Fr. Ned Ryan sac, R.I.P.

Fr. Edmund Ryan, RIP.

Fr Edmund, or Ned as he was known to us and Eddie to his family, died peacefully in the South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel, Co Tipperary on the evening of December 3. Ned was taken to hospital following a fall in Padre Pio Nursing Home just over three weeks before he died; he was diagnosed as suffering from pneumonia. Initially he rallied but always remained very ill and on high dosages of oxygen to help his breathing. Ned was blessed in that he was very much aware of the precarious state of his health and was alert and bright up to the end. His family knew he was very unwell and various members were present during the final days, on Tuesday evening Emmet O’Hara anointed him again and he died at 9.15 pm, Emmet was there along with members of his family.

Ned’s body was brought to Thurles on Thursday December 5 and viewing took place in the meeting room in the College, then he was removed to the chapel and his concelebrated funeral Mass was on Friday 6 at 14.30. Archbishop Dermot Clifford presided at the Mass, I was main celebrant and John Kelly gave the homily and reflection on Ned’s life. Sr Cecilia Lanigan of the Ursuline Convent provided the music at the funeral mass and our Pallottine students led the singing; the readings were read by a niece and nephew and grandnephews and a grandniece were the altar servers. After the communion Michael Coen paid tribute to Ned and his commitment to East Africa, to the Pallottine mission and to the people he served with such single-hearted dedication for over 50 years. Ned’s niece, Breda McCormack, spoke on behalf of Ned’s family and it was very clear that he was a much loved and respected brother, brother-in-law, uncle and indeed mentor for his entire family.

At the suggestion of some of his long-time confreres Ned’s ‘party piece’ The Spinning Wheel, was sung as the recessional hymn as his coffin was carried from the chapel to the hearse by Ned’s nephews. Ned’s body was buried in our community cemetery in Cabra. Ned, like so many Pallottines, had his novitiate year in Cabra and legend has it that he was one of those who built the grotto to Our Lady of Lourdes which now forms part of the cemetery; the late Fr Johnny McDonagh was also part of the group which designed and built it. Ned’s grave was dug right in front of the Grotto and under the maternal gaze of the statue of Our Lady. This was a source of great consolation to Ned’s sister Mary and indeed to all the family.

From the cemetery we all returned to the College where Breda and Mags put on a wonderful high-tea for all before undertaking the journey home on a dark and wintry night.

Ned is survived by his sister Mary, his sister-in-law Nellie and 13 nieces and nephews and their families.

Ned was held in great esteem and many people expressed their affection for him by their presence at the removal and funeral, and we were particularly happy to see Srs Mary Friel and Catherine O’Dwyer of the Medical Missionaries of Mary present; indeed we received some lovely messages of sympathy and letters of appreciation for Ned from the MMMs. It was also very heartening to receive letters and e-mails from lay volunteers and co-workers who had known Ned or worked with him in East Africa, one message even came from an Irishman now working in Jilin Agricultural University, Changchun, China.

May his good soul rest in the peace of the Lord.

A copy of John Kelly’s sermon and the words of his niece Breda are attached to this Newsletter.

(From Provincial Newsletter by Fr. Derry Muurphy sac, Provincial)

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When I was asked to say a few words, my problem wasn’t to know what I should say but what I should omit, as there is so much to say.  But let me concentrate on what I want to say.

When I think of Fr. Eddie, a few things come to mind. His noisy, mechanical, overworked typewriter.  If it could talk it would tell us a few things we would like to know.  His worn-out 25 year old, second-hand Toyota Land Cruiser. The mileage clock gave up counting the mile years ago. Amazingly, it was very reliable, and like its owner it would never let you down.

But 2 special words come to mind:  The word Missionary jumps out at me when I think of Fr. Eddie. An ever active indefatigable, determined, empathetic, caring and courageous missionary who was always working, always active always interested in what he or you were doing.

The word Church also comes to mind–not the buildings, but the people of God who make up the church-. Many of us have had lively discussions with Fr. Eddie on what the Church is or should be.

Only last Sunday I spent a pleasant hour with him, as we discussed numerous incidents during his time in Tanzania. We also sorted out most of the problems facing the present day church.

Regarding Mission and Church, I think I would be fair to him in saying that he believed mission came first. That only because of mission, does the Church exist. If the church hadn’t somewhere to go there would be no reason for the church to exist. ‘Go therefore make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). That is exactly what Eddie did all of his life. He was part of a church not left by Christ, but sent by God, as a sacrament of salvation, spreading the Good News to people who could do with Good News.  In his case it was the people of Tanzania.

Fr. Eddie having completed his 2nd level education at Thurles CBS, went to the Novitiate on 16th.September 1948. He studied philosophy at St. Patrick’s College Thurles from 1949 to 1951. He was then sent to Rome where he studied Theology at the Gregorian University from 1951 to 1955. He was ordained on 8th December 1954. Next year he would have been 60 years ordained.  After Rome he left for Tanzania in 1955 working in the Diocese of Mbulu where he was to spend most of his life.

