The Rockhurst High School community has lost a beloved past president and Catholic education has lost one of its most devoted patrons with the death of Rev. Luke J. Byrne, SJ, ’52. Fr. Byrne passed away on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. He was 84 years old.
“Fr. Luke Byrne was one of the most faith-filled Servants of Christ it has ever been my honor to know,” reflected David J. Laughlin, president of Rockhurst High School. “His service to the Catholic Church, and care for the formation of young people, was inspiring. He truly lived the Jesuit ideal of being a ‘man for others.’”
Fr. Byrne served as president of Rockhurst High School from 1975-1980. He was the second alumnus of Rockhurst High School to be its president, after Rev. Louis G. Mattione, SJ, ’32 served in the role from 1962 to 1968. Fr. Byrne led the school during a time of strong admissions and fundraising. His commitment to building solid alumni relations leaves a legacy even today, along with laying foundations for growing scholarship programs for families who need tuition assistance.
He also established Rockhurst High School's formal alumni association during his time as president.
“Luke wanted our alumni to feel a part of the Rockhurst experience,” commented John T. Massman, Sr. ’51, who was president of the school’s alumni association during Fr. Byrne’s tenure. “I always knew his door was open to our new ideas to engage graduates. He also wanted to help make sure any boy could attend Rockhurst who wanted a Jesuit education.”
Financial aid programs grew at Rockhurst High School under Fr. Byrne’s vision. His stewardship of the legendary Sale-O-Rama, as well as the school’s annual auction, provided valuable funding in support of the school’s mission.
Fr. Byrne was born and raised in Kansas City, MO. His father, Luke J. Byrne, Jr., was the first graduate of Rockhurst High School in 1917.
After graduating from Rockhurst in 1952, Fr. Byrne entered the Jesuit Novitiate and was ordained in 1965. Fr. Byrne’s assignments included the Jesuit High School of Wichita, KS (Chaplain Kapuan Memorial), Pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Kansas City, his presidency of Rockhurst High School, Assistant to the Jesuit Provincial and Director of White House retreat in St. Louis. In 1998 he was appointed University Chaplain of Rockhurst University. He rarely missed a Rockhurst University athletic contest, whether at home or away. The soccer field at Rockhurst University is named in Fr. Byrne’s honor and he is a member of the university’s Sports Hall of Fame. He was a passionate sports fan, particularly of his Hawklets and Hawks.
A quiet, steady leader, Fr. Byrne lived a Christ-like philosophy in governance.
“In general, Jesuits aren’t there to be at the top of the Church, but to serve in pastoral and academic ministries,” Fr. Byrne told Rockhurst University Magazine in a 2013 interview. “That’s how we’re trained to think. It’s only when others feel that the Jesuits are able to fulfill a role that others aren’t able to do, that’s when we accept leadership positions.”
As a Catholic priest, Fr. Byrne great love was to celebrate the Sacraments with the faithful, especially among young people. He often celebrated Father-Son Liturgies at Rockhurst High School long after his service concluded as president, and for many years celebrated Masses for parents and students at Notre Dame de Sion, St. Teresa's Academy and other Catholic schools.