Sister Deirdre “Dede” Byrne will be one of the featured speakers at the third day of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. While no details have been given about the content of her RNC speech, she will likely detail her unique background that saw her serve as a surgeon, soldier and nun.
President Donald Trump has paid tribute to Byrne in the past, referencing her in his “Salute to America” speech on July 4, 2019, according to a report by the Catholic News Agency.
“From our earliest days, Americans of faith have uplifted our nation. This evening we’re joined by Sister Deirdre Byrne. Sister Byrne is a retired Army surgeon who served for nearly 30 years… On September 11, 2001, the sister raced to Ground Zero, through smoke and debris, she administered first aid and comfort to all. Today Sister Byrne runs a medical clinic serving the poor in our nation’s capital. Sister, thank you for your lifetime of service. Thank you,” Trump said in his speech.
Byrne’s Career Saw Her Meet Mother Teresa & Help At Ground Zero
Byrne grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. alongside her six siblings. She graduated from Virginia Tech and went on to attend Georgetown’s medical school. In an effort to cover her school tuition, she joined the Army, ultimately spending 29 years in service as a doctor and a surgeon. She was a full-time Army officer following her graduation from Georgetown in 1982 until 1989, while balancing it with work in the field of family medicine between 1982 and 1985. She took a brief hiatus from the military, while still remaining in the Army reserve, to serve as a missionary surgeon from 1989 until 1990. This and her future periods as a missionary would see her respond to crises in Kenya, Sudan, Haiti, and Iraq.
Upon her return, she completed two residencies as a general surgeon through 1997. One of her most high-profile, albeit somewhat uneventful, roles during this period was serving on standby during Mother Teresa’s visit to Washington D.C. in case she had any medical needs. This allowed her to meet the future saint during her time in the United States.
By chance, Byrne was in New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001. According to a report by Georgetown Health Magazine, she had brought a religious sister to the city for medical treatment, and after the tragedy went with two other nuns to assist firefighters and dispense supplies at Ground Zero. She would work in a first aid tent at the site over the following days.
Byrne Dedicated Herself To The Little Workers Of The Sacred Hearts Of Jesus And Mary
During this period, Byrne’s interest in a religious vocation began to grow. She began speaking with a priest, explaining that she would like to join a religious order that would still allow her to continue practicing as a surgeon. This led her to the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, an Italian order that began in the late 19th century and had maintained a presence in Washington D.C. since 1954. Its primary apostolates include teaching and medical care, something that suited her perfectly.
She officially entered formation with the order in 2002 and professed her first vows in 2004. She was still a member of the Army reserve during this time, and would be deployed three times. Her last deployment sent her to Afghanistan in 2008. Upon her return, the Little Workers requested that Byrne retire from the military, which she did in 2009. She professed her final vows in 2011.
She is currently the superior of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts house in Washington D.C., where the sisters run a pro-bono physical therapy clinic and diabetic eye clinic, according to the Given Institute.