Since becoming administrator of St. John Bosco Parish in Parma Heights on March 15, 2020, Father Matthew Byrne has been adjusting to his role and guiding the parish’s 1,700 families through an unprecedented time of pandemic.
Bishop Edward Malesic installed Father Byrne as the fourth pastor of the parish during the 11 a.m. Mass on April 18. Ongoing pandemic safety measures limited attendance at the liturgy, which was livestreamed for those unable to participate in person.
Father Byrne recalled his first week in the parish, noting he moved into the rectory on March 13, 2020. Days later, the Catholic bishops in Ohio issued a three-week dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. As the pandemic grew, Father Byrne remembered having to cancel one parish event after another, beginning with the popular fish fries. He admitted it was painful having to lock the church doors when the suspension of publicly celebrated Masses was announced the next week. He also had to cancel the parish festival, the fundraising parish run, vacation Bible school and other events.
But he and the parish adapted and found new ways to continue evangelizing.
As pastor, Father Byrne said it can be intimidating to realize that he’s responsible not only for the parishioners’ souls, “But for every soul within the parish boundaries.” In fact, he posted a quote on his door reminding him that every priest must be mindful that on judgment day, he will have to answer for the sins of those he could not reform.
“I want to thank my predecessors for leaving the parish in such a good state,” he said. Two of them attended the Mass. Father Lawrence Jurcak, the third pastor, served from September 2010 until his appointment in January 2020 as administrator of St. Mary Parish in Hudson. Father David Liberatore, pastor emeritus, who served as pastor for 28 years – from January 1982 until 2010. He is senior parochial vicar at St. Basil the Great Parish in Brecksville.
Father Byrne especially thanked Father Jurcak “for having a great staff in place. They kept things running and they had a 32-year-old kid on their hands,” he quipped. He also had kind words for the parishioners, noting, “I asked you to keep supporting the parish even when we couldn’t be here in person for Mass and you did. You didn’t blink. You helped us continue the work of the Gospel,” he said, sharing how excited he was when he finally got to meet people in person.
“My heart filled with joy since last Pentecost (when the celebration of public Masses resumed) when I could get to know you.” Much like in the day’s Gospel when Jesus appeared in the flesh, Father Byrne said he would not run from his responsibilities as pastor. “I stand before you today and ask you to run with me toward them.”
He described the parishioners as “joyful witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. Let us commit ourselves to making him known.”
Bishop Malesic called forward members of the parish staff, Parish Council and Finance Council, asking them to guide and support Father Byrne. They greeted with fist or elbow bumps in deference to pandemic safety measures.
“I promise to seek and follow their guidance and counsel,” Father Byrne said.
After Mass, the bishop offered remarks in which he recalled his time as a pastor. He encouraged Father Byrne to get to know his parishioners, “to live with them, listen to them, cry with them, love and care for them. I see you have a great love for your sheep. We need pastors like that,” he said. “Thank you for accepting the call to the priesthood and for agreeing to lead St. John Bosco Parish. These people have many gifts. Use them to keep the parish vibrant and alive in Christ.”
Sometimes we lament what we don’t have, especially during this pandemic, the bishop said. “But we should be grateful for the treasures we do have,” including the Eucharist, sacred Scripture and the fact that we are authentic followers of Christ, he added.
“You are the spiritual father of this parish,” he said, reminding Father Byrne that behind the altar, he is the persona of Christ.
“My motto is ‘Serve the Lord with Gladness.’ I try to do that every day. If you do that, you will be good,” the bishop said.
He also cautioned the parishioners: “Do not break him. I know you are good people who love him. And Father, don’t break them. Help them succeed. Although you’re not the Messiah, be sure to take us to him. If you do that, you will be a beloved pastor. Congratulations to you and to St. John Bosco Parish,” he added.
Also concelebrating the Mass were Father Chris Cox, a parochial vicar at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Parma and one of Father Byrne’s classmates; Father Paul Rosing, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Stow, Father Byrne’s home parish; and Father Tom Wisniewski, a Cleveland native and a retired priest from the Archdiocese of Miami who assists at the parish.
Members of Father Byrne’s family also attended the Mass.