Charles J. O'Byrne

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Charles J. O'Byrne
Secretary to the Governor of New York
In office
2008 – Friday October 24, 2008
Preceded byRich Baum
Succeeded byWilliam J. Cunningham III
Personal details
Manhattan, New York
Political partyDemocratic
ResidenceManhattan, New York
Alma materColumbia University (B.A. '81)
Columbia Law School (J.D. '84)
Weston School of Theology (M.Div. '96, S.T.L. '96)

Charles J. O'Byrne (born 1959) is the Executive Vice President for Policy at Related Companies in New York,[1] an American lawyer and former political staffer to Governor of New York David Paterson, serving as Secretary to the Governor. The position, according to then New York Daily News blogger Elizabeth Benjamin, is considered the most powerful in Albany after the Governor himself.[2] He is openly gay.[3][4][5][6]

O'Byrne previously served as Chief of Staff to Paterson during his time as Lieutenant Governor of New York as well as in the New York State Senate. He also worked as a speech writer for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. Prior to entering politics, O'Byrne became an attorney and subsequently joined the Catholic priesthood, and was a member of the Society of Jesus for twelve years.[4] He wrote and sold a manuscript to Crowne, a division of Random House, with a working title Going My Way, a memoir of his time in religious formation and as a priest but has held back on releasing the book.[citation needed] An article touching on some of the topics considered in his manuscript was published in Playboy magazine in 2002.[7] He is now a practicing Episcopalian.[3] O'Byrne is an active athlete having completed two New York City Marathons and in June 2007 completed his first triathlon.[8]

Early career and background[edit]

O'Byrne was born into an Irish Catholic family at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City.[9] His father was a teacher and then principal in New York public schools, and his mother was a psychologist.[10] The family lived in Manhattan and Staten Island for five years, and relocated to Oceanport, New Jersey along the Jersey Shore.[3] He attended Red Bank Catholic High School and graduated in 1977.[10]

He attended Columbia University and graduated summa cum laude in 1981, majoring in history with a concentration in the Medieval and Renaissance periods.[3] O'Byrne was a member of the crew team for three years and received the Class Day Achievement Prize at graduation.[10] He was also a member of the Fraternity of Delta Psi and the Co-Founder of the Thomas Merton Lecture at Columbia.[3] He went on to Columbia Law School, graduating with a J.D. in 1984.[11] At Columbia, he became close friends with Stephen Smith Jr., a member of the Kennedy family[3] O'Byrne remained active in alumni affairs, becoming President of the Columbia Alumni Association in 2002, and writing for the Columbia Spectator.[12][13] During college, he took a summer job in the New Jersey Attorney General's office, and at 22, became acting superintendent of elections and acting commissioner of registration in Monmouth County.[10]

After law school, he worked as a corporate litigator at the Manhattan office of Rosenman & Colin LLP, before leaving to study for the priesthood.[9] He entered the Society of Jesus in 1989, and professed his vows as a Jesuit at the LeMoyne College Chapel in Syracuse, New York in 1991.[4] He earned two master's degrees, a M.Div. with Distinction and a S.T.L. from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[14] He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1996.[3]

A friend to the Kennedy family, he acted as a spiritual adviser during the 1991 rape trial of Stephen Smith's brother, William Kennedy Smith[3] and officiated at the marriage of John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette in 1996.[9][15] In 1999, he presided over their funeral in New York City after they died in a plane crash.[16] He is a trustee of the Jean K. Smith Trust, the Kennedy Smith Foundation and the Smith Family Trust, and in a 2006 financial disclosure lists gifts in excess of $1,000 and trustee commissions from members of the Smith family.[3]


O'Byrne left corporate law for a vocation to the priesthood in 1989, and attended Saint John Neumann Residence and Hall, a preparatory school for seminarians under the Archdiocese of New York.[17]

During my training I taught at a Catholic girls' high school in the South Bronx," he wrote. "My students were streetwise. They were heroes to me, trying to make something of their lives against unbelievable odds. Most of them were sexually active, by their own accounts. At that time, the rate of HIV infection among babies born at Lincoln Hospital, a stone’s throw from the school, was increasing rapidly. I chose to do for my students what the nuns in my school had done for me. I told them that if they were going to have sex, to make sure they did it safely.

— Charles J. O'Byrne[18]

O'Byrne has alleged that he was asked to leave the seminary after he objected to incidents of anti-Semitism.[citation needed] He later was admitted into Saint Andrew Hall, the Jesuit Novitiate in Syracuse for his primary formation as a Jesuit.[19] After two years, he followed the traditional path to ordination by completing his philosophy studies at Loyola University Chicago, while working at St. Peter's College (New Jersey) where he was assigned by his superiors to work as assistant to the President. He was the first person to hold that title at St. Peter's.[20] O'Byrne went on to seminary at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge in 1994, and received two master's degrees.[14] During his studies in Cambridge, he acted as Harvard Law School's chaplain, and worked as a teaching fellow at Harvard University with Robert Coles, the Pulitzer-prize winning author.[10] He was called "brilliant", "determined", and a "hard worker" by several Jesuit priests, and followed the conservatism of Pope John Paul II, with one priest describing him as "being part of the orthodoxy police, theologically, making sure the teachers were really teaching the party line and all that stuff. Charles was seen on that part of the culture wars."[10]

