Father Des Byrne, a diamond jubilarian priest, died last night.
Kairos published a panygeric to him on the occasion of his sixtieth anniversary of priestly ordination two years ago.
He was parish priest of Oak Park for longer than I have been alive (33 years), but he is best remembered for the Confraternity of St Michael, a remarkable apostolate which formed a generation of young Catholic leaders in Melbourne.
By the time I moved to Melbourne it was winding up, so I had no direct involvement. (I started uni in 2000; Fr Byrne retired in 2002.) However, I quickly became familiar with the Confraternity, and with the name of Fr Byrne, because – or so it seemed – every orthodox Catholic under 40 had reaped its fruits.
I didn’t meet the man himself until I was in the seminary, and I quickly learned Fr Byrne possessed a forceful will, and an indifference to human respect. I guess these qualities are necessary in anyone who bucks the trend and defies the establishment.
In recent years, I saw him regularly, and he frequently expressed his desire to die. Not in a morbid and self-pitying way, but in a faithful and hopeful way. His energy was spent, and he desired the promises of Heaven more than the delights of earth.
It’s significant, I think – or apropos, anyway – that Fr Byrne died on the Vigil of the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Here we are, contemplating our Lord’s power over death, and the promise of our bodily resurrection. Moreover the raising of Lazarus is so rich in the symbolism of sacramental confession, that this is what I preached on this weekend. For a priest who was so dedicated to that sacrament, and who persuaded many others to love and frequent the sacrament as Fr Byrne did, I can think of no better tribute.
May his good deeds go with him, and may he rest in peace.