Sayonara to Joe Byrne

By Joe Byrne

As some of you know by now, I’ve left Jonah House. At the beginning of April, I moved down to Pinehurst, North Carolina, to live with, and take care of, my 90-year-old mother. My mom is at the point where she needs to either move into assisted living, or live with one of her kids. She’s chosen the latter course. And my siblings and I, as well as my mom and I, decided that I was the one most available to make the move, having no family of my own. That said, I did have a community I was leaving behind in Baltimore, and many friends, so my leaving was a challenge in that regard.

I moved to Jonah House in October 2015. I joined the community anchored by the Parr-Brown family–Tucker and Emily and little Auggie, then a year-and-a-half old. Within a year, we welcomed a new member into the community, little Evie, Tucker and Emily’s second child. Also part of Jonah House at that time were the “emeritus” members living separately in the cottage: Liz McAlister, Sr. Ardeth Platte, and Sr. Carol Gilbert.

The Parr-Brown family decided to move back west after two years; Liz, Ardeth, and Carol had left Jonah House the year before. I remained behind to form a new community. Joining me in 2017 were Paul Magno, Ausar Amen, Bow Williams, and Jemilla Sequiera.

The past six-and-a-half years at Jonah House have been a very rich time for me. I was able to be part of a tradition that I had admired for almost thirty years before I finally moved to Jonah House. It was also a challenging time in that the community was going through some changes, with long-time community members (including a founder) leaving Jonah House, and remaining members trying to envision a new direction and carrying on.

In my time at Jonah House, I was able to develop strong bonds with other community members, with the folks in the neighborhood who came on Tuesdays for food assistance, with those who attended Jonah House liturgy, and with the land itself. Over the six years I got to know the twenty-two acres of St. Peter’s Cemetery, where Jonah House resides, pretty well. I got to know the trees and flowers (and many, but not all, of their names), and the animals–the flora and fauna. I personally met raccoons, foxes, and deer; as well as barn owls, red-shouldered hawks, and guinea fowl (now no more due to the foxes!). The deer population in the cemetery grew from zero to eight in the time I was at Jonah House. Too many, actually. When I saw the deer (pretty much every day) I would say “Hello deer–and I don’t mean that affectionately.” That’s because they ate or otherwise damaged so many of the things I planted!

I also need to announce that my canine companion, Pema, has also left Jonah House. She is with me in North Carolina. It’s going to take some time for Pema to get used to her new living arrangement. In St. Peter’s Cemetery, I let her roam. And since the main gate was open most of the time, this means I also let her roam the neighborhood surrounding the cemetery. I hope the neighbors were fond of Pema; then again, maybe those who halted behind her and honked their horns when Pema paraded down the middle of Bentalou Street are happy she’s moved on. But at least no one ran her over or called Animal Control.

I will miss Jonah House, where I worked, prayed, and played for six plus years. But Jonah House continues, both as intentional community, and as extended community. There will still be a Jonah House when the community celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023. I hope to return then, and will probably return before then, at least once.

For what it’s worth, all those I leave behind have my blessing, as do those who will come after me. I conclude with the phrase used by the early Franciscan friars as a greeting (and likely as a farewell): “Pax et bonum!” That is, “peace and good to you!”

Love One Another