On the same day I had to announce to people that all public Masses in Scotland were suspended until further notice, I also had to announce the death of Father Lawrence Byrne CP, a member of our Passionist community here at St. Mungo’s. It was a real double-whammy for people, like a double bereavement, the loss of not being able to gather for the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Christian lives, for God only knows how long; and the loss of a man who was a much loved preacher and confessor, and whose kind and gentle approach endeared him to so many folk who will grieve at the thought of never seeing or hearing him again. I don’t think he realized how much loved he was, perhaps people didn’t tell him enough, but they certainly told us.
Lawrence was born in Irvine during the 2nd World War. On his birth certificate his father is described as an explosives’ worker. Lawrence himself qualified as an electrician but then joined the Passionists in his early 20’s and made his 1st Religious Profession on 8th March 1964. He spent many years in Botswana as a Passionist Brother but in the mid-1970’s he decided to return home and study for priesthood. That meant we were students together in Dublin and during that time Lawrence was persuaded by his confreres to come out of sporting retirement to take up his position as a goalkeeper when we were struggling to put a team together for the Seminary League, and a fine goalkeeper he was too. He was the original Holy Goalie. Lawrence loved his football and especially he loved Glasgow Celtic. Before he joined the Passionists he had attended Celtic’s famous 7-1 victory over Rangers in the 1957 League Cup Final, and his account of that day was submitted and included in Pat Woods’ book recalling that memorable event, “Oh! Hampden in the Sun”.
During one of our Seminary League games in the late 1970’s, when Lawrence was in goals and I was playing Right Back, I took a knock on the leg making a pass-back and I shouted to him not to throw the ball back out to me. Unfortunately, he did, and I made a poor clearance from which the opposition scored. He was not a happy goalie. Forty years later I was driving from Bishopbriggs to St. Mungo’s with Lawrence in the passenger seat and, believe me, he was not a good passenger. Turning into Baird Street I made a manoeuvre which Lawrence didn’t appreciate. He turned to me with a glare and said to me through gritted teeth; “You’re as bad a driver as you were a Right Back” – some things are never forgotten. Of course, Lawrence himself was a notoriously slow driver. When Father Pat Rogers was in St. Mungo’s preaching the Novena of Hope in September 2017, Lawrence gave him a lift to the Passionist Retreat Centre at Minsteracres in County Durham where Pat was due to give a seminar. As Pat describes it; “It was a long, slow journey, for Larry was reluctant to bypass any other vehicle no matter how slowly it was travelling. It took me about six minutes to persuade him to pass a tractor, on a long, straight stretch of road, 30 miles East of Carlisle”.
Lawrence was diagnosed with an aggressive Cancer a few months after that, in December 2017. The next two years and more were an extraordinary journey of courage and determination. Time and again, just when you thought he had reached the end, he would somehow rally and say that he was fit for a Public Mass and could help with Confessions. He loved ministry because he loved people and he just wanted to keep getting back to it for as long as he was able, and the people were always delighted to see him reappear. His last appearances in St. Mungo’s were for Father Antony’s ordination and to concelebrate at one of Antony’s first Masses. In truth, he wasn’t able, but he was so determined to be there. His last outing was when Antony drove him down to Irvine to see his ailing sister, a much more mellow passenger at this stage. He saw her and came home, and his sister, Catherine, died the very next day, as if she had waited to see him before she let go. As I write, Catherine is still awaiting burial, and on Wednesday Lawrence passed away in the Marie Curie Hospice. RIP.