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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

An Interview with Father Thomas J. Byrne

Updated: May 27, 2018

By Gordon Nary

Gordon: I thought that the best way of introducing you to our readers is with your great video on Chicago Priest shortly after you were ordained

You are now Associate Dean of Formation, Director of Chicago Seminarians at Mundelein Seminary.  What are your primary responsibilities?

Fr. Tom: As one of the largest Catholic seminaries in the United States, Mundelein trains priests for a total of thirty-five dioceses.  My responsibilities are particularly for those seminarians studying to become priests in the Archdiocese of Chicago.  I work with them on all the different aspects of their human, spiritual, academic, and pastoral preparation for priestly ordination and ministry.

Gordon: When you were studying at Mundelein Seminary . What were some of you more challenging classes and why were they challenging?

Fr. Tom: While studying at Mundelein, I remember being particularly challenged by two courses.  One of them was “Theological Issues in Hispanic Ministry.”  The challenge of that course for me was to learn to “cross over” to see God and the Church through the eyes of people different from me.  Change is never an easy experience.  As I also serve in Hispanic Ministry as a priest, I continue to draw from that experience. 

I also took a series of courses on the historical development of Christian theological thought.  The course which treated the developments in the Middle Ages particularly challenged me.  Much of the way we, as the Catholic Church, express and explain the Faith today is rooted in the theological conversations of that time period.  The challenge of the course was to think about how we might express the same concepts in different ways for the people of the twenty-first century. 

Gordon: What was the response by your colleagues and students to Pope Francis comments on the possibility of  considering married men to become priests?

Fr. Tom: To be honest, we have not discussed it very much.  In general, though, I don’t think that most priests or seminarians have been very surprised by the Holy Father’s comments since the conversation about married men becoming priests is one that has been ongoing for some time, and in some cases, married men have already been ordained as priests in the Catholic Church.  That being said, the men who come to the seminary to prepare for the priesthood are doing so in response to a call from God that includes a call to celibacy, which frees the priest for complete belonging to God and of service to his people.

Gordon: Some of our readers may not be aware that we currently have some married priests. Could you explain the  current guidelines that may allow married priests?

Fr. Tom: The universal Catholic Church is made up of the Latin Rite (which is the largest of the particular Churches and the one with which most people associate the Roman Catholic Church) and 23 other particular Churches, which are often called the “Eastern Catholic Churches.”  All of these particular Churches fall under the leadership of the Holy Father, the Pope.  Many of these Easter Catholic Churches have had the custom of married priests for many centuries, and the universal Church respects that custom.  In those cases, men must be married before they are ordained. 

In the Latin Church, Pope John Paul II made an exception to celibacy for those married men who had served as clergymen in non-Catholic Christian communities when they expressed a desire to enter the Catholic Church.  Under certain conditions, these men are able to remain married and be ordained as Catholic priests.

Gordon: Social Media is having a dynamic impact on contemporary communications, especially among the young   In your opinion, will social media pay a greater role among younger priests as a communication and evangelization resource?

Fr. Tom: Social media certainly already plays a great role in the ministry of younger priests.  In particular, many very good podcasts and YouTube videos on Catholic themes continue to be put out every day.  These resources are bringing the joy of the Gospel to many other young people in a way that they can receive it.  However, these same young priests also know that good online ministry can never take the place of personal relationships, but often provide the beginnings of them.

Gordon: How are the immigration challenges being discussed and addressed at Mundelein Seminary?

Fr. Tom: As a very diverse community of seminarians preparing to serve equally diverse Catholic populations, the immigration issue hits close to home.  We regularly pray at our community Mass for those who are suffering on account of their immigration status; our priests also preach homilies on this theme.  The recent visit of Cardinal Cupich to our community provided one more occasion for us to discuss the response of the Catholic Church, at least in Chicago, to these great challenges for so many people.

Gordon: Some deacons and newly ordained Priests may be assigned to parishes in Chicago where there have been increased  incidents of violence.. How is this challenge being addressed at Mundelein Seminary?

Fr. Tom: As prepare men for priesthood at Mundelein Seminary, we are aware that we can never prepare them for each specific challenge they will face in the course of their lives as priests.  We can, however, help them to work on the virtues they will need to be effective priests.  To deal with violence, a priest needs to be prayerful, since God is the one who changes hearts.  The priest must also hunger and thirst for justice, particularly to defend the innocent victims of violence.  Regardless of the situation, the priest must be generous, especially with his time.  We can never underestimate the healing power of the time we spend and give to those who suffer.

Gordon: Thank you for a super interview. Since we opened this interview with a video, I thought we should close with a video.


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