Unification News for December 2002

In Memoriam - Shawn P. Byrne (1938-2002)

Our dearly beloved brother Dr. Shawn Byrne ascended into the spirit world December 3, 2002. On a sunny, bright and cold December morning a few days later, his family, friends and colleagues gathered for a profoundly inspiring Seung Hwa ceremony in Red Hook, New York, for so long the Byrnes adopted spiritual home.

The breadth of Shawn’s life and accomplishments was apparent by the range of people who came to pay their last respects. His brothers, Jim, Paddy and Michael made the long trip from Ireland. There were the local ministers whom Shawn had worked with for many years, his colleagues from UTS and a great many friends who came from far and wide, and of course his beautiful family, Traudl, Paul and L. and D.

One of the most moving moments came as his brothers came up to share their fondest memories of the brother who had left them and his native Ireland behind for so many years. Many of the congregation learned for the first time that Shawn’s original given name was in fact John. Hearing his closest relatives describe their early life together with him opened a door to a new aspect of Shawn’s life. We were surprised but grateful to learn that it was only in the past few months that their relationship, strained for so long by distance and different spiritual perspectives, had been conclusively healed.

Before joining the Unification Movement in 1974, Shawn, or John, was a nationally known 'turbulent priest' in Dublin, Ireland. He was ordained a priest after seven years behind the high brick walls of Dublin's Holy Cross Seminary and he rapidly gained a reputation for activity and commitment. In 1969, he became Chaplain at Mount Royal national prison, a far cry from the peace and tranquillity of the seminary.

As prison chaplain, he became such an articulate defender of the rights of the prisoners that at one point he found himself locked out of his own prison! Exiled to the suburbs by Archbishop Dermot Ryan, he was quickly in the news again as he came to study the Divine Principle. One of the early Irish members, Mary Hinterleitner, recollects:

"We were a group of about 12 young people who had joined over the previous months and were learning the basics of the Divine Principle under the guidance of June Perrin. Then a priest started to visit our center because of one sister Cathy who had joined. He started studying the Divine Principle intensely and had long discussions with June. We were praying for him to accept. He started to fast and determined to fast until he received an answer from Heaven. He fasted at least five days after which he accepted the Divine Principle and True Parents."

"I came to the point where I realized that I was in deep water," Shawn explained in a 1992 interview, "Either this was the best thing that I'd met in my life or the worst. I had to fight it or join it." Join it he did, and soon came to the United States where he served in New York and New Hampshire before moving to the Hudson Valley in 1986. He was blessed to Traudl in 1976, one of the very first brave pioneers among the ordained ministers who accepted True Parents and committed themselves to serve God’s providence. When True Father heard of his passing to the spiritual world, he commented, "He will be very busy!"

Rev. Carlos Lantis, pastor of Calvary Presbyterian in Newburgh, also brought smiles to the face of the congregation as he recalled the day long ago when Shawn came to town as a one man crusade:

"He announced that he had come to clean up the streets of Newburgh, as if none of the ministers in town had been trying," Lantis said "and he wasn't going to get far like that! We had a long talk that day, and agreed how we could work together. And we’ve been battling drugs, gangs and intolerance for almost twenty years. I’m sure that right now he is telling them how to get a little better organized in Heaven!"

Family friends Myra Stanecki and Betsy Jones recalled Shawn’s final months in Albany as he struggled against cancer. It soon emerged that, despite the many fine accomplishments of his life, he had counted as some of the most important victories those that had taken place in those final days as he wrestled with himself and reached out to ‘settle accounts’ with all those he had known and worked with over the years, including the family he left behind in Dublin.

Eldest son D. Byrne, now serving on the front-line as a First Lieutenant with the US Forces in Kuwait, was both proud and emotional as he recalled the good times he had had with his father. He too had noticed profound changes in his father from the letters he received in Kuwait.

"On Sept 28, 2002, my father wrote: ‘I am battling daily, physically and spiritually, with the hope of bringing victory that can be a blessing for our family and beyond.’ On November 13 he wrote: ‘Physically, I continue to have a hard time. But I am grateful to have the offering to make for the restoration of myself, marriage, family, clan, tribe and America. I am a man of tears these days, as I pray and struggle painfully to restore myself internally."

"My father never expressed to us how much physical pain he was in," D. said "and only my mother, who was with him on a daily basis, saw how much he struggled spiritually and how sweet and total his victory was." His younger brother Paul Byrne, now a junior at U Penn, said "My regret is that my children will only know their grandfather through me, but I will try to show them his spirit and his love."

Time went by quickly with so many people wanting to speak and share. "A life this rich cannot be easily contained in a short service," commented Farley Jones, master of ceremonies, "and we should all take the time to reflect also on the lesson God wants all of us to take away from today’s ceremonies."

After the Byrne family sang "Danny Boy" in farewell, we moved on to the Won Jeun ceremony which took place in the quiet Red Church cemetery in Tivoli. Here, in the blinding sunlight and lightly drifting snow, our dear friend and brother made the final ascension to an even brighter world of eternal love and life.

by Michael Balcomb

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