Joe Kavanagh, recalling those early years, writes: “ To the average observer he did not appear‘ too religious ’. He was interested in so many things that his deep spirituality was not apparent. Even so, he was an alter boy at Holy Family Church in Auburn, and I remember him as a very edifying one. One of the duties of alter boys at Holy Family was to serve Mass occasionally at Auburn Prison. I still recall this experience vividly, especially the solicitude shown by the prisoners for the alter boys who, I now realize, were a rarity in their daily prison life.
“ The years that Ben spent in Auburn made quite an impact on him. For the rest of his life Auburn, Auburnians, and Auburnisms were often the butt of his jokes, at least with the Kavanaghs. My mother believes that as he grew older he resented the Auburn period because it separated him from his family.”
Thus the years passed. Pat attended Holy Family School from 1895 to 1902, and after graduation, Auburn High School. During those years, while his life continued its unhurried pace, the books of history recorded new events and new names. The curies discovered radium; a war with Spain had taken place; Andrée had flown off in a balloon for the North Pole and was lost and presumed dead; Carrie Nation was wrecking saloon with a hatchet; President William McKinley had been assassinated, and a fellow called Teddy Roosevelt had succeeded him; Dr Nelson Jackson had completed the first successful automobile trip across the North American continent, San Francisco to New York, in a little less than three months; a man named Henry Ford was prompted to open an automobile factory in Detroit; and down in North Carolina two brothers named Wright got a machine called aeroplane up into the air for twelve seconds.
In 1905 Aunt Eliza died, and Pat returned to his family in Washington. He had been away for such a long time, and during such formative years, that his brothers and sisters were almost like strangers to him. He had to become aqquai-
ted all over again, but the Byrne house was not place for excessive formalities, and he was soon just another one of the family. He became particularly close to his younger brother, Ernest, and the two boys were inseparable companies.
Pat entered Eastern High School in Washington for his junior year. Back in his alter-boy days in Auburn the idea of the priesthood had come to him, as it comes to so many Catholic boys, but nothing had been decided in his mind. He had two more years in high school, and he felt that there was plenty of time for him to determine God's will in the matter. God, however, had His own plan and began pointing the way, gently but firmly.
The house that the Byrne family occupied in Washington was fairly large and centrally located. In such a large family, one or two more at the table made little difference, so Mrs Byrne decided to take in roomers. A Japanese boy took up residence with them and the family became very attached to him. Pat spent long hours talking to the youth, and it was undoubtedly beginning of the great sympathy and affection he was to show to the Japanese in later life.
In 1908 tragedy came into Pat's life and conclusively directed him toward the priesthood. He and Ernest went off together on a summer vacation to the Maryland resort town of Coltons Point on the lower Potomac. Coltons Point is located at the end of a peninsula jutting out into the Potomac, where it widens to enter Chesapeake Bay. Five miles across the water, directly opposite, is the Virginia birthplace of George Washington.
The two boys had a wonderful vacation. They fished, lay in the sun, and went sailing. Pat had not learned to swim, and Ernest could swim only a few strokes, but they spent all the daylight hours near or on the water. On August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, they climbed into a small sailboat. The steady breeze guaranteed to skimming over the water. An old-timer coming in called out a warning: “ Better be careful, young fellows! There's a squall
coming up! ” For the rest of his life, Pat regretted ignoring that warning.
As a little boat cut through the white caps, the sail became swollen with the wind, and the boys exulted at their speed. Then, without warning, the wind shifted. A sudden gust swung the boom around, sweeping Ernest off the boat into the water. There was no outcry or excited splashing as Ernest seemed to be suspended momentarily on top of the water. Then he quickly sank and never reappeared. Pat clung to the side of the boat as he helplessly saw his brother drown. It was the tragedy of his life, one that was never far removed from his thoughts.
Ernest's death caused Pat to give serious consideration to become a priest, to help others, to make up in some way for his brother's death for which he felt responsible, grew in him. But he thought a greater sacrifice was demanded than to be a priest in his homeland. He desired to go the whole way and become a missioner in a far-off land, among needy people. He recalled the 900,000 human beings who had died in a single flood in China. Hardly a year earlier, thousands of others had perished in an earthquake on Formosa. Practically all of these people had died without ever knowing the true God. He wanted to go and tell their survivors the good news of the Gospel.
At that time there was no American training house for the exclusive preparation of foreign missioners. In Boston, a young priest, Father James Anthony Walsh, dreamed of the day when America would have its own mission seminary, while in North Carolina a veteran home missioner, Father Thomas Frederick Price, pondered the same dream. But in 1908 those apostolic men had not yet met, and America's Catholic Foreign Mission Society, which was to be established in 1911, was only a hope.
To accomplish his desire, Pat prayed and pondered. He finally decided that the Jesuits offered him the best oppor-
tunity for mission work. He decided to become a Jesuit and request an overseas assignment, and he believed there was a good chance that he would get it. Pat reasoned this way, but he did not take his mother into his calculations.
“ If you wish to be a priest, ” said his mother when she heard Pat's plan, “ that is wonderful. But not a missionary! You can enter the diocesan seminary. ”
The reason for Mrs Byrne's attitude is unknown. Perhaps having lost four children, one of them recently and tragically, she was not prepared to give another up completely; or perhaps opposition was some secret working of the plan God had for the future of Patrick Byrne. Whatever the reason, it was her will that dominated. Pat decided to enrol that fall at St Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland. But he did not lose sight of his goal. He always kept in mind his desire to devote his life to the foreign missions, and declared publicly on many occasions that he feared he would not save his soul unless he could get out of the country and give his life to pagan people abroad.
Mr Byrne often looked at his sons and told them they ought to thank God that they had good blood in their veins. Pat's father was right. The good blood showed up on more than one occasion. It appeared in Pat's determination to give his life to the foreign missions; it appeared in his constant sympathy for under-privileged people; and it was never more evident than during the last weeks of his life on the frozen, bloodstained banks of Asia's Yalu River.