by MOSAIC Editorial Team
In a move that he says has "humbled" him, Sacred Heart alumnus Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes of Detroit was named by Pope Francis the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Agana on October 31.
This sole diocese of the United States Territory of Guam, an island located in the South Pacific Ocean, has 115,000 Catholic—which is eighty percent of Guam's total population of 165,000.
Archbishop Byrnes has a history at Sacred Heart as a student, instructor, and leader spanning fourteen years. He is the seminary's former vice rector and dean of seminarian formation. He held that position from 2004 until 2011, when he received episcopal ordination as an auxiliary bishop of Detroit at the hands of Archbishop Allen Vigneron.
Archbishop Byrnes is an alumnus of Sacred Heart, graduating in 1996 with two graduate-level degrees: a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Theology with a concentration in Scripture. After receiving his doctorate in Sacred Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 2003, Archbishop Byrnes returned to the archdiocese and became a faculty member at Sacred Heart, teaching theology and Sacred Scripture. He remained on the faculty until his 2011 episcopal ordination.
Most recently, Archbishop Byrnes directed the planning and facilitating of the "Unleash the Gospel" initiative of evangelization, which just culminated in the Archdiocese of Detroit's Synod 16. This synod, or meeting of leaders from across the archdiocese, discussed ways to transform the archdiocese and its parishes to be more "mission oriented, not maintenance oriented."
In a recent interview conducted by Sacred Heart's development office, Archbishop Byrnes discussed the positive influence the seminary has had on his priestly ministry. Along with the examples of his parents, Patrick and Marie Byrnes, and that of his great-uncle, Fr. Remy McCoy, a missionary to Africa, Archbishop Byrnes cites the "model of the priests of the seminary" as instrumental in guiding him in his priestly vocation. In particular, he credits Archbishop Vigneron, one of his first instructors, as an exemplary model who impressed Archbishop Byrnes immensely when he first entered the seminary in 1990. Archbishop Byrnes also compliments former faculty members Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing, Msgr. Patrick Halfpenny, and Msgr. Ricardo Bass as those "whom I have learned much from."
Archbishop Byrnes points to Archbishop Vigneron's foresight as seminary rector (1994-2003) in transforming the seminary into an academic center of the new evangelization. The Licentiate in Sacred Theology program, which was established in 2004 and specializes in advancing the goals of the new evangelization, has been giving "deep formation in what is evangelization is" to priests from around the country and the world through the STL's online/limited residency format," says ArchbishopByrnes. These priest-students are being "taught by instructors who have actually done evangelization," which had become something of "a forgotten skill in the Catholic Church," he notes.
"The seminary is really key for that kind of deep formation that is laying the foundation for the priesthood. We are increasingly seeing our young priests come out [from the seminary] in which evangelization is not an add-on but is something that is foundational to who they are as priests."
Another area that has influenced him is "the element of leadership" at the seminary. "If you are on mission, it demands leadership. . . . That is an element that is becoming stronger at the seminary, a stronger sense that our role [as priests] is not simply to take care of the parish, but through the parish we are transforming society through the gospel."
Archbishop Byrnes says he would like to see leadership training be emphasized at his two seminaries in Agana, so that Agana's archdiocesan priests can take the preaching of the gospel message "on the island but beyond the island, as well."
Throughout his fourteen years at the seminary, says Archbishop Byrnes, the support of the community of priests and faculty members has meant much to him. "We had some pretty lively discussions," he laughs, "but there is the reality that the faculty really does work as a community, especially the resident faculty. . . . It is a community of trust, holding each other accountablethat is really healthy.
"When seminarians see love and confidence and mutual trust, when they see these things active among the faculty, that things are solid," Archbishop Byrnes concludes, "this is really what makes Sacred Heart work."
MOSAIC Editorial Team