Jesuit Father William J. Byron, a former president of The Catholic University of America in Washington and University of Scranton, Pa., and known for his writings on the relationship between business practices and Catholic spirituality, died at age 96 April 9, 2024. He is pictured in a file photo. (OSV News photo, CNS file)

PHILADELPHIA (OSV News) – Jesuit Father William J. Byron, known for his leadership of Jesuit institutions of higher learning and his many years of lecturing, teaching and writing on the relationship between business practices and Catholic spirituality, died April 9 at Manresa Hall, the health center of the Jesuit community at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He was 96. Byron was a former president of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, 1975-1982, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, 1982-1992. He spent a year as acting president of Loyola University New Orleans, 2003-2004, and served as president at his high school alma mater, St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, 2006-2008. His other leadership roles for the Society of Jesus included rector of the Jesuit community at Georgetown University in Washington, 1994-2000. A funeral Mass for Father Byron was celebrated April 20 at St. Matthias Church in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. In an April 9 message to the university community, Jesuit Father Joseph Marina, Scranton’s current president, said that during one of their last visits together, Father Byron managed to ask him if he was “the president at Scranton now. When I nodded yes, he said, ‘Take good care of it.’”

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. (OSV News) – By any measure, Louis Anthony “Lou” Conter, a Catholic hero of World War II who died April 1 at his home in Grass Valley, California, at age 102, led a celebrated life. Conter’s funeral Mass will be celebrated April 23 at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Grass Valley, followed by burial with full military honors. Born in Ojibwa, Wisconsin, on Sept. 13, 1921, Conter graduated from high school in Colorado. He escaped a hardscrabble life – at age 7, he hunted rabbits in Kansas, where his family was living, in order to provide dinner – and a job in a Hormel meatpacking plant by enlisting in the Navy in 1939. As a quartermaster on the battleship USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Conter was one of only 335 crewmen and officers aboard to survive the assault by Japanese fighter pilots, bombers and torpedo planes that sank it on Dec. 7, 1941, launching the United States into World War II. The sailors and Marines killed aboard numbered 1,177. The Arizona casualties amounted to nearly half of the 2,403 U.S. personnel, including 68 civilians, who died that day. Conter served for 28 years, retiring at the rank of lieutenant commander, the highest rank possible for someone with a high school diploma.

AMARILLO, Texas (OSV News) – An assault on a Texas priest highlights the need for parishes to implement more robust security measures, experts told OSV News. On April 10, Father Tony Neusch, rector of St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Amarillo, was pepper-sprayed while hearing confessions. The priest advised in a Facebook post that he was uninjured and that police had been notified, but that walk-in confessions would be suspended pending security upgrades. The assault comes in the wake of Catholic churches and shrines throughout the U.S. and Canada having seen a number of security incidents in the past few months, from protesters to mentally-ill individuals. Preserving both pastoral welcome and commonsense security in places of prayer can be a delicate balance, said Craig Gundry of Critical Intervention Services, a Tampa, Florida-based security consulting firm with extensive experience in church security. Having a parish security team is valuable, he added – and the Catholic Community of St. Thomas More in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, established such a team in 2017. The St. Michael the Defender Ministry, according to its leader and security professional Jeff Malkovsky, has now been applied to parishes and schools throughout the Diocese of Raleigh. But keeping priests and penitents safe during the sacrament of reconciliation, which is bound by anonymity and the seal of confession, requires extra consideration, admitted St. Thomas More pastor Father Scott McCue. The attack on Father Neusch, he said, is “a good conversation starter” for additional discussions on parish security.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Hundreds of parish priests from around the world will spend three days praying and talking about experiences of synodality and discernment in parishes and dioceses before having a two-hour dialogue with Pope Francis May 2. The priests, chosen by their national bishops’ conference or Eastern Catholic church synod, will meet outside of Rome April 29-May 1 to reflect on the theme “How to be a synodal local Church in mission.” The results of their discussions will be used, along with contributions from bishops’ conferences, in preparing the working document for the second session of the Synod of Bishops on synodality in October. Publishing a detailed schedule of the priests’ meeting April 16, the synod secretariat listed the questions the priests will be asked to pray about and discuss during their time at Sacrofano, outside of Rome. The priests will be asked what “experiences of a synodal church” have they had in their parishes and “which ones have been happy and which ones less so?” They also will be asked how they have experienced the participation of “different charisms, vocations, ministries in the life of the parish and diocese/eparchy” and what questions those experiences raised.

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Peace can spread and grow from “small seeds” like including someone who is left out of an activity, showing concern for someone who is struggling, picking up some litter and praying for God’s help, Pope Francis told Italian schoolchildren. “At a time still marked by war, I ask you to be artisans of peace,” the pope told some 6,000 Italian schoolchildren involved in the National Network of Schools of Peace, a civic education program designed to teach the children to care for themselves, their friends, their communities, the world and the environment. During the gathering April 19 in the Vatican audience hall, Pope Francis led the children in a moment of silent prayer for their peers in Ukraine and in Gaza. “In a society still prisoner of a throwaway culture,” he told them, “I ask you to be protagonists of inclusion; in a world torn by global crises, I ask you to be builders of the future, so that our common home may become a place of fraternity.”

MOHNYIN, Myanmar (OSV News) – Unknown assailants gunned down and seriously injured a priest while celebrating morning Mass in Myanmar’s conflict-stricken northern Kachin state on April 12. Two men opened fire at 6:30 a.m. on Father Paul Khwi Shane Aung, 40, parish priest of St. Patrick’s Church in Mohnyin town, within the Myitkyina Diocese, according to church sources. “They were wearing black clothes and masks and entered the church on a motorcycle to shoot the priest three times,” U Zaw, a local catechist, told UCA News, an independent Catholic news service covering East, South and Southeast Asia. The motive behind the attack is not yet known. Zaw said the injured priest was rushed to a Mohnyin hospital and was later moved to a hospital in Myitkyina, the state capital. An activist based in Kachin state said anti-social elements are fomenting religious and ethnic conflict as the civil war in military-ruled Myanmar has entered a critical phase. Clergy, pastors and church-run institutions are being targeted by the military, which toppled the civilian government in February 2021, for supporting the rebels. Kachin state’s 1.7 million people are mainly Christians, some 116,000 of whom are Catholics.

LAGOS, Nigeria (OSV News) – For decades, Nigeria has remained a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking in sub-Saharan Africa, with her citizens making up 6% of immigrants in Libya, where they are commonly traded in open markets, according to a 2021 report from the International Organization for Migration. But a network of Catholic Sisters of St. Louis at the Bakhita Empowerment center, a safehouse in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, is determined to change this by providing shelter to survivors and conducting education campaigns to prevent others from being victimized. At the transit shelter, women and girls receive rehabilitation and counseling to restart their lives. The shelter is named after St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of human trafficking survivors. Kidnapped at age 7 in Sudan and sold into slavery, Josephine was taken to Italy in 1885 by her last owner. A court ruled she was free because slavery was illegal in Italy. The Catholic Sisters of St. Louis offer assistance, counseling and vocational training at the shelter to help trafficking survivors reintegrate into society. They also do prevention and sensitization campaigns, to raise awareness on the causes of human traffickers. The shelter accommodates about 30 survivors whom Sister Patricia Ebegbulem, project coordinator of the safehouse calls “treasures.” Human trafficking is a global plague that generates billions of dollars in profits; over 40 million people are exploited and trafficked each year.