(Editor's note: this column was written about Father William Byrne on Oct. 7, 2020, one week before Pope Francis named the priest as the new bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts. )
Turn the page(s) – Father William Byrne, now the pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac, says his favorite number has always been five, maybe because he was the fifth boy in a family of eight. He parlayed that into 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.” Now in October 2020, he has compiled those lists into a new book coming out from Loyola Press, “5 Things with Father Bill: Hope, Humor and Help for the Soul.”
Joy of the Gospel – Known for his enthusiastic faith and mischievous sense of humor, Father Byrne embodies what Pope Francis calls “the joy of the Gospel.” He once explained that one of the benefits of being a priest is when you wear black, it’s slimming.
Pasta and prayer – 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. Fourteen “Catholic Terps” inspired by his example have become priests, and five women have entered religious life.
Man of Mercy – 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.
Give that dog a bone – Father Byrne is not the only media personality in his rectory. His dog Zélie -- named after St. Zélie Martin, the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux – wore a blue ribbon and joined the priest in posing for photos after Our Lady of Mercy School was recognized as a 2020 National Blue Ribbon School (see photo, page 26). The first chapter in his book summarizes five things he learned from his late dog, Maggie, and in the 50th and last chapter Father Byrne lists five things he learned from Zélie when she was a puppy, noting, “Although having an adorable destruction machine is a lot of work, it is also tons of fun, not just for me but also for the schoolkids and the whole parish as well…”
For information on how to get a copy of Father Byrne’s book and buy five copies for your family and friends, go to https://store.loyolapress.com/5-things-with-father-bill