Pope Francis has appointed Father William D. Byrne, a pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, to be the bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts.

He succeeds Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, who was installed Aug. 25 to head the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Then-Bishop Rozanski headed the Springfield Diocese from 2014 until June of this year when the pope named him to St. Louis.

Bishop-elect Byrne, 56, has been pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, Maryland, since 2015. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington June 25, 1994.

His appointment was announced in Washington Oct. 14, 2020 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Vatican nuncio to the United States.

In a statement, Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory said, Pope Francis has chosen one of our most beloved and successful pastors in appointing Father William D. Byrne as the new bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts. Father Byrne will bring the heart of a pastor to his new appointment and enrich that local Church with his talents and energy. We wish him well even as we acknowledge his loss to the Archdiocese of Washington. He will always carry with him our prayers and deep admiration.”

Bishop-elect Byrne was born on September 26, 1964 in Washington, D.C. He attended Georgetown Preparatory School in Rockville, Maryland and received a bachelor’s degree in English from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and received a Bachelor’s in Sacred Theology in 1992 and a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in 1994, both from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.

After his ordination to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1994, Father Byrne was assigned to the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland as parochial vicar where he served until 1995 when he was assigned as parochial vicar at the Shrine of Saint Jude in Rockville, Maryland. From 1999 until 2007, he served as the chaplain for the University of Maryland’s Catholic Student Center in College Park, Maryland. He was named pastor of St. Peter’s Parish on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. in 2007 where he served until 2015. From 2009 until 2015, while serving as pastor of St. Peter’s, Father Byrne was also Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington. In 2015, Father Byrne was named pastor of Our Lady of Mercy parish in Potomac, Maryland.

Bishop-elect Byrne’s ministry also includes service on the Archdiocese of Washington’s Vocations Team (1998), Formation Board (2002-present), Priest Council (2003-2006), Priest Personnel Board (2006-2009), and Archdiocesan Administrative Board (2009-2015), as well as membership on the board of directors of St. Ann’s Infant and Maternity Home, Catholic Youth Organization, and Redemptoris Mater Seminary, as well as the advisory board of the Lay Leadership Institute. 

Bishop-elect William Byrne of Springfield, Massachusetts, has served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington since his ordination in 1994. (Archdiocese of Washington photo)

Springfield’s new bishop is known for his creative approach to ministry. This spring during the coronavirus shutdown, Father Patrick Agustin assisted as a deacon at Our Lady of Mercy Parish before being ordained to the priesthood, and he was reunited with Father Byrne, the pastor there whom he had known when the priest was the chaplain at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland.

“Energy and joy exudes from him. He loves the priesthood and serving the Lord and the Church,” said Father Agustin.

At Our Lady of Mercy, then-Deacon Agustin was able to witness Father Byrne’s creativity in continuing to serve his people, noting that after celebrating a live streamed Mass on Easter Sunday, Mercy’s pastor invited parishioners to drive by the church for an Easter parade, and from a social distance he greeted them and gave them a blessing. Father Agustin said cars were pulling up at the parish for more than an hour that morning.

As the chaplain at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland, Father Byrne combined two of his favorite things – prayer and food – to draw students to Wednesday evening Eucharistic Adoration, followed by meals prepared by some of their moms. Several “Catholic Terps” inspired by his example have become priests for the archdiocese.

Father Conrad Murphy, the new chaplain at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Maryland, praised Springfield’s new bishop, saying, “Father Bill is a dynamic, outgoing, and faithful priest, and I am so excited that Pope Francis has named him a bishop.  He helped make the Catholic Student Center what it is today, a place where the future of the Church in Maryland is being formed and where students are becoming true disciples of Jesus. Father Bill's own witness was particularly powerful when he was here in Maryland, to the point that over a dozen young men and women left to enter religious life or the priesthood because of his example. In fact, in my own life, most of my close priest friends are his former students from the Catholic Student Center. He has been a great example and encouragement to me as I start out in this ministry of how to teach the Gospel with joy, how to reach out to those who have not met Jesus, and how to creatively and dynamically live out priesthood.”

After providing a special ministry to Catholic members of Congress while he served as pastor of St. Peter’s Parish on Capitol Hill and then becoming pastor of Our Lady of Mercy, Father Byrne was named by Pope Francis in 2016 as a Missionary of Mercy for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The priest who has emphasized receiving God’s love and mercy in Confession and then sharing that love and mercy with others has been at home as pastor at Mercy, which in late September learned that its parish school has been named a National Blue Ribbon School for the third time, fittingly on the feast day of Our Lady of Mercy. Father Byrne and his dog, Zélie, who was wearing a blue ribbon, waved to parents that day during carpool pickup.

Doreen Engel, the interim principal of Our Lady of Mercy School, said, “One thing that has consistently struck me about Father Bill is his presence. When he is speaking with you, he gives his full and complete attention. Whether you are a preschooler, a new parent, or the principal, busy as he must be, he gives all his undivided attention. This is such a gift and a beautiful model to everyone in these busy times. Having worked in many Catholic schools in my lifetime, I have never had a pastor who was more present to the school community than our Father Bill. It is funny to think that we have a bishop (who was) helping us to take students’ temperatures in the morning! The children and the faculty and I will miss him terribly, but we are elated on behalf of the people of Springfield.”

Kelly Branaman, the Secretary for Catholic Schools and Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, praised the commitment of Springfield’s new bishop to Catholic education, saying, “Father Byrne is a champion of Catholic schools and has been a true gift to the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic schools. It has been an honor to work with him over many years and witness his commitment to building strong and vibrant schools, marked by active faith formation and academic excellence.  Father Byrne understands the value of the partnership between a pastor and principal and the school community they build together. He is loved by faculty, families and students. Today, Catholic schools across the Archdiocese of Washington will keep Father Byrne and the community of Our Lady of Mercy in their prayers.” 

Bishop-elect Byrne, who is known for his enthusiasm for his faith and for his sense of humor, wrote an award winning “5 things” column in the Catholic Standard newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington and then a popular YouTube feature, mixing faith and fun on topics like “5 Ways to Get Ready for Heaven” and “5 Gifts for Your Priest.” He compiled those lists into a new book coming out from Loyola Press in October 2020, “5 Things with Father Bill: Hope, Humor and Help for the Soul.”

The Diocese of Springfield is comprised of 2,822 square miles in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and has a total population of 828,667 of which 199,289 are Catholic.

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 655,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 91 Catholic schools, located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.