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 and her brother, retired Father Joseph Byrne of the Diocese of Helena, still phones her every night. She grew up in the tiny oil town of Kevin, where she went to grade school.
After graduation from Ursuline Academy, she took college classes in Great Falls for a year, and then headed to Seattle at the start of World War II. Moving into an aunt’s rooming house with 17 University of Washington students, she took a job at Boeing working with one other woman and 21 men.
Earned masters degrees in history, religious education
Sister Dorothy made first profession in 1945 and later earned a teaching certificate at the College of Great Falls. For 25 years she was a teacher and/or principal/superior at three junior high schools, in Missoula, Glasgow and Great Falls, Mont.; and three high schools, in Missoula and in Walla Walla and Spokane, Wash. She also was superior at the convent at the College of Great Falls.
Sister Dorothy earned a master’s degree in history at Gonzaga University and later a master’s in religious education at Seattle University. For six years she was a consultant to the Diocese of Spokane, initiating adult religious education in parishes. Her love of people drew her to parish ministry. 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 parish family. “I got to know everybody and they knew me. I loved them all,” she said.
Learned to live and to die from Sr. Michelle Holland
She 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, “the other half of my soul,” lived together for many years, the last five years alone together with Sister Dorothy as caregiver until Sister Michelle’s death in 2007. “It was the biggest privilege of my life,” Sister Dorothy recalled. “From her, I learned how to live and how to die.”
Today, Sister Dorothy enjoys taking walks, watching Gonzaga University basketball, and especially 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’. Once a week I go to the parish just to be part of them. I can’t see who’s there, but I feel their presence.
“My life has been one of joy. Providence of God, I thank You for all.”