Bishop-elect Byrne

{span}Pope Francis has named the Rev. William D. Byrne, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., as the new bishop of Springfield. “If you want to find me, you probably won’t find me in my office as much as I should be,” he said.{/span}

Western Massachusetts Catholics have a new spiritual leader committed to Catholic education, open about priest sex abuse cases and eager to regularly walk among the people.

The Rev. William D. Byrne has made it clear: As a first-time bishop, he will remain a pastor at heart when he takes the reins of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. The diocese covers Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.

The Vatican on Wednesday named Byrne, a priest with the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., as the successor to the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, who led the diocese since 2014.

Rozanski was installed in August as the new archbishop for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus has served as the apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Springfield since Rozanski left.

Byrne, 56, will be ordained and installed Dec. 14 as the 10th bishop of Springfield, at the Cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel on State Street in Springfield. He will lead a diocese made up of 79 parishes and seven missions across the four-county region. The Catholic population of that area is 164,799, according to a news release from the Diocese of Springfield.

Monsignor Michael Shershanovich, pastor at St. Joseph’s Church in Pittsfield, said he was surprised at what he saw as a fairly brisk transition.

“With so many dioceses needing new bishops, we must have been moved toward the top of the list,” Shershanovich told The Eagle. “The sooner, the better for continuity’s sake.”

McManus introduced Byrne at a news conference at which the bishop-elect vowed to be in the public eye as much as possible.

He says that includes being social media-savvy, a necessity since the coronavirus outbreak hit its stride in early spring.

“Social media is an effective tool. Since mid-March, I’ve had Mass online every day,” he said. “If I’m not preaching the Gospel, I might as well stay in bed.”

Byrne expects to rack up the miles on his car, traveling to the four corners of the diocese.

“If you want to find me, you probably won’t find me in my office as much as I should be,” he said at the news conference.

He didn’t shy away from any question, including his thoughts on how the diocese should handle the priest sex abuse scandal. In particular, he said he would get up to speed on the details of an agreement announced in May that outlines steps to guarantee that abuse reports received by the diocese are shared immediately with civil legal authorities. All three district attorneys in Western Massachusetts signed on to the pact, which runs until June 30, 2024.

Though Catholic policy requires the institution to investigate allegations of abuse, the agreement calls for the church to wait for up to 90 days, or longer, to avoid interfering with probes underway by prosecutors.

Byrne acknowledged that the church has to be more open about its troubled past.

“It makes sense to have complete transparency,” he said.

Byrne said he also is committed to parochial education in a diocese where Catholic schools struggle financially.

“I’m all in to do what we can for our schools,” he said.

The diocese has two high schools and 12 prekindergarten-through-eighth grade schools, three of which are in Berkshire County — St. Mary’s in Lee, St. Agnes Academy in Dalton and St. Stanislaus Kostka in Adams.

Berkshire connectionByrne, a native of Washington, D.C., attended Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, Md., and completed his undergraduate studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester.

After being accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., he studied at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, completing his licentiate in sacred theology from Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). He was ordained in 1994 by Cardinal James A. Hickey.

The Rev. Brian McGrath, pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Lee, attended the Roman seminary with Byrne.

“He is a warm and holy person,” McGrath told The Eagle. “People will enjoy his humor and be blessed with his holiness.”

As a newly ordained priest, Byrne originally was assigned to the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda. He then was named pastor of St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill, where he created a special ministry to Catholic members of Congress.

Byrne gave a homily to 20,000 Catholic youths and their leaders at the Mass and Rally for Life in 2007, which precedes the annual March for Life in Washington. D.C.

Pope Francis named Byrne a “Missionary of Mercy” for the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016. The bishop-elect also hosts a “Five Things” YouTube show, focused on helping people grow closer to God.

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