Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 5, 2005
Fr. Pat O'Byrne was man of many causes
Calgary priest had deep interest in social change
By WCR Staff
Calgary's Father Pat O'Byrne did it all during his 81 years.
The eldest brother of long-time Calgary Bishop Paul O'Byrne, Father Pat promoted numerous youth, social and ecumenical causes during his 56 years as a priest and once even ran for political office.
A native Calgarian, he did his undergraduate studies in philosophy at St. Michael's College of the University of Toronto during the 1930s. Years later, he confessed, "my main interest got to be not in the academic side of things but in political and social change."
However, he decided to enter the priesthood, rather than pursue a career in law or politics, and was ordained in 1940.
After serving five years at St. Mary's Cathedral in Calgary and studying social work for a year, O'Byrne became pastor in Claresholm.
There, he began the Dandelion Movement, a social action thrust within the Catholic Youth Organization which spread across the country. In 1957, he was named director of Catholic Charities for the Calgary Diocese.
In 1971, proclaiming that "politics is a noble form of religious activity," O'Byrne was the provincial Social Credit candidate in Calgary Egmont.
He was the first priest in English-speaking Canada to seek elected office. He was also, no doubt, the first priest anywhere to run for office with a rabbi as his campaign manager.
However, 1971 was the year the Social Credit's 36-year reign came to an end. O'Byrne lost the election and returned to his work with the Calgary Inter-Faith Community Action Committee and the diocesan Council of Social Affairs, two organizations he had launched.
Program for transients
Through the inter-faith group, he helped launch programs for transients and the homeless, for drug abusers and the distressed, for single-parent families and for those living in substandard housing.
Always trying to promote dialogue among various segments of society, O'Byrne found another opportunity when the Canadian bishops enraged the Calgary oil industry with a 1975 statement on northern development.
"It got them so riled up they started talking to us," O'Byrne said.
So he organized a conference to get native people, universities, churches, governments and the oil industry to "stop fighting each other" and start talking.
Long before it became popular, he also lobbied for the establishment of a Catholic college at the University of Calgary which led to the creation of St. Mary's College.
In his later years, he served actively on the provincial government's Commission on Health which produced the Rainbow Report.
He always retained his concern for the poor and helped institute many projects through Catholic Charities to meet their needs. Toward the end of his life, O'Byrne also served as chaplain at the Calgary Remand Centre.
Following O'Byrne's death on May 14, 1996, Calgary Herald religion editor Gordon Legge wrote "There are few clergy in the city of Calgary who understand the word 'justice' better than Father Pat O'Byrne."
"There is no segment of the Calgary community left untouched by his generosity of effort, from the homeless to criminal offenders, to those on social assistance, to native people living in the inner city," Legge commented.
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