Sister Dorothy Byrne entered the Sisters of Providence in Seattle in 1943 with the thought of being a nurse, but the next 70 years spent in education, administration and parish ministry brought her great joy.
She was born to good Catholic parents in northern Montana. Sister Dorothy and her brother, retired Father Joseph Byrne of the Diocese of Helena, still talk on the phone every day.
She grew up in the tiny oil town of Kevin, where she went to grade school. After graduating from Ursuline Academy, Great Falls, Mont., she spent one year at the College of Great Falls before World War II broke out.
Dorothy’s cousin encouraged her to apply for a job at Boeing where they were hiring many women during the war. Dorothy left for Seattle and stayed with her aunt until she could get her own apartment. She worked at Boeing for two years.
While she wasn’t initially planning to be a sister — she dated, had a marriage proposal and enjoyed life immensely — Father Charles Suver, SJ, who had followed Dorothy through high school, college and Boeing, encouraged her to think about it. He led her though a discernment process, after which she said yes to God and becoming a Sister of Providence.
Sister Dorothy made first profession in 1945 and later earned a teaching certificate at the College of Great Falls. For 25 years she served as a teacher and principal in junior high and high schools in Montana and Washington.
She earned a master’s degree in history at Gonzaga University and later a master’s in adult religious education at Seattle University. For six years she was a consultant to the Diocese of Spokane, initiating adult religious education in parishes and throughout the diocese. After two years as pastoral associate at Assumption Parish, Spokane, she spent 18 years serving Sacred Heart Parish, and has remained a part of that family. “I got to know everybody and they knew me. I loved them all,” she said.
Sister Dorothy also served on the provincial council of the former St. Ignatius Province and on the board of Sacred Heart Medical Center, Spokane, for 15 years.
She and longtime friend Sister Michelle Holland lived together for many years, with Sister Dorothy as her caregiver the last years of her life until Sister Michelle’s death in 2007. “It was the biggest privilege of my life,” she recalled. “From her, I learned how to live and how to die.”
Today, Sister Dorothy enjoys daily walks, Gonzaga University basketball, and her ministry of prayer and presence, despite macular degeneration that has made her legally blind.
“I am full of gratitude and love. My desire is simply ‘to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with our God.’ My life has been one of joy. Providence of God, I thank You for all.”