The Byrne Identity: Spanning the Generations

| January 20, 2010

The multigenerational Byrne family poses for a group photograph following the tradition of attending Thanksgiving Mass together at Most Holy Rosary Church.

By Connie Berry

Twenty-nine years ago, the marriage of Cathy Voltz and Marty Byrne combined families with well over 100 years of combined attendance at the Bishop’s Academy at Most Holy Rosary (formerly Most Holy Rosary School) on Syracuse’s west side.

The history begins with Mary McDonald, Cathy Voltz Byrne’s grandmother, who came to the parish in 1910. Mary’s father helped build the school’s gymnasium. Mary married into the Voltz family, and then all of her children attended MHR. Those children sent their children to MHR, and the next generation, of course, did the same.

Cathy’s mother-in-law is Katie Byrne, another legendary MHR treasure. Katie graduated from MHR and married Jim Byrne, a graduate of St. Anthony’s School on the south side. They had seven sons — all of them graduated from MHR except for the last two, who finished high school at Bishop Ludden after Rosary’s high school closed in 1978. After attending Catholic high school, six of the seven sons graduated from Niagara University, where their father was president of the alumni association. One son graduated from Notre Dame University. Today, Katie’s great-granddaughter is a student at the Bishop’s Academy at Most Holy Rosary.

“Oh, they’ll never get rid of me,” Katie laughed.

Her love of MHR runs like a current throughout her days still. Katie is a trustee of MHR, a member of the former Mother’s Club, Altar Rosary Society and many more aspects of parish life. She has run many committees and events over the course of her time at MHR, and she is now very active in the Loretto Guild and, of course, her grandchildren keep her busy.

“I have four graduations this year,” Katie said. “And I still try to make all their games. I keep up with all the kiddos.”

When Katie’s family gathers for Thanksgiving, there are 50 people around the tables.

“We have a very loving family, and we’re very close,” she said, “and we have loads of fun.”

One of Katie’s granddaughters, Kelly, graduated from MHR last year and is a seventh grader at Bishop Ludden this year. Kelly is the last of Cathy and Marty Byrne’s five children to graduate from MHR. Cathy’s oldest, Kim, was just married at MHR this October, and she is a teacher at Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville.

Cathy comes from a family of five girls, the daughter of Mollie and Jim Voltz. Her aunts lived in the neighborhood as well, and when Cathy was in
elementary school, as many as 10 of the cousins would walk home together from MHR school each day.

“My dad would drive us in the morning, and we were about six blocks from school when I was little. We had permission from one of the neighbors to cut through his yard on the way home, so one of us would hold the gate while the rest passed through,” Cathy remembered.

Cathy was a cheerleader in high school, and her husband was a couple of years ahead of her at MHR. They met when Cathy was in first grade and were buddies throughout their school days.

“I guess he really was my best friend,” Cathy said. “He still is.”

It was when she was a cheerleader and he was working as a janitor cleaning the school when the two considered dating. “He was supposed to be cleaning, but he would shoot baskets all the time while I was in the gym,” Cathy remembered.

Marty still loves basketball and referees all over for junior varsity, varsity and CYO games.

Cathy was the school nurse at MHR for a few years and now works in that capacity at Cleary School in the Valley neighborhood of Syracuse. All of her
sisters still live within blocks of her, and both her mother and mother-in-law live in the neighborhood.

Cathy’s mother, Mollie Voltz, converted to Catholicism when she married her husband Jim. He passed away 12 years ago.

“I wanted the girls prepared for their sacraments and I knew the Catholic school could explain things better than I could,” Mollie said. All five of her girls went to MHR and all 13 of her grandchildren as well.

Her husband never answered the telephone, Mollie said. “He figured it would never be for him with the five girls in the house. His girls were his pride and joy.”

It wasn’t until her father passed away that Cathy learned that her dad really wasn’t a fan of basketball even though he attended every game when she was cheerleading.

“Dad never missed a basketball game,” Cathy said. “I only found out when he was gone when my mom told me he didn’t really like it. He was a quiet man. He was outnumbered — even our dog was a female.”

When her girls went to MHR, Mollie took a job working in the cafeteria there, so that she could keep an eye on her girls.

Ironically, there is still a teacher at MHR who had Cathy in class.

Mary Ellen Montague was Cathy’s seventh grade teacher. She began teaching at MHR in 1971 and is a fourth grade teacher there now. “I said I’d quit before I started to get my student’s grandchildren, but here I am,” Montague said. Katie Bryne’s great-granddaughter — which makes her Cathy’s niece — is there now.

“If you’re going to talk to me about the Byrne family, I’m going to need a family tree in front of me,” Montague laughed when she was interviewed. “There’s no mistaking those two clans — they all have MHR emblazoned on their foreheads.”

Montague is a bit of an MHR legend herself. Her son, Thomas, teaches art at the school.

“It’s great,” Montague said. “The kids will see me in the hall and say, ‘I really like your brother.’ That just makes my day.”

All the Bryne and Voltz family members who live in the neighborhood still attend church at MHR and most were married there. They love their pastor, Fr. Fred Mannara. “He’s in the cafeteria for breakfast and lunch and always passes out treats for the kids,” Cathy said. “We have to remind him about eating a healthy lunch.”

The lunch being doled out is likely different than the one Cathy’s mom served. The neighborhood has changed, and the school doesn’t have nearly the number of Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters walking the hallways anymore. But, there are still plenty of Byrne family members — and it doesn’t look like those numbers are going to be dwindling any time soon.

Connie Berry is the editor of The Catholic Sun.

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