Acknowledging that the Catholic Church is facing a challenging time during the coronavirus pandemic and in the wake of the abuse crisis, Bishop-elect William Byrne of Springfield, Massachusetts at his introductory press conference Oct. 14 said Christ offers hope.

 “The physical distance of the pandemic has separated us from one another and the sacraments. But we must not lose hope. This ordeal should not lessen our resolve. It should increase our dependence on the only one who saves, and that’s Jesus Christ,” said the bishop-elect, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington who has served in recent years as the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, Maryland.

Noting the victory that Christ won over sin and death by his cross and resurrection, Bishop-elect Byrne said, “This should not be a time of despair, but a time to believe,” and he added, “I pray my service as bishop of this community of Western Massachusetts will be a season of hope.”

Earlier that morning, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had named Father Byrne as the new bishop of Springfield, succeeding Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, who was named as the archbishop of St. Louis on June 10, 2020 and was installed on Aug. 25. Since then, Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts has been serving as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Springfield.

Bishop-elect Byrne will be ordained and installed as the 10th bishop of Springfield on Dec. 14 at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield. 

Bishop McManus introduced the bishop-elect at the press conference, highlighting his experience as a pastor and church administrator, and noted that during the priest’s years as a chaplain at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland at College Park, 14 men entered the seminary and are now ordained priests, and five women entered religious life and are currently professed religious.

“In my own name and in the name of the Church, thank you, Bishop-elect Byrne, for your remarkable ministry to young men and women of our Church,” Bishop McManus said.

Bishop-elect Byrne was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington by Cardinal James Hickey in 1994. After serving as a parochial vicar at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda and at the Shrine of St. Jude in Rockville, Father Byrne served as chaplain at the University of Maryland from 1999 to 2007. Then he served as pastor of St. Peter’s Parish on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., from 2007 to 2015, while also serving as the archdiocese’s Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns from 2009 to 2015. Since 2015, Father Byrne has served as the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish.

Greeting the people of his new diocese, Bishop-elect Byrne said, “So who am I? I’m a priest. For over 26 years, I have loved every minute of my priesthood. In moments both heartwarming and heartbreaking, I have found profound consolation in bringing Christ to my brothers and sisters.”

His pastoral experiences, he said, showed him how “our parishes are vibrant, holy places,” and he expressed gratitude for being “formed and loved” by the people of God in the Archdiocese of Washington.

Bishop-elect Byrne said in his new role he looked forward to working side-by-side with Catholics in western Massachusetts to build up God’s kingdom there.

The youngest of eight children of Mary Byrne and the late Dr. William Byrne, Bishop-elect Byrne thanked his parents “for joyfully passing the faith onto us.”

Addressing the abuse crisis, Bishop-elect Byrne said, “It’s an understatement to say the Church is living in challenging times. Many of our people have drifted from their faith, and many of our parishes and schools are struggling in the midst of the pandemic. But some of our greatest challenges, however, have come from within. The shameful history of abuse in the Church represents a systematic failure to protect our most vulnerable members, especially our children. It must be acknowledged and atoned for continuously. Each day we must recommit ourselves to doing the ongoing work of making sure that this will never happen again. Above all, we must never forget the victims if they are to ever heal at all.”

He praised the work of the independent task force established to monitor compliance with the Church’s child safety policies there and said transparency is essential.

At the press conference, Bishop-elect Byrne was asked if he would continue his presence on YouTube.

He quickly responded, “Sure!,” and then jokingly added, “my mom says I never met a camera I didn’t like, but what does she know?”

Springfield’s new bishop noted that since the coronavirus shutdown this spring, he has been celebrating daily Masses that have appeared online via YouTube, and he said it’s important to maintain a community of faith, even virtually.

“We’ll use every possible means of communication to share Jesus Christ with a world that’s starving for Him,” he said.

Bishop-elect Byrne was also asked about the challenges being faced by Catholic schools.

“As a product of Catholic education, I’m committed to it,” he said.

The Washington native grew up as a member of St. Luke’s Parish in McLean, Virginia, and graduated from Mater Dei School in Bethesda, Maryland; Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda; and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. After working as a teacher and a coach for three years at Mater Dei School, he entered the seminary, and studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he earned a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.

“I’m all in to make sure we do whatever we can to help our (Catholic) schools,” he said, noting that he hasn’t missed a day of school at Our Lady of Mercy, where he walks with his dog Zélie and teaches religion to eighth graders.

Bishop-elect Byrne said since he learned of his new appointment, he’s been doing Google searches of that region to learn about the area, and he said he planned on putting a lot of miles on his car as bishop, visiting the people and parishes there.

“I want to be out meeting the people of God here and getting to know them,” he said.

In a phone interview with the Catholic Standard later that afternoon, Bishop-elect Byrne was asked about the vocations to the priesthood and religious life that he helped inspire while he was the Catholic chaplain at the University of Maryland.

“It’s always been a sign to me of how much God loves His Church and will call great men and women to serve the people of God,” he said.

He expressed gratitude to the people of the Archdiocese of Washington for forming him during his 26 years as a priest and pastor there, and he said he looked forward to bringing what he has learned to his new family of faith.

“I leave sad to say goodbye, but with a grateful heart, excited for a new adventure,” Bishop Byrne said, adding that his goal will be to bring the people there “hope in this challenging time.”