COVENTRY — It’s been a busy week-and-a-half for Deacon Patrick Ryan. The Diocese of Providence seminarian, ordained to the transitional diaconate last fall, returned to his family home last week after completing his studies at Pontifical North American College in Rome. Over the weekend he attended a family wedding and now he is preparing for the most important day in the rest of his life — his ordination to the priesthood.
Bishop Richard G. Henning will ordain Ryan to the priesthood — the bishop’s first priestly ordination since he became the ninth Bishop of Providence, on Saturday, June 24 at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul at 10 a.m.
“We just feel blessed that Patrick has chosen the priesthood. It’s a remarkable life to live these days. It’s encouraging to see that there’s still life in the Church, and I know he’ll be a wonderful priest,” Doug Ryan said of his son, in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic at the family home last week.
Anne Ryan remembers her son growing up as being so dedicated to everything that he did.
“We’re just really proud of him,” she said. “I don’t think it’s an easy life that he chose, but we are very supportive that he has chosen it, and I think he’ll be great at it.”
It was when he was an undergrad at Boston University that Deacon Ryan’s thoughts of becoming a priest began to coalesce.
He became very active in Catholic campus ministry and enjoyed the sense of community that it enveloped him with.
“I was brought into a great community in college of people who live the faith,” Deacon Ryan said.
“For me that was the big hangup when I was in high school wondering whether it was possible to live this way. So, when you see people who are, that’s evidence. That’s enough support for me; this is real.”
He credits Father David Barnes, the former chaplain at Boston University, and now spiritual director at St. John Seminary, with drawing people to the faith by showing them that they didn’t have to sacrifice things that they enjoyed in order to grow in their faith.
The chaplain inspired many young men to either nurture or begin to pursue a priestly vocation.
“Certainly, Father Barnes was a very normal guy and acted like a normal guy. He loved the Sox, but also loved his faith and wasn’t shy about it,” Deacon Ryan said.
“He had grown up in a really Catholic environment and he was so convinced of it and so strong in his faith and he wasn’t afraid to just speak the truth and be a witness to the priesthood. The life of offering worship to God and ministering to God’s people is a good life. He showed us that by his example.”
Deacon Ryan said he met some great people who were involved at the university’s Catholic Center and they became his friends, welcoming and helping him to develop a home there. Through that community, he learned more about the faith.
“Through God’s grace it developed in me a hunger to learn more, seeing it as a beautiful gift that God has given us, the Church,” he said.
Deacon Ryan majored in health science at Boston University, and considered becoming a doctor, nurse or a physician’s assistant.
When he graduated in 2016, he was asked to serve for a year as an intern at the Catholic Center, which was run by the Archdiocese of Boston.
There, he lived in a community of 14 FOCUS Missionaries who were ministering at various schools, including Harvard, MIT and BU.
“That was a great community of people who, just by their life witness, by their example, were really inspiring. We prayed a lot. They were a very normal, cool and diverse group of people who loved God,” he said.
Doug said he was very impressed with his son’s dedication to the faith while in college, opting to go on mission trips, such as one to Jamaica, where he worked with Missionaries of the Poor, during spring break instead of places like Daytona Beach.
Following his internship, Deacon Ryan entered Our Lady of Providence Seminary, before going on to Pontifical North American College, where he studied at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.
“Rome’s been a real gift, it’s been a real blessing. It’s certainly an experience that has grown on me. I didn’t love it at first as it was far from home,” he said.
A lover of all things history and geography, Deacon Ryan marveled at the 2,500-year-old city and its offerings from every era. He said it was a real privilege to be there and to see so many beautiful churches, where so many saints are interred.
He said that it has also been a gift to bond with the other five Providence seminarians studying there. He looks forward to spending another year with the group following his ordination, when he returns to Rome for one additional year to earn a licentiate in sacred theology.
“I think it’s great; we’re a diverse group, we’re pretty different personalities but we get along well and it’s a gift to be together,” he said. “We’re forming a brotherhood that hopefully will continue into the priesthood.”
He knows that there will be challenges for that brotherhood to face once they are all ordained as priests.
But as much as people today lament the shortage of priests, Deacon Ryan feels strongly that there is also a shortage of faith. He said that the number of priests is probably proportional to the number of people going to Mass.
“It’s a challenging time, but with God it’s not insurmountable, we just have to do our best,” he said. “It’s an exciting time, too, because people are hungry for something, they’re looking for the truth. They just don’t know where to look. We’ve been blessed to have our faith, and it’s a gift from God to have faith and to have experiences in the Church that we’ve had, so positive and so good and so to bring that good news to other people is a great first step.
Doug and Anne Ryan were native New Yorkers who grew up as parishioners of churches in the Diocese of Rockville Center, New York, where Bishop Henning served before coming to Providence.
The two met in upstate New York while in college, marrying in 1982 and settling in Coventry, where they had five children: Casey, 36; Maura, 34; twins Dennis and Bridget, 30; and Deacon Patrick, 28. They also have a grandson who lives in Florida.
Doug, now retired, worked for FedEx for 30 years, while Anne first taught elementary school before going to teach at New England Tech, where she began as an instructor before becoming a Reading Center tutor, then director of the Academic Skills Center. She retired two years ago.
“I’m so fortunate to have my parents as rocks in my life. They stayed together for 41 years and always brought us to church,” Deacon Ryan said.
The family are lifelong members of SS. John and Paul Parish in Coventry, where Deacon received all his sacraments, as well as some no pressure spiritual guidance from his longtime pastor, now retired, Father Paul Grenon.
“He was a good influence. He was my pastor from about 2003, when I was about eight or nine years old, and he was pastor until I was a year in the seminary, in 2018. He was always a great example of a priest to me, but in college he was also a mentor. I could see him on my breaks, and he would take me to lunch and breakfast,” he said of the priest he has chosen to vest him at ordination.
“He never pushed me towards the priesthood, but he encouraged me, saying it’s a good life. It’s not an easy life, but it’s not that hard. And we need men to step up to do it.”