Pope Francis has named Fr. Robert Byrne as a new auxiliary bishop of the Birmingham archdiocese, leading the Oratorian priest to praise the examples of the Pope and of Bl. John Henry Newman.
Fr. Byrne said he is “deeply honoured and humbled” by the appointment, adding that Pope Francis’ example “will continue to inspire and shape my ministry in Birmingham, especially to serve the poor, the marginalised and those who may feel alienated from God and society.”
“In the spirit of St. Philip Neri – the founder of the Oratory and a saint with a great sense of humour – I am committed to helping share the joy of the Gospel message with others,” he said March 15, the day of his appointment.
“I began my priestly ministry in Birmingham twenty nine years ago and I look forward to renewing my friendships and to making my home once again in this great city. I have a great love for the Malvern Hills and the music of Elgar, so (I) was particularly pleased when I learned that my ministry would include the pastoral care of the Worcestershire deaneries.”
He also cited Bl. John Henry Newman -- who was ordained a priest of the Oratorians in 1847 -- as an inspiration, saying, “I hope in some way to be able to follow his example, particularly in the care and love that he showed for his priests and people.”
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham said he was “immensely grateful” to Pope Francis for the appointment, saying Fr. Byrne will bring “considerable pastoral, theological and administrative skills.”
“Above all I am grateful that he brings the spirituality of St. Philip Neri, the founder of the Oratory, to enrich his ministry among us,” the archbishop said March 15.
The Oratorians are communities of priests who live together without taking vows. St. Philip Neri founded the first such community in Rome in the 1500s.
Fr. Byrne was born in Manchester Sept. 22, 1956, to Sidney and Monica Byrne. He studied at King’s College London and at the Pontifical College of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.
In 1980 he entered the Birmingham Oratory, which was founded by Bl. John Henry Newman in 1849. He was ordained a priest of the oratory in 1985.
In 1990 he helped found the Oxford Oratory at St. Aloysius parish. He has served as a parish priest in Oxford and as a chaplain to both schools and prisons; he was also the national ecumenical officer for the bishops’ conference of England and Wales.
After his consecration at St. Chad’s Cathedral on May 13, Fr. Byrne will work to strengthen Catholic life in his pastoral area, which includes the Birmingham and Worcestershire deaneries.
Fr. Byrne said he owes an “enormous debt of gratitude” to his Oratorian community for their “priestly example, friendship and support, adding, “I have been richly blessed … by the people that I have met and the work that I’ve been asked to do.”
“I look forward to building upon this experience and to working closely with other Christians and people of all faiths and none.”
He will be the first Oratorian bishop in England since 1874, when Fr. Edward Bagshawe of the London Oratory was appointed Bishop of Nottingham.
The Archdiocese of Birmingham serves about 286,000 Catholics out of a population of about 5.4 million.
In other pontifical acts, on March 15 Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Nel Beltran Santamaria of Sincelejo, in Colombia, at the age of 72; and appointed Bishop Romulo de la Cruz as Archbishop of Zamboanga, in the Philippines; and appointed Fr. Jose Garita Herrera as Bishop of Cuidad Quesada, in Costa Rica.