Father Edward Bryce and St. Bede Parish are a union so comfortable, so seamless, it’s hard to imagine the one without the other. But to the tall, gentle priest with the deep resonate voice, it’s even harder to believe that more than 21 years have passed here.
“Time has gone so quickly, but it’s been an amazing experience,” he said on a recent afternoon in the rectory parlor. “I’ve witnessed a whole generation. Little kids who I’ve baptized have become big kids. Now, they bring their kids around to be baptized.”
In truth, St. Bede has only been the latest stop in a priesthood that now celebrates 50 years. Father’s entire life has been a testament to an enduring faith — a faith that took hold of him as altar boy at St. Bernard in Mt. Lebanon and sustained him as a seminarian at St. Charles in Philadelphia. In his characteristic humor, Father Bryce looks back to that time now as a stint in “a minimum security prison,” where they told him when to eat and when to sleep.
“If you didn’t think God wanted you to do this, you’d be crazy to stay,” he says.
But stay he did, and on March 25th, 1960, Father Bryce was ordained as a priest on the altar of St. Paul Cathedral in his native Pittsburgh. “Seems like yesterday. Except when I look at my ordination picture. I notice I was considerably thinner.”
Many at St. Bede may not know it, but Father Bryce’s career took him far and wide. After his initial assignment at Immaculate Conception in Washington, PA., he studied theology during the times of change and Vatican II. In 1965, he returned to the Pittsburgh area and served in various capacities, eventually teaching theology at Duquesne University, where he would impart his wisdom and knowledge to more than 2,300 students.
Teaching was fulfilling, but the diocese had other plans. There was a Holy Rosary Parish in Homewood in the turbulent late 60s and then an assignment in the diocesan office of Justice and Peace. His command of social issues would take him to Washington, D.C. and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. There, he would run the Office of Pro-Life Activities, a cause for which he remains passionate.
Looking back now, Father Bryce sees all of that worldly experience as preparation for his time at St. Bede. It is here that he has led gently. With children, he has used his patience and humor, prodding them to use their God-given gifts to the fullest. With the adults, he’s treated them as adults. He has shown respect and inclusiveness, allowing them and the Parish Pastoral Council to help guide and contribute.
“We have wonderful people with a variety of talents. Blue collar, white collar, silver collar. Each has a great gift to give,” he says. “I learned a long time ago that if you invite people in — rather than point your finger — the results are much more felicitous.”
At the age of 75, it would be time for most priests to retire, but it seems that St. Bede and Father Bryce will not be so easily parted. “I’m blessed with good health,” he says. “Why would I retire?” Father will stay here as administrator for the foreseeable future, and God willing, he’ll spend many more years in fulfillment of his calling.
“In the end when I come face to face with Jesus, he won’t be concerned about whether I balanced the books or if I managed to pave the rectory driveway. He’ll ask me only this: ‘Have you helped people come to know me?’
I hope to answer, yes.”