Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
“I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” —Genesis 22:17
God spoke those words of covenant to Abraham in the Old Testament; and today a Hightstown, New Jersey, great-grandmother holds God's promises in her heart — happy that she, like Abraham, has been blessed with many offspring. The family of 86-year-old Rosemary Byrne believes that their beloved matriarch holds the local and possibly the national record for a living woman with the largest number of grandchildren.
Rosemary Byrne proudly claims 11 children, 74 grandchildren and 86 great-grandchildren — and before the year’s end, she'll welcome at least six more great-grandchildren. All are descendants of Rosemary and her husband, the deceased Robert Byrne, and all are single births — that is, there are no twins or triplets among their numbers. Of the offspring who have married, none have been divorced. And that's not all! Rosemary is an aunt to more than 200 nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, and great-great-nieces and -nephews. When the spouses of Rosemary’s descendants are also counted, her family tree includes 221 individuals.
Rosemary keeps in touch with her extended family all across the country. She loves attending the weddings of her grandchildren and receiving phone calls to let her know that someone in her family is pregnant or has just had a baby. In 2014, she traveled to Nebraska to see her great-grandson, Fr. Joseph Heffernan, ordained to the priesthood in the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.
A Powerful Witness to Faith
The Catholic grandmother has inspired her many descendants by her faith and her fidelity. Rosemary speaks openly and proudly about her faith in God and her pro-life beliefs. She is a faithful parishioner at Mater Ecclesiae Church in New Jersey, with pastor Fr. Robert Pasley.
Under Rosemary's tutelage, her grandchildren and great-grandchildren have, by their lives, had a positive impact on society and within the Catholic Church. Among her many offspring are a priest, a nun and a monk. Others have served their country as military servicemen, as first responders, as teachers and as a police officer.
Facing Challenges With Faith and Determination
Life has not always been easy for Rosemary. She shares stories with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren about the challenges of growing up during the Great Depression and the Second World War. But Rosemary’s grandson Tom Connor also recalled his grandmother’s quiet charity and resilience and her “no fear” mentality in the face of adversity. “Her family and friends,” Tom said, “have witnessed how she tirelessly raised a large family in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, how she opened her home (known locally as the ‘pumpkin house’) in the 1980s and ’90s and gave so many groups of young Hightstown public school children little pumpkins.
Connor went on to talk about how Rosemary helped her nephew at his local Hightstown deli; how she braved the challenges of her husband’s Alzheimer’s disease in the early 2000s until his death in 2011; and how she continues through the present day to selflessly face the day-to-day challenges of serving as primary caregiver for one of her daughters who is battling cancer. “The common thread through all the years her family and friends have known her,” he said, “is how Rosemary optimistically embraces and loves life and has unending compassion for others.”
Roots of Patriotism and Civic Responsibility
Rosemary’s roots in the borough of Hightstown run deep. Her great-great-grandfather was a town councilman. Years later, her husband served his community in that role. Her maternal great-grandfather John E. Ford left home at 17 to join the 22nd New Jersey Volunteer Infantry, fighting with the Union Army during the Civil War. Ford suffered serious injuries in the Battle of Chancellorsville and was hospitalized near Alexandria. Ford’s injuries would continue to plague him for the rest of his life, until his death in 1919. In his later years, Rosemary’s great-grandfather John Ford would help to raise his granddaughter Rebecca, Rosemary’s mother.
Rosemary was a young schoolgirl during the Second World War when her father, Michael Di Iorio, was deployed to the Pacific from 1943-1945. Several of her uncles also served during World War II.
A Special Memorial Day Honor
As they do each year, Rosemary Byrne's family gathered from around the country at her Hightstown home on the morning of May 27 to watch the annual Hightstown East Windsor Memorial Day Parade. This year, the parade’s theme was “Standing Together to Remember Our Fallen.” At its conclusion, there was a special surprise: Hightstown Mayor Lawrence Quattrone visited the Byrne house and presented Rosemary with a Mayoral Proclamation, recognizing her many contributions and the impact she has had on her friends and family and on the entire town.