St. John’s Mourns the Loss of Pamela Shea-Byrnes, D. Min.
With overwhelming sorrow, the St. John’s community mourns the loss of one of its most dedicated and esteemed members, Pamela Shea-Byrnes, D. Min., Vice President for University Ministry and University Events, who died suddenly on Christmas Eve morning. As a testament to her innate ability to bring people together, family, friends, fellow parishioners, colleagues, present and former students, and members of numerous and various service organizations and educational institutions attended her Funeral Mass on December 30, at her home parish of St. Agnes Cathedral, Rockville Centre. Pam, as she was almost universally known, was a loving and beloved member of our University family who lived its Vincentian mission and worked to instill the spirit of service, compassion, and caring into the lives of all whom she touched.
Pam’s association with St. John’s began four decades ago when she began her undergraduate studies in what is now the College of Professional Studies. Here she met Jeff Byrnes, her husband of twenty-five years; she earned her bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts in 1986 and followed it with a master’s in theology four years later. She also earned a Doctor of Ministry from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception.
A commitment to service, nourished by the values she found at St. John’s, was to define her life. She spent a year as a volunteer with the Vincentian Service Corps, designing programs and serving as youth minister for a network of group homes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Following her volunteer experience she joined the staff of St. James Cathedral, Brooklyn, as Diocesan Retreat Director and Youth Minister. She returned to St. John’s in 1990, serving in the offices of student life and campus ministry before being named to the position she held at the time of her unexpected death.
Pam’s leadership was both inspired and inspirational as she worked to create programs and activities that provided others, particularly students, with the opportunity to gain and exercise the values that permeated her own life. Perhaps the most successful and meaningful of these initiatives has been the Vincentian Initiative to Advance Leadership. Known by the acronym V.I.T.A.L., this program helps undergraduate students during all four years of their collegiate experience to develop spiritual values, Vincentian leadership skills, and a lifelong commitment to serving God’s poor. She also created, developed, and led the Catholic Scholars program, which prepares students during their undergraduate experience to return to their home dioceses and parishes as informed and committed Catholic laypersons. Her service as a member of the Board of Directors of St. John’s Bread and Life is another example of her living the message of St. Vincent de Paul – to put our words into action. At the heart of all her work was her commitment to Vincentian values.
Pam’s deep love of the University mission and her ability to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable made her the ideal person to coordinate the University’s many major events. Not only did she have an extraordinary sense of style and creativity, but she knew, instinctively, the essence of each and every event. She used her organizational skills and superb attention to detail to orchestrate, flawlessly and seemingly with ease, commencements, convocations, and significant University celebrations. One of her major responsibilities in this area was coordinating the activities of the President’s Society, the cadre of select fourth-year students who are considered members of the President’s personal staff and who assume special responsibilities at University functions. Pam chaired the committee that made the difficult selection of members from among St. John’s most outstanding students. And then she trained and mentored those who were chosen to assure that they represented the University in the best way possible and were themselves enriched by their experiences. She forged lifelong friendships with many of these students and helped them to forge lifelong friendships with one another.
A grateful University presented Pam with the President’s Medal in 2004. She was also recognized with the Woman of Distinction Award and together with her husband, Jeff, received the Johnny’s Angels Award for her work with Bread and Life. This year she would have been welcomed into the ranks of employees who have served the University for 25 years.
Pam served the broader community in a variety of other ways as well. She was actively involved in her home parish of St. Agnes where her daughter, Kaitlin, attends the parish school, and at Kellenberg Memorial High School, where her son, Kevin, is a student. She held membership on the joint seminary board for the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre and the Archdiocese of New York, and she was also a member of the Board of Directors at All Hallows College, Dublin, Ireland.
To provide an opportunity for members of our University community to celebrate Pam’s life, a Memorial Mass will be held early in the spring semester, when the students, whom she loved and served so well, return to campus. Additional information on this event will be posted when details are finalized. At this time, our University community extends deepest sympathy to Pam’s husband, Jeff, and their children, Kaitlin and Kevin. Our University community has been devastated by Pam’s untimely passing. She was an extraordinary woman with great gifts and a compassionate, caring spirit. We shall miss her presence among us. At the same time, we give thanks to God for all that she has done to make St. John’s a stronger and better University.