In 1996, he was ordained as a priest, working at St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan, although his orthodoxy did not last long.[10] He received a voluntary Decree of Dismissal from the Society of Jesus in 2002 when his superiors determined he no longer wished to remain in the Order.[4] In an interview with Newsday, he described leaving the elite order as a bittersweet experience, commenting that being "A Jesuit is sort of like being an enlightened waiter at a segregated counter."[7]

Article in Playboy magazine[edit]

O'Byrne was the author of a September 2002 article in Playboy magazine that alleged hypocrisy and sexual dysfunction in the Catholic Church entitled "Sex & Sexuality: One Man’s Story About Religious Life and What Seminaries Really Teach About Sex."[3][18] The article caused some controversy, portraying his fellow seminarians as men who entered the religious life with "little or no sexual experience",[21] who made up for lost time, describing that "There was sex all around me, including relationships between Jesuits."[18] A fellow priest and colleague told the New York Observer that the article caused some resentment towards O'Byrne.[9]

The article was part of a memoir that was never published.[4] It referred to some members of the clergy as "close-minded bigots".[5] He described the prevalence of what he called "boyologist"[7] priests who held an unnatural interest in young male parishioners.[3]

Political career[edit]

In 2003, he joined Howard Dean's presidential campaign as Policy Director for New York, and was then hired as a speech writer.[3] After Dean dropped out of the race, O'Byrne was offered a job with State Senate Minority Leader David Paterson as a speechwriter.[10] In 2005, he was promoted to Director of Press Operations, where he oversaw and coordinated press and communications efforts for the Democratic Conference.[14] He was again promoted to Senior Policy Counsel and then to Deputy Chief of Staff. In January 2006 Paterson named him Acting Chief of Staff.[3]

He maintained his position when Paterson was elected Lieutenant Governor of New York, and was elevated to Secretary to the Governor (the functional Chief of Staff) upon Paterson's accession to the Governor.[22] Both Paterson and O'Byrne are Columbia alumni.[13] In his brief time as Secretary to the Governor, he took on an aggressive role to counterbalance the more passive Paterson.[3]


  1. ^ "[1]"
  2. ^ Benjamin, Elizabeth. "In And Out Archived 2008-03-18 at the Wayback Machine". Daily News. March 12, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Peters, Jeremy W. "The Tough Guy and Political Newcomer Who Counsels New York’s Governor". The New York Times. March 20, 2008.
  4. ^ a b c d e Goldiner, Dave. "Chief of staff for incoming Gov. David Paterson a former Jesuit priest". Daily News. March 13, 2008.
  5. ^ a b Deignan, Tom. "Controversial Ex-Priest Guides Paterson". Irish Abroad. March 26, 2008.
  6. ^ Price, Deb. "Spitzer's fall leaves N.Y. in gay-friendly hands". Detroit News. March 17, 2008.
  7. ^ a b c Howell, Ron. "Book on Life, Sex In the Priesthood Is in the Works Archived December 28, 2005, at the Wayback Machine". Newsday. October 31, 2002.
  8. ^ "22nd Annual NEW YORK TRI/BI-ATHLON SERIES Race #1 Archived February 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Harriman State Park, Sunday, June 10, 2007. Retrieved April 4, 2007.
  9. ^ a b c d Memmott, A. James. "Ex-priest is valued adviser to NY governor". New York Observer. March 19, 2008.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Horowitz, Jason. "Gov. Paterson's Main Man: Former Jesuit, 'Natural' Politician Charles O'Byrne Archived 2008-03-18 at the Wayback Machine". New York Observer. March 15, 2008.
  11. ^ "Chief of Staff to the Lieutenant Governor - Charles J. O'Byrne Biography Archived March 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". New York State. Retrieved April 1, 2008.
  12. ^ "New Leadership for College Alumni Archived March 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". Columbia College Today. Retrieved April 2, 2008.
  13. ^ a b Morais, Betsy and Repko, Melissa. "Alumnus Governor May Impact Fate of Manhattanville Archived April 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". Columbia Spectator. April 1, 2008.
  14. ^ a b c "Paterson Appoints Director of Press Operations". New York State Senate. April 11, 2005.
  15. ^ Gonzalez, Juan. "As the state shook, David Paterson called former deputy mayor dad". Daily News. March 12, 2008.
  16. ^ Duke, Lynne. "Family Memorializes Another JFK". Washington Post. July 24, 1999. Page A1.
  17. ^ "Saint John Neumann Residence and Hall Archived March 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". Archdiocese of New York. Retrieved April 1, 2008.
  18. ^ a b c O'Byrne, Charles J. "SEX & SEXUALITY: One Man’s Story About Religious Life And What Seminaries Really Teach About Sex Archived July 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". Playboy. September 2002.
  19. ^ Schenden, Greg. "Christmas in a Novitiate". Company Magazine Archived 2008-03-02 at the Wayback Machine. December 1996.
  20. ^ VandeVelde, Dick. "Ordination '97". Company Magazine. September 6, 1997.
  21. ^ Montanaro, David. "New York State of Mind Archived March 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine". MSNBC. March 14, 2008.
  22. ^ Smith, Ben. "Friday reading: Charles O'Byrne". Politico. March 14, 2008.
Preceded by
Rich Baum
New York State Secretary to the Governor
Succeeded by
William J. Cunningham III