His early years there saw him in a very remote mission called Chem Chem (meaning a spring or well).    He was there for most of 10 years. That was a tough mission and I think only Fr. Eddie and very few others could have remained that length of time there. Later he was appointed Provincial Delegate and remained in that role for about 6 years, until he was replaced by Fr. Michael Coen in 1973.

Fr. Eddie worked in Galapo where he was involved in the construction of a big church. He later moved to Babati town, where he again remained for a number of years. In 1982 he went to the parish of Bashanet until 2005. He retired, and I use that word with tongue-in-cheek, to Arusha in 2005.  He came back to Ireland about 3 years ago where he could have access to better medical attention.

He was a great man for meetings. Where most of us would try to avoid meetings, Eddie seemed to get strength from them. There is a word in Swahili, the word ‘Shauri’. It’s not easy to translate this word, but the best attempt might be the English word ‘consultation’.  To distinguish Ned–we usually called him Ned rather than Eddie– we added the word Shauri to distinguish him from other Neds or other Ryans. This was because he was known so well for his ability to discuss, debate, sort, solve and advise.  Down through the years he was consulter to his bishops in Mbulu.  I say bishops because he had five in his time in Mbulu diocese.  He was on all diocesan committees dealing with education and with health.  Meetings in Tanzania could go on for hours and hours but the freshest man at the end of the day always was Eddie. He was only getting into his stride when the rest of us were collapsing with exhaustion.

Let me tell you about his skills at negotiating. Fr. Eddie built a magnificent new church in Bashanet beside a main road leading from Mbulu to Babati.   The Tanzanian Government issued a law that all buildings without exception should be a certain distance from the centre of all main roads throughout the country.

Buildings that did not comply with this instruction were to be moved or demolished.

Houses, schools, medical centres, churches, government buildings were knocked or moved to comply with this regulation without exception.  Well- there was one exception…

And now the formally straight road approaching Fr. Eddie’s church has a small bend but complies in full with all regulations.

I just had an e-mail from one of the diocesan priests in Mbulu who described him as a model missionary priest, with an incredible zeal for development of his people. This is very true.

He built more medical dispensaries in his time than I can count. He built vocational centres, secondary schools, trade schools, parish houses and Parishes churches, even a convent or two, everywhere he worked. His last major work was the building of a 110 bed hospital in Bashanet. It was just about up and running when poor health forced him to retire.  Retirement for Eddie meant he was changed to another location, from where at a distance he would be even more involved. First it was the town of Arusha and then it was Ireland, and last of all, it was his hospital bed last Sunday, when he informed me, as bursar, of yet another financial transaction for the hospital. He literally lived and died for his people.

When he discussed mission business of any sort, or was at a meeting of whatever type, he characteristically held a biro in his right hand.  It was attached to him almost like a pacemaker, giving order to his teeming brain.   The Poet John Keats comes to mind and could easily have been talking about Eddie when he said ‘When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain’.

Eddie’s brain was always teeming.  His writings were not so much of pen but of concrete, in the shape of hospitals dispensaries, schools and churches.

Some of us who worked in Africa with Eddie would say that he took Matthew’s Gospel chapter 6 v4 further than its author had planned.  That verse states ‘when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right hand is doing’. Eddie was one who did not look for praise, and when it came to his benefactors, despite our constant direct and indirect curiosity as to the source of his funding, he managed to maintain their anonymity.  If only that old mechanical typewriter could have spoken. 

While expressing our deepest sympathy to his sister Mary, sister-in-law Nellie, nephews and nieces and their families, in their loss, we take strength from the stoic way Eddie bore his suffering, for he realized fully the seriousness of his illness.  His realism allowed him to grasp that we are in transition, as Shakespeare put it, in the mouth of Prospero ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep’.

Let us take to heart the Gospel of John in which we read: “do not let your hearts be troubled: In my Father’s house there are many dwellings, I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again to take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may also be”.

This is the guarantee of Christ himself, who has gone before us to prepare the way for us.    Eddie carried this promise with him all his life, and no doubt this promise too, carried Eddie.

On the 27th November Eddie was to be one of the invited guests at the Irish Missionary Union’s Award Ceremony for missionaries who had served over 40 years in the missions.  Each was presented with a medal by Mrs Sabina Higgins, wife of President Michael D. Higgins.  Eddie could not be there.

He passed away on the feast day of St. Francis Xavier, a patron of the missions, who no doubt witnessed him receive not a presidential medal, but a room or more likely, a mansion,  in the Fathers’ house prepared for him.

As for retirement, well I think it is just another life change for Eddie.  As we knew him, retirement for Eddie meant he has changed to another location, from where at a distance he will be even more involved.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

Fr. John Kelly, SAC.

Fr. John Kelly sac, First Consultor