Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

January 13, 2009


As a Lutheran pastor, Neuhaus served in a predominently black neighborhood in Brooklyn. He was known for his sermons and writing, his interest in social justice issues, his involvement in inter-faith activities and his opposition to war, at that time, the Vietnamese war. Somewhat curiously, later in life he endorsed the preemptive war in Iraq, begun by President George W. Bush. He became a friend and counselor to Bush, as he had been to Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bush 1. He brought a special quality to the circle of neoconservatives that included Midge Decter, Michael Novak, and George Weigel.

Neuhaus was, indeed, a leader in our time. As a Lutheran, he brought Christianity into the public square; as a Catholic, Catholicism. He was a prolific writer of books and articles, always available to the print and TV media, the founder of the Institute of Religion and Public Life and the monthly journal, "First Things", with it's heavy, scholarly articles and his own eminently readable, frequently ironic, and always entertaining musings on the public and ecclesiastical squares. He was religion editor of the National Review. He debated pro-abortion types like Peter Singer of Princeton and a variety of individuals, who would exclude faith from the public square. In addition to his own many lectures, he brought many eminent speakers to wide audiences, including the then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Neuhaus became a Catholic in 1990 and attended daily Mass at Epiphany Church, where I was pastor. He was ordained a Catholic priest the following year. I was privileged to be a member of a committee, established by Cardinal O'Connor, to discuss and then recommend to O'Connor what preliminaries should precede Neuhaus' ordination. Some on the committee thought that he should spend at least some period of time in our St. Joseph's Seminary. Most thought otherwise. I suggested that Neuhaus had a theological knowledge and understanding that equalled, if not surpassed, that of the seminary faculty. O'Connor accepted our recommendations: Neuhaus need not attend St. Joseph's.

One night I received a frantic call from Neuhaus. He lived a few blocks from Epiphany. He was in extreme pain, caused by an intestinal blockage. I told him to call 911 and have the ambulance take him to nearby Cabrini Hospital. I would meet him there. Surrounded by doctors and nurses, his life was in danger. In his book, "As I Lay Dying", he recounts the incident. He wrote

"Monsignor Harry Byrne from Epiphany, the church around the corner, came to administer Last Rites...Father Harry and I have been long friends for many years, a friendship marked but not marred by disagreements over his liberal propensities, both political and theological. But this was all priestly business, and he is a priest to his fingertips, a priest of the grizzled, no-nonsense Irish type who does what he is ordained to do and trusts to God that the doing of the thing will do what it's supposed to do."

Thank you, Richard. He continues

"Then there was confession and, yes, I will amend my life if there is a life left to amend, then unqualified forgiveness, for everything, without exception, followed by the anointing with sacred oil and the prayers for healing, if that be God's will, and finally receiving the Body immeasurably more battered than mine, which is called Viaticum, meaning 'food for the journey'. There now. That just about does it. All the loose ends all tied up. It was very straightforward, just as it ought to be. I was drifting into sleep. 'Goodnight, Harry. I'll see you' Sometime. Somewhere."