How can we get through these trying times? That question is top of mind for almost everyone right now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and upcoming presidential election, and it’s one that Mary Byrne, TMC ’72, GSAS ’78, ’83, will aim to answer at the upcoming Fordham Women’s Summit: Philanthropy | Empowerment | Change.

Now in its fourth year and formerly known as the Women’s Philanthropy Summit, the Oct. 21 event offers alumnae, faculty, and friends a chance to discuss and celebrate their achievements and attend professional and personal development sessions.

Byrne, a clinical psychologist practicing in Eastchester, New York, will lead one of those sessions, along with Maria Nardone, GSAS ’79, ’82, and David Marcotte, S.J., Ph.D. During “Building Personal Resilience: Yes I Can! Yes We Can!” she said she’ll address the importance of taking responsibility for what we can control in life, and encourage attendees to “find meaning and satisfaction in seeking to do the right thing, even when it is difficult to do so.”

A Legacy of Giving Back

This is the first year that Byrne has been involved with the Women’s Summit, but she’s no stranger to volunteering her time in service of the University. An alumna of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), where she earned a doctorate in psychology, Byrne has served on the GSAS Advisory Board and been a member of the Dean’s Leadership Committee (DLC) for about 15 years.

In a normal year, that would mean attending annual meetings on campus and several other in-person events throughout the year. But this year, those gatherings are being conducted virtually, and Byrne, who serves on the nominating committee for new members of the Dean’s Leadership Committee, said she still enjoys talking with “other graduates of GSAS who are enthusiastic about the school and joining DLC.”

She’s also involved with the new GSAS wellness initiative, which offers “various types of support to graduate students, including counseling, social support, and career guidance.” For now, much of that support, which is also targeted to combat stress related to COVID-19, is delivered virtually.

Mary Byrne and Marvin Reznikoff
Marvin Reznikoff, Byrne’s Ph.D. mentor, became much more than a professor, eventually walking her down the aisle and giving her away at her wedding. Photo provided by Mary Byrne.

While the pandemic has certainly changed her responsibilities a bit, her desire to “pay it forward”—sometimes literally—has not. As someone whose three Fordham degrees were largely funded through scholarships and grants, Byrne said that she “always knew that once I was able to do so,” she would contribute to Fordham.

“My husband and I made the lead contribution for a scholarship in honor of Marvin Reznikoff, who mentored my Ph.D. and also walked me down the aisle when I got married,” she said.

Byrne and her husband established the scholarship in 2009 to support doctoral candidates in psychology and honor Reznikoff, who died in 2013. (She has also shared her love of Fordham with her son John Rogan, FCRH ’10, LAW ’14, a two-time Fordham grad who is currently a visiting clinical professor of law at the Fordham School of Law.)

Byrne may have known early on that she wanted to give back to Fordham, but she didn’t always know she wanted to be a psychologist. A few years after graduating from Thomas More College (Fordham’s liberal arts college for women from 1964 to 1974), she decided “that being a psychologist would be interesting and engaging and also a worthwhile career to pursue.” Now, at her private practice in Westchester County, Byrne works mostly with adult women who have depression or anxiety disorders.

“I was amazed at how quickly my patients and I adjusted to the phone and how well therapy has been going for most people,” she said. “During the shutdown, I think people had more time to focus on therapy issues between sessions so that they made better progress in therapy.”

During the Women’s Summit, Byrne and her fellow panelists will delve into that trend, teaching attendees how to develop and maintain resilience in these uncertain times.

“We have to accept the circumstances of life that we cannot change and find meaning in how we choose to respond to those circumstances,” she said. “To [paraphrase]Victor Frankl: It is not about what we expect from life, but what life expects from us.”

Fordham Five (Plus One)

What are you most passionate about?
Motherhood is the thing I have been most passionate about. I have two young-adult sons and nurturing and watching them grow from birth onward is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
The best piece of advice I have been given came from my best friend in high school. She suggested that it would be a good idea to get a Jesuit education. I went to Fordham, and that decision has had a tremendous positive impact on my life.

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?
My favorite place in New York City is on the Staten Island Ferry with the view of the Statue of Liberty, the skyline, and the harbor. My favorite place in the world is Robert Moses State Park on the beach.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you.
My favorite book is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl wrote this book after surviving three years in Nazi concentration camps. His message is that while we cannot always control the circumstances of our life, we can control how we respond to those circumstances. It is up to us to figure out how to act responsibly and find meaning in life—even when that process is demanding and challenging and involves suffering.

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?
My mentor Marvin Reznikoff is the Fordham professor I admire the most. He was a distinguished, talented academic who gave wonderful guidance and made the dissertation process as easy as possible. More importantly, he was an honorable, very kind, and attentive person who was a great model for what a psychologist should be.