaria where he was assisted by Liam O'Callaghan. Willie took home leave in 1957 and returned to Zaria as superior in October 1958. In the last decade of his long missionary career he ministered in Zaria, Kontagora and Kano.

Willie spent much of his long pastorate working among the Gbagi tribe (in the late 1930's and through the 1940's) in Gawu mission, Niger Province. His remaining years were spent mainly in Zaria and Kano where Igbo immigrants from the east were in the majority. These immigrants had come north with the railway. With the secession of the east from the Federation of Nigeria in 1966, latent tensions between Igbos and the indigenous population of the north, flared into open hostility and large numbers of Igbos were massacred. Witnessing these sad events and knowing intimately many of those who died, Willie was deeply affected.

In December 1968 he returned to Ireland, spending the next year working in Galway diocese. In 1970 he went to Springfield diocese in the U.S.A. Two years later, in 1972, he returned to Ireland, intending to go back to Nigeria. However his health took a turn for the worse and he went instead to Liverpool diocese. He came home to die in Ireland. There is a letter in the archives of the Irish Province written by John McCarthy, then prefect apostolic, in August 1952, to the Irish Provincial, John Creaven. It was written on hearing the news that Willie was to be retained at home in Ireland. 'The loss of Fr. W. Byrne is really serious. He was a most reliable missionary, he had long experience which is most valuable. He was zealous and energetic, and enjoyed reasonably good health. A man with these qualities is always a loss. Your promise to release him in the not too distant future is all that we could reasonably ask of you...'

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.