CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Missionary life on the move comes to an end

Sister Kay Byrne died quietly on the evening of June 28 at the Maryknoll Sisters Centre in the United States of America. She was 88-years-old and had spent 64 years of her life with Maryknoll.
Born Katherine Theresa Byrne in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on 12 March 1929 to Marie Fitzgerald and Philip J. Byrne Jr, she had one brother, Philip J. and one sister, Maryellen. Both her parents and brother predeceased her.
Although she grew up in staid Westfield in New Jersey, Sister Byrne had quite a deep and wide exposure to various cultures, living for 10 years in Europe and another decade in the West Indies, where her father’s work took the family.
Then there was Holy Trinity High School in New Jersey with graduation in 1946, before progressing to the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York City for a degree in nursing.
She worked as a nurse in the Big Apple for two years until on 2 September 1952 she entered the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation.
Sister Byrne made her first profession on 8 September 1955 and was given the name of Sister Philip Marie. Then final profession came in 1961 when she was already in Hong Kong.
She regarded the opportunity to care for the founder of the Maryknoll Sisters, Mother Mary Joseph, and later, Bishop James E. Walsh after his release from a Chinese prison, as blessed times in her life.
In 1956, she was delighted at her first overseas assignment to Kandy, in what was then known as Ceylon, but sadly, political upheaval resulted in a cancellation of all the sisters’ visas, so it was back to Hong Kong as a teacher, nurse and administrator for the next 16 years.
She worked as a clinic nurse among the refugees and was the director of Nursing for Our Lady of Maryknoll Hospital in Wong Tai Sin.
Returning to the US in 1971, she earned a master’s degree in Mental Health Nursing and Nursing Administration from the Catholic University in Washington, which enabled her to, as she put it herself, “Learn what I could about facilitating change and help our sisters to grow without so much fear.”
Following graduation in 1973, she was assigned to the Maryknoll Sisters Centre in Ossining, where she was the director of Health Services for three years before returning to Hong Kong as assistant matron at Caritas Hospital. Of these years she writes, “Helping others discover God in their life was thrilling.”
In 1980, Sister Byrne went to the US to care for her mother and teach Nursing Education in institutions for children with physical limitations.
But the three years were punctuated by a series of surgery for cancer, which resulted in the amputation of her right arm.
As she said, “These children taught me how to cope with physical limitation.” And cope she did with such apparent ease and grace that we were all amazed. She was a woman of courage, a woman always ready for what came next.
In 1984, she joined the nursing faculty of Bethlehem University in the Holy Land where she taught both Mental Health and Public Health to Palestinian women and men.
While her students referred to her courses as fun and games, the group dynamics and intervention skills she taught were quickly grasped. During those years we admired her energy, stamina, creativity, empathy and independence. Sister Byrne herself often referred to her experience as a five-semester retreat!
Returning to the US she served for a year in Albuquerque with Supportive Services for Elderly Disabled and in an ecumenical retirement facility.
However, her travels were far from over and then it was to Hawaii from 1987 to 1991, as coordinator of an Interfaith Caregiver Programme.
In 1993, she was appointed coordinator of a retirement house, a job which she doubled with pastoral care in a hospital. Then in 1998, she became the administrator at the Maryknoll Sisters Residence, where semi-retired sisters could continue to reach out in ministry.
She often reflected on her journey in God’s service from the gentle Buddhists of Sri Lanka, who shared their quiet contemplative ways; to her neighbours in Hong Kong who taught her so much about caring and sharing the little they had; to her days in Bethlehem where walking in the footsteps of Jesus brought scripture into three dimensions; to Hawaii, whose multi-ethnic makeup and ohana spirit offered a wonderful milieu for the good news to take hold.
In 2009, Sister Byrne retired to the Maryknoll Sisters Centre.
May she rest in peace.
Sister Maria Homberg mm

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