Bishop Patrick Byrne, M.M.

Modern Martyr of Korea

Bishop Patrick J. Byrne was born October 26, 1888 in Washington, D.C. He was educated by the Sulpician Fathers at St. Charles College and St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and was ordained on June 23, 1915.  One week later he came to Maryknoll with the permission of Cardinal Gibbons.

In the first days of Maryknoll there was little that Father Byrne was not responsible for at one time or other. He supervised the building at Maryknoll and at Scranton. He was Rector of both seminaries, Editor of the Field Afar, Vicar General and Treasurer of Maryknoll.

In 1923 Father Byrne was chosen to begin the mission in Korea.  Four years later he was raised to the rank of Monsignor and named Prefect Apostolic of Pyongyang.  He laid the foundation of the Church well, since the Church remained strong in Korea when foreign missioners were interned at the beginning of World War II.  The Korean Catholic population had increased by 25,000 and there were sufficient Korean priests and sisters.

In 1929 Fr. Byrne returned to Maryknoll as a delegate to the first General Chapter. On this occasion he was elected Assistant Superior General.

Father Byrne’s second mission career began in 1935 when he was selected to open a new mission field in Kyoto, Japan. Two years later he was named Prefect Apostolic of Kyoto and elevated again to the rank of Monsignor. Shortly before the war he, together with other foreign ordinaries, resigned this post in favor of a young Japanese priest. Because of his many charitable works the Japanese did not imprison him during the war but kept him under house arrest. Near the end of the war he was asked to make radio broadcasts to the Japanese people as the American forces advanced to occupy Japan. These messages calmed the people and Japan was occupied without the loss of a single life. Later General MacArthur praised Father Byrne's help and cooperation.

In 1947 Father Byrne was elevated for the third time to the rank of Monsignor and named Apostolic Visitor to Korea by the Holy See. Two years later he was appointed the first Apostolic Delegate to Korea and was named Titular Bishop of Gazera.  On July 2, 1950, a year after his consecration, he was seized by the Communists and put on trial. Refusing to give in, he was forced to endure the long march to the Yalu through the old Maryknoll Mission territory.  In Pyongyang he was placed on trial a second time, and then forced to march for four months in extremely inclement weather with a minimum of food and shelter. During the march, although he was an elderly man (aged 73) and in bad health, he encouraged everyone and shared the little food that he received with those he thought were weaker than he.

In November, 1950, Bishop Byrne became ill and finally succumbed to pneumonia. On his death bed he told his companions: "After the privilege of my priesthood, I regard this privilege of having suffered for Christ with all of you as the greatest of my life".  Bishop Byrne died on November 25, 1950, having received absolution the night before from Father William Booth, his secretary.  Monsignor Quinlan, a Columban Father, and Prefect Apostolic of Chunchon, recited the prayers at his grave from memory.  He buried Bishop Byrne in his own cassock.