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Byrne, Daniel, 1920-1964, Jesuit priest and missioner

  • IE IJA J/731
  • Person
  • 20 June 1920-05 May 1964

Born: 20 June 1920, Knockaney, Hospital, County Limerick
Entered: 07 September 1938, St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly
Ordained: 31 July 1952, Milltown Park, Dublin
Professed: 02 February 1955
Died: 05 May 1964, St Mary’s Hospital, Choma, Zambia

Part of the Sacred Heart, Monze community at the time of death.

by 1955 at Chikuni, Chisekesi, N Rhodesia (POL Mi) Regency

◆ Companions in Mission1880- Zambia-Malawi (ZAM) Obituaries :
It was about 11.30 that morning of 5 May 1964 that the hospital in Choma was asked by the police to send an ambulance immediately to a spot about 15 miles out on the Livingstone road where an accident had occurred. When the ambulance arrived back at the hospital bearing the two survivors who had been found still breathing, the Sister of Charity who met it realized that one of them was wearing a roman collar. On looking closer, she recognised Fr. Dan (who had a sister in Ireland who was a Sister of Charity). In spite of the terrible shock, she immediately phoned the church and Fr Luke Mwanza was on the scene within minutes and gave him Extreme Unction. The bishop had just arrived back in Monze from Chikuni when the news reached him.

No one knows exactly how the accident occurred. Between Livingstone and Choma it is mostly tarred road but at that time there was a stretch of about 25 miles remaining untarred. It was on this "dirt" road that Dan was in head-on collision with another car coming from Livingstone. The coroner at the inquest remarked on the deplorable condition of the road at the part where the collision took place. In the car with Fr Dan were Mr Mungala, his manager of schools, a loyal and devoted supporter of Ours, as well as the manager's nephew. In the other car were Mr Nash, a teacher, and his wife, their two year old daughter and a Mr Hassan. The only survivor of the accident was the child who escaped with relatively light injuries. No witness has been found although the man who first found the crashed cars said at the inquest that, when he returned with the police, the bodies in the Nash's car had been removed from the car to the side of the road.

The burial of the three who died took place at Chikuni on Tuesday 6th May. At the end of the Mass, the Bishop spoke of the universal anguish at the great loss sustained by the Church and the teaching profession.

Fr Dan, who was 44, was born at Knockaney, near Hospital, Co. Limerick. He completed his secondary school at Mount Melleray (Cistercians). He admitted later in life that it was a retreat given at Mount Melleray by a Jesuit that set him on his way to Emo which he entered in 1938. During his formation years, his gifts were more practical than speculative: he liked working with wood and there is hardly a house in the Irish Province which has not got some evidence of his handiwork. He noticed things that needed to be done. There was a quality and finish about everything he set his hands to; he did indeed 'do all things well'.

It was inevitable that Dan's practical abilities should have been recognised and used on the missions. He had not been many months in Zambia (then Northern Rhodesia) when he was hard at it, building schools and teachers' houses. From then until his death it is true to say that he had more than a 'finger' in all the major (and minor) building activities of the Mission. Some of the churches he designed and built, for example Fumbo and Kasiya. Later, as education secretary, he really found himself and had much more scope for his talents. His mind was very orderly and he never allowed himself to be snowed under by the mass of architects’ drawings, bills and letters that streamed into his office. When death removed him so tragically from the scene, he had left everything as if he were about to hand over to his successor.

Dan remained always a shy man although he concealed it with a brusqueness that became more pronounced as he got older. This disconcerted people who did not know him; at times they thought him off-hand, casual and blasé. He had little time for non- essentials, came to the point quickly and liked others to do the same. He was completely detached from personal comfort and convenience; at times he expected the same detachment and integrity from others, not doubting that others were as self-sacrificing as himself.

The same attention to essentials was apparent in his spiritual life. There were no 'spiritual frills' in Dan's life. Even in the novitiate there was a quality of robustness about his spirituality. That his devotion went deep is evident by the life he led. He was very much a "faithful and prudent servant" intent on service, indifferent to what people thought of him. He conquered all human respect early in life. One who lived with him in Monze for several years said that he never knew him to miss a spiritual duty, a remarkable thing in a man so busy.

