“He was compassionate, and generous to a fault. He never ever was too busy to listen to anybody,” Madelyn Feliciano, office manager at St. Luke's parish, told CNA April 12.
“If anybody needed a priest to listen to them, he could have been exhausted and he'll stop what he's doing just to listen, to make sure that person was okay.”
Msgr. Ryan had been pastor at St. Luke's since 1966, though when he turned retirement age – 75 – in 1995, his position became administrator. Nevertheless, he continued to function as the parish's pastor until his death Friday at age 93.
Msgr. Ryan was born to Irish immigrants in Manhattan in 1920. He was ordained in 1945, and was assigned to St. Anthony of Padua in The Bronx, a predominantly black neighborhood.
In the 1960s he joined the civil rights movement, and began his ministry at St. Luke's, in the Mott Haven neighborhood of The Bronx – an area receiving many Puerto Rican immigrants at the time.
Msgr. Ryan learned Spanish, and maintained the parochial school at St. Luke's. In the 1970s The Bronx experienced a wave of arson, and he helped to re-build housing in the area. He has recently been assisted at the parish by another Spanish-speaking priest.
“There wasn't a person he didn't help,” Feliciano recalled. “He was an extremely amazing man.”
Feliciano has been at the parish since 1972, and 15 years ago left a better paying job to be the parish's office manager.
“He was an absolute joy to work for,” she reflected. “He changed my life tremendously. I am the person I am today because of him.”
Msgr. Ryan was very devoted to the youth, Feliciano said. He met with them every Wednesday until he went into the hospital. “He wanted the youth to be involved in church, to have a place to go to, where they can air out their problems.”
The priest was always available for confession, according to Feliciano.
“Anytime you came into him and say 'I need to confess,' he'd take you into the church. I grant you, he would sit there and talk to you. If you needed a talking to, he would give it to you.”
She recounted that The Battle Hymn of the Republic was among his favorite songs, and it would be heard at Mass on Thanksgiving day every year, “whether we wanted to sing it or not.”
Feliciano said they'll be singing this song for Msgr. Ryan at his funeral Mass, which is scheduled for 10:30 on the morning of Tuesday, April 16. The Mass will be preceded by a wake the preceding day from noon until 7 p.m.
In a July interview with The New York Times, Msgr. Ryan said that the priesthood is about “learning what human nature is, and what the struggles of people are. And where Jesus really is.”
The monsignor had been a priest for nearly 68 years at his death.
His archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, said April 11 that “Msgr. Ryan’s example has inspired me to be a better priest, as I am sure it has inspired so many others who worked with and learned from this humble, hardworking, faithful follower of Jesus.”
Monsignor Gerald Ryan, the New York archdiocese's longest serving pastor and who died April 11, was described by one of his parishioners as exceedingly generous and ever-ready to help his people.