In Remembrance of Fr Gerry Byrne
3rd Jun 2021
“We can only be a team if we care for one another.”Fr. Gerry Byrne 16.02.1953 – 26.05.2020
Last Thursday we held a First Anniversary Mass in memory of Fr. Gerry Byrne, our esteemed hospital Chaplain of long standing. Fr. Gerry passed away last May after 34 years of dedication to our hospital community. The service was led by Bishop Eamonn Walsh, a close friend of Fr. Gerry, whose memories of him spoke to us all in his homily.
Fr. Gerry started his hospital chaplaincy at Blackrock Clinic in 1986 just as the hospital opened. A handful of us have careers spanning back to that year, with clear memories of welcoming the first patients and the launching of a great history. The new Blackrock Clinic was a purpose-built state of the art private hospital and an innovation in Irish healthcare; an exciting venture for the burgeoning teams of healthcare workers, including myself and the young hospital chaplain.
Fr Gerry quickly established his role as the pastoral face of Blackrock Clinic. His warm welcome became familiar to all comers. We have travelled a long road together since that time.
The Family of Blackrock Clinic
“Primarily we support patients, visitors and staff, by listening to the words, the body language and the silences”. Burton M., ‘Health and Social Care Chaplaincy Journal’, 2019. This is a definition of the role of a hospital chaplain, a spiritual pillar complementing the clinical side of a patient’s stay for a holistic package of care.
Priestly ministry, the support of patients, their family, and relatives; these are the ubiquitous tasks which go with the position. Fr. Gerry was conscientious in observing these duties, furthering them, and making each uniquely his own. The healthcare ‘family’ of the hospital too had a friend in Fr. Gerry, who seemed to be part of the framework. Many generations of this family have gratefully turned to him, in distress, grief, or with some life event to celebrate, or even just to chat. Fr. Gerry assumed the roles of our support, celebrant, and confident. As Bishop Eamonn quoted him: “We can only be a team if we care for one another”.
Authenticity & Empathy
Fr. Gerry had physical tribulations of his own – his “cross to bear”. As a young man he had known what it was like to be a patient, enduring a long-term hospital stay himself. He was also diagnosed at an early age with Multiple Sclerosis, which began to manifest during the start of his ministry. He came to terms with a future incorporating this potentially degenerative condition. One of these ‘terms’ was to apply the learning from his personal experiences generously for the benefit of his pastoral community. His work was invariably imbued with a prejudice-free empathy. Perhaps the thing that inspired us most about him was the authenticity of this empathy, for every individual, at all levels.
Fr. Gerry exuded a gentle diplomacy, with an ability to maintain calm communication through the stresses of ill health. In those existential moments of critical hospital care, which might last minutes or weeks, to have the support of his pastoral friendship, aimed so keenly and compassionately at the human condition, was an immense gift.
Some wonderful things have been said regarding Fr. Gerry. The Bishops and fellow Priests of the Dublin Archdiocese, his friends, and those of us touched by him, have never been shy of recognising this self-effacing hospital chaplain. His wit, empathy and broadminded humanity made him a good subject. Borrowing a few phrases from the messages posted on our digital channels where we live streamed his First Anniversary Mass, I can conclude that Fr. Gerry is popularly remembered as: a ‘very special … thoughtful man’ of ‘good humour … a devoted priest’ and ‘a lovely man with a big heart’. ‘With a kind word for everybody’ he will be ‘remembered with gratitude’ and leaves us ‘enlightened’ by having known him.
Fr. Gerry guided us spiritually with his pastoral care for 34 years. We can be grateful that he chose us.