Bishop Corboy said of him: "He was a truly saintly man – in the chapel every morning at five o’clock with his Mass at six. He was unassuming and never displayed his holiness and the love of God that inspired his whole life. Back in the office at 7.30 a.m. a day began that could have fully occupied two men, and that was true of six days in the week. On Sunday he regularly said two Masses at out-stations, and returned here to Monze for lunch. On Sunday afternoon when he was free, he would visit some schools to inspect a building he was erecting. He never took a day off and never had a holiday. He is a great loss, but may God's will be done’.

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 39th Year No 3 1964

Obituary :

Fr Daniel Byrne SJ (1920-1964)

The Rhodesian Mission has had its calamities over the years but none as sudden and unexpected as the tragic death of Fr. Dan Byrne on May 5th last. Little did His Lordship Bishop Corboy think, as he bade farewell to Father Dan that very morning at Chikuni, that on the following day he would be officiating at Fr. Dan's burial in the cemetery at Chikuni.
A week before the accident Fr. Byrne had been in hospital at Mazabuka. He was treated for malaria and after a few days rest was back at work. On Saturday, May 2nd he attended a Conference on educational matters. The Monday following he took part in a meeting between a Delegation of Teachers and the Bishop, together with a group of the priests. This meeting, for which he had done a good deal of the preparatory work, lasted until afternoon. He was due in Livingstone on the Wednesday for yet another educational meeting. As his own car was in Monze garage for repairs, the Bishop offered him the use of his. On Tuesday 5th there was to be a Priests' Meeting at Chikuni, called by the Bishop; but Dan had been exempted from attending this. However, he did take His Lordship to Chikuni. On arriving at Chikuni, Dan said to the Bishop “Are you sure you wouldn't like me to stay for this meeting?” The Bishop assured him that it wasn't necessary and Dan left with his African passengers for Livingstone (180 miles).
It was at about 11.30 that morning that the Hospital in Choma was asked by the Police to send an ambulance immediately to a spot about 15 miles out on the Livingstone road where an accident had occurred. When the ambulance arrived back at the hospital bearing the two survivors who had been found still breathing, the Sister of Charity who met it realised that one of them was wearing a Roman collar. On looking closer she recognised Fr. Dan. In spite of the terrible shock, she immediately phoned the Church, and Fr. Luke Mwansa was on the scene within minutes and gave Extreme Unction. The Bishop had just arrived back at Monze from Chikuni when the news reached him.
No one knows exactly how the accident occurred. Between Livingstone there is mostly tarred road, but one untarred stretch of about 25 miles remains. It was on this dirt road that Dan was in head-on collision with another car coming from Livingstone. The Coroner at the Inquest, remarked on the deplorable condition of the road at the part where the collision took place. In the car with Fr. Dan were Mr. Mungala, his Manager of Schools, a loyal and devoted supporter of ours, also the Manager's nephew. In the other car were Mr. Nash, a teacher, and his wife, their two year old daughter and a Mr. Hassan. The only survivor of the accident was the child who escaped with relatively light injuries. No witness has been found although the man who first found the crashed cars said at the Inquest that when he returned to the scene with the police, the bodies in the Nash's car had been removed from the car to the side of the road.
The burial of the three who died in the Bishop's car took place at Chikuni on Tuesday, 6th May. The Requiem was sung by Very Rev. Fr. O'Loghlen. Crowds came for the Mass; there were as many outside the Church as inside and for them Fr. Conway conducted a separate service. Many cars came from as far as Broken Hill and Livingstone, bringing representatives of Government and Education bodies. The Churches were also represented -even to Dan's opposite number in the Salvation Army! At the end of Mass the Bishop spoke of the universal anguish at the great loss sustained by the Church and the teaching profession.
Dan, who was 44, was born at Knockaney, near Hospital, Co. Limerick. He was at school with the de la Salle Brothers at first; then he went to Mount Melleray, where he completed his Secondary schooling. He admitted later in life that it was a Retreat given at Mount Melleray by one of Ours that set him on his way to Emo, which he entered in 1938. In the noviceship he was reserved, and shy. In Rathfarnham he had a broken head for some time, which perhaps forced him to turn his attention to mundane and practical things in the house and grounds. His gifts were more practical than speculative; he liked working with wood and there is hardly a House in the Province which hasn't got some evidence of his handiwork. Even when Dan was on a rest, it was more than likely that he would notice something that needed repairing. He noticed things that needed to be done. one remembers him looking in a calculating way one day at the old pavilion of the tennis courts at Milltown Park. Within a few days thie pavilion had been 'stripped down and in a matter of weeks it had been replaced by a bigger and (of course) better structure. There was a quality and a finish about everything he set his hands to; “he did, indeed, do all things well”. He was the perfect Sub-beadle, an office which he was burdened with from noviceship to tertianship. When Dan took office, there was a big reorganisation, unwonted order was introduced, everything was given its place and it was a delight to use the Sub-beadle's Press.
