Nell Southerland, assistant attorney for Hamilton County, said the request will likely go unopposed but is unsure if Tennessee law gives judges the power to allow for exhumation without the permission of a known relative, the Times Free Press reported.
The diocese must confirm that Ryan was a real person and not a "pious legend." However, there is strong evidence pointing to the priest's existence, like letters between clergymen and newspaper clippings.
In the 1800s, the Ryan family immigrated to New York from County Tipperary, Ireland, where the surname Ryan is popular. According to the Times Free Press, this made it difficult to determine which Patrick Ryan was the priest, noting there are 25 identical names recorded.
Ryan studied the priesthood at St. Vincent's College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1869, he was ordained in Nashville. Later, he was sent to Chattanooga, where he opened the town's oldest private school.
Having passed away in 1878, the priest was originally buried among his flock per his request. In 1886, he was transferred to Olivet Cemetery during a horse and buggy procession.
Fr. David Carter, Knoxville canon lawyer and pastor of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, said Ryan had offered his life to heroically serve people suffering from the yellow fever epidemic during the 19th century.