Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 13, 2004
'Bishop Paul' had a love for the people
Calgary's 30-year bishop dies at 81
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
A lively wit was one of Bishop Paul O'Byrne's greatest strengths.
He also brought kindness and a genuine love for his people to his office. One of his first acts as bishop was to abandon the bishop's palace and other traditional trappings that he believed might prevent people from relating to him.
"Bishop Paul will be remembered as a bishop of the people," said his longtime friend Archbishop Joseph MacNeil. "He used his office to empower lay people to take responsibility for the Church."
O'Byrne, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Calgary, died Sept. 2 at the age of 81. He served as bishop of Calgary from 1968 until his retirement in 1998.
Born in Calgary on Dec. 12, 1922, O'Byrne was ordained to the priesthood in 1954 after studying at St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton. He served in many parishes throughout the Calgary Diocese. After being raised to the episcopate, he was active in the Canadian bishops' conference serving on many commissions, including twice as chair of the social affairs commission.
"Bishop Paul was a man of very deep faith and devotion to Mary and the Eucharist. And he was very much a priest of the people, a strong advocate for social justice and for sanctity of life and a community leader who developed an enormous ecumenical and inter-faith network of friends," said MacNeil.
O'Byrne's appointment as bishop in 1968 is sometimes cited as a unique method of choosing a bishop. Some even called it an election. But in a 1998 interview with WCR editor Glen Argan, O'Byrne said his appointment was little different than that of other prelates.
What made it different was that the apostolic nuncio came to Calgary before the appointment, met with the priests and asked them to suggest names. O'Byrne was surprised he was the one chosen. He wanted nothing more than to be a priest.
Although his 30-year tenure was challenging, it had lots of high points, including the growth in the number of lay people working for the Church and the development of parish pastoral councils. Under O'Byrne's tenure the diocese started a mission council and sent a priest, Father Louis Malo, to work in Peru. It lent another priest to the Churchill Diocese in the North.
And in July 1996, Anglican, Lutherans and Catholics in southern Alberta reached a landmark agreement to cooperate with each other in all areas of activity.
Further, O'Byrne - made an honorary Blackfoot chief - increased the Church's outreach to native people and got the Church involved in social issues. "I don't hesitate to say that the Church is on the side of the poor," he told the WCR. "And I don't hesitate to say we've got to do better in how we make that manifest."
Bishop Fred Henry, O'Byrne's successor, said O'Byrne impressed him as a kind and caring person when he attended his first bishops' conference. "I was a new bishop and he went out of his way to make me welcome," he recalled. "He wanted me to feel that I was accepted as an equal."
When Henry became Calgary's bishop, he realized how much O'Byrne was loved by the people. "He was known as Bishop Paul," he said. "He was unpretentious and lived modestly."
Henry also described O'Byrne as a man engaged in social policy and a great ecumenist who worked with other faiths. "He has been an inspiration for me. I'm building upon the foundation he left."
MacNeil said he and O'Byrne became great friends and sometimes they would vacation together.
"We were very much like brothers," MacNeil said. "He was a person graced with many creative ideas and with a strong commitment to bring people, especially the youth, to Jesus Christ."
Bishop Henry presided at Bishop O'Byrne's funeral at St. Mary's Cathedral on Sept. 8.
Letter to the Editor - 10/04/04