Dan taught at the Crescent and Belvedere. He was a good teacher, exacting, who was respected by his pupils. It was always hard to know what he thought about things; but one who knew him and worked with him said that he couldn't imagine Dan volunteering to teach for the rest of his life. In Theology, he was always abreast of the work and was better than average at Moral. He had begun in Milltown, to suffer from the anaemia which dogged his days to the end but of which he spoke little.
It was inevitable that Dan's practical abilities should have been recognised and used on the Mission. He hadn't been many months in Rhodesia when he was hard at it building schools and teachers' houses. From then till his death it is true to say that he had more than a “finger” in all the major (and minor) building activities of the Mission. Some of the Churches he designed and built for example those at Fumbo and Kasiya. Later as Education Secretary he really “found” himself and had much scope for his talents. His mind was a very orderly one and he never allowed himself to be snowed under by the mass of architects drawings, bills and letters that streamed into his office. It was the Bishop who said of him that he never knew a man who kept better files, for he could find any document in a matter of seconds. When death removed him so tragically from the scene, he had left every thing as if he were about to hand-over to his successor.
Dan remained always a shy man although he concealed it with a brusqueness that became more pronounced as he got older. This disconcerted people who did not know him : at times they thought him off-hand, casual, blasé. He had little time for unessentials; came to the point quickly and liked others to do the same. Often he had little small talk and could be preoccupied by his work. He was completely detached from personal comfort and convenience; at times he expected the same detachment and integrity from others, not doubting that others were as self-sacrificing as himself.
The same attention to essentials was apparent in his spiritual life. There were no “spiritual frills” in Dan's life; even in the noviceship there was a quality of robustness about his spirituality. That his devotion went deep is evident by the life he led. He was very much “servus prudens ac fidelis”, intent on service, in different to what men thought of him. He conquered all human respect early in life. One who lived for several years with him in Monze said that he never knew him to miss a Spiritual duty - a remarkable thing in a man so busy. And so he had lived since 1938. In the attache case which was retrieved from the wreckage of the car was found, as well as his few toilet things, a book for Spiritual Reading . . . Can we doubt but that he has already received that “unfading crown of glory” of which he read in the last Mass he said, a few hours before he died?
In a letter Fr. O'Loghlen said of Fr. Byrne : “From every point of view it is a terrible blow. He was a first class religious, and there is the consolation of knowing that if anybody was prepared to meet his death he was. The first thing I found in his bag was a book on the Mass which he used. In his work he was equable and capable. He will be very hard to replace”.
Bishop Corboy said of him : “He was a truly saintly man-in the chapel every morning at five o'clock with his Mass at six. He was unassuming and never displayed the holiness and love of God that inspired his whole life. Back in his office at 7.30 a.m, a day that could have fully occupied two men began, and that was true of six days a week. On Sunday he regularly said two Masses at out-stations, and returned here to Monze for lunch, On Sunday afternoon, when he was free, he would visit some school to inspect a building he was erecting. He never took a day off and never had a holiday. He is a great loss but May God's will be done”.

Very Rev. Fr. Provincial received the following letter :
Parochial House,
Fethard,
Co. Tipperary,
May 13th 1964.
Very Rev. and dear Fr. Provincial,
I would like to offer my sympathy to you and to the Fathers of the Irish Province on the sad death of Fr. Daniel Byrne S.J. in Northern Rhodesia.
It is a matter of regret for me that I cannot attend the Mass for him in Gardiner Street tomorrow. I have already offered Mass for him.
He was the first boy in whose vocation I had a hand as a young curate and he was one of the best. One could not fail to be impressed by his sincere piety, kindly disposition and twinkling humour.
I wish too to sympathise on the loss to the Mission of so competent a priest in educational matters. May he rest in peace.
With kind personal regards,
Sincerely yours in Christ, Christopher Lee P.P.