Last Friday, after two long years, we were at last able to celebrate a Memorial Mass for dear Father Lawrence, who had died exactly two years before, to the day. Restrictions then, and also restrictions on the first anniversary last year, had meant that family and parishioners had never been able to properly gather to bid him farewell. On this occasion, we welcomed a large contingent of his family from Ayrshire, and there were also many parishioners, and members of the extended Saint Mungo’s community, who had made a real effort to be there, some of them even getting out of their sick beds to come - but not with Covid, I hasten to add.
I took the call from the Marie Curie early on the morning of 18th March 2020, to say that Lawrence had passed away, and it was a tough call to make to his brother, not just because his death was quite sudden and unexpected, having only gone into the Marie Curie the day before, but also because the family were still mourning the passing of Fr Lawrence’s sister, who had passed away just a very short time before. Lawrence’s sister had died 8 weeks after her diagnosis, up until when she was a regular visitor, trying to coax him down to Irvine for a stay so that she could spoil him rotten, but at that stage he was more content in the familiarity of his own space. Lawrence died two years and four months after his diagnosis. No one saw it coming that she would die before him.
Lawrence’s death occurred between the Feasts of St. Patrick and St. Joseph and, in a sense, he has a link to both. In the course of his life Lawrence had held a British passport, a Botswana passport, and a European Union passport, but at the end he held an Irish passport, remaining a proud Scot, proud of his years in Botswana, but proud also of his Irish heritage, and so, claiming Patrick as the root of his faith and as his patron. St. Joseph is the quiet man of faith, protector of the Holy Family, and of the church, which describes Lawrence as well, he was a quiet man of very solid faith, very protective of family, and of the many people who came to him in the church for prayers, for blessing, for guidance. Quiet, hidden acts of kindness and compassion were very typical of Lawrence as many will know.
Lawrence was professed as a Passionist brother when he was just 22. He remained a brother for around 17 years, but then chose to study for priesthood. I was a student with him and I remember well his great dedication to his studies, and how genuinely he felt called to be a priest. He was ordained in Irvine in1981, just short of his 40th birthday. Almost immediately he had to celebrate the requiem Mass for his father, Patrick. For just short of another 40 years, then, he was as an ordained Passionist priest, serving God with great dedication, in many different places and in many different ministries. Lawrence took a keen interest in politics and often wrote to MP’s, especially around issues that he felt strongly about, like abortion. To this day, we still get letters to him from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, whom he was obviously supporting in some quiet way. The last person to speak to Lawrence, on the phone, the night before he died was Sister Therese, a Cross and Passion Sister. In her letter of condolence, she sent some Kalahari-desert sand from Tsabong and asked if I could pour it into Lawrence’s grave in acknowledgment of those years of service to the church in Botswana. With the agreement of the family, who knew Sister Therese well, that is what we did.
Expressions of condolence came from some of the younger men who were students at the time he came home to study for priesthood, and to whom he was a kind of older brother figure, as well as the “Holy Goalie”. They have been in contact again recently, and I was reminded by them that Lawrence was also a CB radio buff, and that when he was on the airwaves, his “handle” was Jelly Baby. Now I know why there was always a packet of Jelly Babies in his room. Also, some time after his death, we discovered that a star in the constellation, Canes Venatici, in the northern hemisphere, is now called Larry, 25 May 2020, in honour of Fr. Lawrence Byrne CP. There was even a little silver star that came with it. We later discovered that this had been arranged by one of those many people towards whom Lawrence had shown great kindness, compassion and support over the years. We all still miss him; family, Passionist brethren, parishioners and beyond. So, Larry, until we meet again, farewell.
As ever, protect yourselves, your loved ones, and others, and protect Christ in your lives.