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Monday, November 17, 2014

Remembering Sacred Heart Alumna Former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne

Jane M. Byrne
(May 24, 1933 - November 14, 2014)

"The way to do much in a short time is to love much.  People will do great things if they are stirred with enthusiasm and love."

Janet Erskine Stuart RSCJ (1857-1914)
6th Superior General of the Society of the Sacred Heart

The above quote is taken from the perpetual spiral-bound calendar "The Life Lived" which celebrates the Centenary of Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ - (click here to order). And to order your very own Janet Erskine Stuart Centenary Memorabilia - click here.

The above quote by Janet Erskine Stuart has me thinking of the funeral I attended for Barat College alumna and former Mayor Jane Byrne today. 

Margaret Jane Burke was the second of six children born to William P. and Katherine Nolan Burke. All four of their daughters (Jane, Carol, Mary Jill, and Donna) and daughter-in-law (Julie), would graduate from Barat College.  Additionally many of their grandchildren and great grandchildren are Sacred Heart alums.  

The story below describes my impressions of how the Sacred Heart education Jane Burke Byrne received, prepared her to be elected Mayor of Chicago in 1979, as well as, the similarities between Jane and Philippine Duchesne who was canonized in 1988. 

On November 17, 2014 Chicagoans lay to rest their first and only elected female mayor of this great city!  And, it was 35 years ago on November 18th (Feast of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne) that Carol Kleiman, reporter for the Chicago Tribune wrote:"Barat's Brightest they learned they could be anything - even the mayor".  While I was not aware at the time this article was published the significance of its date, I never forgot the story headline.  Earlier that spring I had volunteered to work in Jane Byrne's south-side campaign office located in the 18th ward.  Later in the fall of 1979, I transferred to Jane Byrne's alma mater Barat College. While Jane Byrne becoming mayor had nothing to do with my decision, the article that was written about her life and especially of the Sacred Heart education that she received at Barat College has stayed with me to this day.

According to the Tribune article the Barat College of the 1950's was considered "the school for Catholic women, especially those of Irish descent.  It was known, even then, for telling women they could be anything they wanted to be. At the same time, Barat very traditionally emphasized the importance of being a good Catholic wife and mother." Janie Burke was a premedical student and in addition to taking the required courses in literature, art and music, she was required to take six biology courses to complete her major.  Dr. Janet Towne, a close personal friend of Jane's mother Katherine was her mentor and role model.  While the studies at Barat were rigorous, the RSCJ nuns did arrange for their girls to attend mixers at Notre Dame.  It was not uncommon for a busload of girls to head south to Notre Dame and perhaps meet a potential husband.  So while she graduated with a premed degree it was rather providential that on one of her many trips to Notre Dame during her junior year that Jane Burke met handsome William Byrne. 

Kleiman writes "much of the mood and atmosphere of Barat in the '50's was a reflection of the strong personality and intellectualism of Sister Margaret Burke...” Margaret Burke, rscj served as President of Barat College from 1954-1975 and while not a relative of Jane Burke the two women were friends during Jane's college years and beyond.  
"Jane Byrne was different. 'Jane was a pioneer, ' says Sister Burke. 'She had a foot in two worlds: She was interested in getting married one day, and at the same time she was premed, which was unusual for Barat.  I was all for her being a doctor. She was a libber in those days: The role of women then was to be intelligent and well-educated - but not to be carried away."

Thirty-five years later after attending Jane's funeral today and as we celebrate the Feast of Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne on November 18th, I see many similarities between these two women.  Both Jane Burke Byrne and St. Rose Philippine Duchesne were pioneers and trail blazers.   They would also be characterized as strong willed, tenacious, and determined.  While appearing tough as nails, they were both caring and loving women. Both women were small in stature, yet they had big ideas and certain circumstances impelled them into action.  Duchesne's desire was to come to the United States and teach the Indians. Upon taking office as Mayor, Byrne pledged in her Inaugural address " bringing a new renaissance of neighborhood life and community spirit, a renewal of confidence in the future of our city and a revival of opportunity for all Chicago."    

A concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial was hosted in St. Vincent De Paul church where Jane's grandparents worshiped decade’s prior. Monsignor Kenneth Velo gave the homily, which was spot on. Velo stated that Jane Byrne "loved Chicago and was proud to have served as its mayor".

Mayor Rahm Emanuel thanked Jane's daughter and Sacred Heart alumna, Kathy Byrne for "sharing your mother with us." He continued his remarks by saying that "we are a better city today because of her life, one devoted to serving and strengthening the city that we all love."  Emanuel went on to say that Jane Byrne should be recognized for the many steps she took to improve our city.  He emphasized how grateful we should be to Jane Byrne for her dogged and determined optimism.  Emanuel said Byrne blazed a new trail for our city and was the first mayor to: "formerly recognize the city's gay community and march in the pride parade; sign an ordinance to get hand guns off the city streets; started the Taste of Chicago, envisioned the Museum campus, and began the revitalization of Navy Pier."

Grandson Willie, alumnus of Hardey Prep recited a favorite quote of his grandmother by Robert F. Kennedy. 

Kathy Byrne summed up the spectacular life of her 81 year old mother in her words of remembrance. She stated throughout her mother's life she would be described as having  "tenacity, confidence and a delightful sense of fun" in whatever she did and when there was a real problem her mother was a "dragon slaying, problem solving, 24/7 guardian angel". Kathy concluded her remarks by saying that her mother "loved every minute as Mayor, she loved and knew this city and knew its people as no one ever has and she was privileged every day to serve it.  Even more than the city, my mother loved her family...she loved each one of us uniquely and she loved each one of us loyally."  

When the mass concluded Byrne's casket left the church as it entered it: draped with a flag of the City of Chicago. The Bagpipes & Drums of the Emerald Society, Chicago Police Department in single digit temperatures preformed beautifully.  It was awesome to see the street filled with the many Chicagoans that loved Jane standing in the freezing cold as the wind blew the orange colored funeral flags on each of the cars lined up for her funeral procession to Calvary cemetery. The funeral procession took a detour south into the loop and past City Hall and then past her former residence on Chestnut Street before heading up north to Evanston.  Just as we arrived at Calvary cemetery, snow began to fall softly.  Monsignor Velo asked the family and friends gathered to huddle together as he gave a final blessing and we all recited The Lord's Prayer.  Yes, our dear, demure, feisty, tenacious, lovable, former Mayor Janie Byrne was laid to rest today!

She has left an indelible mark on the city ... One Chicago = Jane M. Byrne = Cor Unum

Barat's Brightest by Carol Kleiman -  Chicago Tribune (1963 - Current file); Nov 18, 1979
Mayor Jane Byrne Inaugural Address, 1979 - Chicago Pubic Library

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