Société des Missions Africaines –Province d'Irlande

BYRNE James Christopher né le 5 janvier 1915 à Babrath, Kells
dans le diocèse de Meath, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 29 juin 1937
prêtre le 22 décembre 1940
décédé le 18 juillet 1989

1941-1942 Wilton, études supérieures
1942-1946 Ballinafad, directeur
1946-1950 Wilton, directeur
1950-1953 Ballinafad, professeur
1953-1962 diocèse de Bénin City, Nigeria
1962-1965 Kilcogan, directeur
1965-1984 archidiocèse de Monrovia, Liberia
1984-1989 Cork, malade, retiré

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 18 juillet 1989,
à l'âge de 73 ans

Father James Christopher BYRNE (1915 - 1989)

James Byrne was born in Babrath, Kells, Co Meath, in the diocese of Meath, on 5 January, 1915. He died after a long illness at the Bon Secours hospital, Cork, on 18 July 1989.

James (Jim) Byrne was educated by the Christian Brothers at Kells (1929-1933) before coming to St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork, where he took his leaving certificate. Two years later, in September 1935, he entered the Society's novitiate and house of philosophy at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. Jim received his theological formation in the major seminary, at Dromantine, Co Down (1937-1941). He took his oath of membership on 29 June 1937, and was ordained a priest by Bishop Edward Mulhern of Dromore diocese at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry, on 22 December 1940. He was one of a group of nineteen ordained on that day.

Marked by a strong and deep spirituality, Jim had an unshakeable belief in the effectiveness of Our Lady as the mainspring of apostolic activity. While yet a student, he became a close friend of the late Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary. His promotion of Knock Shrine, at a time when there was much indifference and scepticism, foreshadowed the great recognition of later years. Jim was particularly attached to the writings of Grignon de Montfort on 'True Devotion to Our Lady', and during his seminary days had formulated a Rule of Life for himself, based on this devotion. Jim spent many years of his life in the work of priestly formation. He was able to instil devotion to Mary into generations of young Irish aspirants to the S.M.A., as well as opening for them the way to personal and apostolic holiness.

Jim's first appointment was to U.C.C. (residing at Wilton) where in June 1942 he was awarded a higher diploma in education. He had taken his primary degree in June 1937, having attended lectures in U.C.C. during his last year in Wilton and at U.C.G. during his time in Kilcolgan. In September 1942 Jim was appointed to the staff of the Sacred Heart College, Ballinafad, Co Mayo (the intermediate school) where he was director of students. In September 1946 he returned to Wilton (the senior secondary school), where again he served as director of students. Four years later he was assigned to Ballinafad once more, solely in a teaching capacity. Next, for a brief period (October 1952-April 1953), he was director of students at Kilcolgan.

In 1954 Jim was appointed to Western Nigeria, to the diocese of Benin City. He was to serve in this jurisdiction until August 1962, doing four tours of duty. Jim began his ministry in Warri. He was then appointed to the teaching staff of St. Peter Claver's secondary school, Aghalokpe, Sapele. Next he transferred to St. John Bosco teacher training college, Ubiaja, and in the following year to Annunciation college, Irrua; finally he became the founding and much-loved principal of Ishan grammar school, Uromi. Jim was a dedicated teacher, excelling in English, Latin, and religion, but could turn his hand to any subject. However his greatest talent was for the work of formation. It was no surprise, then, that after nine years in Nigeria, in September 1962, he was appointed to the formation staff of the 'spiritual year', at Kilcolgan, a post he held for two years.

In a memoir written during his declining years Jim declared that given a choice his preference would be for parish work. It was to the parish ministry that Jim was appointed when, in 1965, he was assigned to the Republic of Liberia. He spent twenty happy and productive years in Liberia, building the new cathedral of the capital city, Monrovia, administering its parish, and directing innumerable praesidia of the Legion of Mary. For many years he was 'regional superior' for Liberia, responsible for the spiritual and temporal welfare of its members. It was Jim who was responsible for building (in conjunction with the American Province) the Guest House at Monrovia, a house which was greatly needed for priests and brothers to recuperate and rest. Jim's polite and gentle demeanour concealed a firmness and determination of purpose.

This disposition was to equip him ideally for the role of Papal Chargé d'Affaires, which placed him in charge of the Internuntiature whenever Archbishop Francis Carroll, bishop of Monrovia, apostolic pro-nuncio and apostolic delegate to the Gambia and Sierra Leone, was absent. Jim proved an able diplomat and played a key role in securing the release of Archbishop Tchidimbo of Conakry, from captivity in Guinea.

Jim was never a day sick in Africa until the onset of illness in 1984. He was compelled to return to Ireland, to Blackrock Road, where he patiently accepted his painful and ever more debilitating sickness. Among Jim's papers at the time of his death was a correspondence with Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, stretching over four decades. The memoir which he wrote, and which is preserved in the archives of the Irish Province, gives a fascinating insight into Jim's deep spirituality, and provides testimony of his great zeal. It also gives a detailed account of the complicated diplomacy involved in the negotiations to secure the release of Archbishop Tchidimbo. Jim was a gentle, considerate confrere, always ready to listen, always ready to give encouragement. These qualities made him an ideal 'regional superior'. But, above all, it was the example of his life which impressed not only his confreres and the many students who passed through his hands in Ireland and Nigeria, but the thousands of parishioners who came to know him in Monrovia.

He is buried in Wilton cemetery.