Life of Fr. Patrick Ryan celebrated at Closing Session of Tribunal in sainthood cause
By Gabrielle Nolan
The Diocese of Knoxville is one step closer in the cause for beatification and canonization of Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan.
The Closing Session of the Tribunal of the Diocese of Knoxville for the inquiry examining the life, virtues, offering of life, reputation of holiness, and signs of intercessory power of the Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan took place on Sept. 28 at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, the second bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville who served in East Tennessee from 1999-2007, was the celebrant of the historic occasion.
Clergy in attendance were Father David Carter, episcopal delegate for the cause and rector of the basilica; Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the diocese; Deacon Gaspar DeGaetano, vice postulator for the cause; Father John Orr, promoter of justice for the cause; Deacon Hicks Armor, notary; Father Michael Hendershott, associate pastor of Holy Ghost Parish in Knoxville; Monsignor Al Humbrecht, pastor of Holy Spirit in Soddy-Daisy; Father Mark Schuster, pastor of St. Alphonsus in Crossville; Father Michael Woods, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Fairfield Glade; Father Michael Nolan, pastor of St. Thérèse of Lisieux in Cleveland; and Father Nick Tran, priest in residence at the basilica. Deacon Wade Eckler also was present.
The Closing Session occurred in the context of Liturgy of the Hours’ Evening Prayer, the office for the dead for the season of ordinary time. During the evening’s session, participants recited hymns, antiphons, psalms and intercessions, and listened to a reading and prayers.
Archbishop Kurtz delivered the homily at the beginning of the Closing Session.
“Dear friends, this day is a historic day. Not only in the life of the city of Chattanooga, but most especially in the life of this Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, and also in the life of the Diocese of Knoxville and the life of the Church,” Archbishop Kurtz said.
He gave thanks to Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Knoxville, who could not be in attendance.
“I begin by saying a word of thanks to Archbishop Shelton, the archbishop and metropolitan of Louisville and the administrator of the Diocese of Knoxville, for his gracious invitation for me to come to be his celebrant and stand in his place,” Archbishop Kurtz said.
Archbishop Kurtz also thanked Father Carter and Deacon DeGaetano, who “had the gift of taking the first step” with Father Ryan’s cause.
“Now if I began to thank other people, we would be here until tomorrow morning because legion are the number of people who have brought us to this blessed occasion,” Archbishop Kurtz said.
He asked those in attendance to look at the front cover of their programs.
“Today is a very important step in the life of a road toward canonization,” he said. “Father Carter told me that the officials in Rome said remember when you give an image of Patrick Ryan, do not put a halo on his head yet. But this is a very, very important day.”
Archbishop Kurtz acknowledged the table near the altar that held the nine volumes of pre-sealed documentation to be sent to the Holy See.
“Those of you who see the bound versions of the final study for the cause know that it’s just a page or two shy of 2,000 pages. An exhaustive study required by the Church if we are to present someone to the Vatican for canonization,” the archbishop shared.
The documents for the inquiry included 1,891 pages. Three copies were required; one copy will remain in the Diocese of Knoxville archives collection, while the other two copies have been sent to Rome. Because of the three copies, there was a total of almost 6,000 pages.
The volumes included procedural documents involving decrees and appointments from Roman officials and the ordinary of Knoxville, oaths from nominees, and letters from the local officials of the Cause for Sainthood, required for each step of the Inquiry in the Diocese of Knoxville; testimony from witnesses about Father Ryan’s reputation of holiness; testimony from historical witnesses knowledgeable about Father Ryan and the yellow fever epidemic; and testimony from witnesses of intercessory favors of Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan.
The majority of the work consists of the Historical Commission Report, including archived historical documents about the life and times of Father Ryan and his priesthood, the Dioceses of Nashville and Knoxville, the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, and archive images of people he knew. Also included is evidence of the devotion to Father Ryan within the Diocese of Knoxville.
Father Ryan was pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish from 1872-78. When the yellow fever epidemic of 1878 spread to Chattanooga, the diocesan priest ministered to those who fell ill from the contagion. While serving the sick and needy, he contracted the dreaded disease and died on Sept. 28, 1878.
Archbishop Kurtz addressed the reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15.
“Immediately after [Paul] speaks in that passage of the resurrected body, says, as you heard, these few verses: ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the cause of the sting of death is the law.’ But thanks be to God for the victory of Jesus Christ. The canonization of a person is about witnessing to the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death. And so, we come before us with the life of Father Patrick Ryan,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Kurtz mentioned that before the ceremony began, he had the privilege of watching the premiere showing of “Father Ryan: A Higher Call” on the Eternal Word Television Network in the parish hall. The docudrama, which had previous showings around the diocese, was featured on EWTN on Sept. 28 as the date marked the 145th anniversary of Father Ryan’s passing.
The archbishop asked that Father Carter and the two architects of the film, husband-and-wife-duo Marc Aramian and Veronica DiPippo, to raise their hands.
“We want to thank you for the great, great gift that you have given us. And those of you who have not seen that hour program that was just on EWTN, you’ll have sleepless nights until you finally see what a great gift we have,” the archbishop said. “It tells a wonderful story. It’s the story of a young man who was born in Ireland in poverty. He’s a young man who came to the United States, ended up feeling the call by God to become a priest. And indeed was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Nashville, served in Clarksville, Tenn., and then was assigned, I believe in 1872, to become the pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church, not yet a basilica. And during the six years in which he served, he made great, great friends and admirers.”
“Now the question is,” the archbishop continued, “did he reflect a conviction of the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death? When he was confronted with yellow fever—and you know how many people in 1872 died here in Chattanooga of yellow fever—he did not flee from the ravages. Instead, he ministered to the people he was called to serve. Now some might say, cynically, well maybe he served in order to promote himself, to show himself the heroic one, to show himself good in the eyes of others. And that’s why we have 2,000 pages of testimony. To let us know, and my belief after studying and reading, is that the cause of canonization will move forward, and it will move forward we hope and pray because of three things.”
Archbishop Kurtz focused on the characteristics of heroic, holy, and humble.
“We celebrate, first of all, the gift of a hero. The heroic action of someone who sees a need to do something well, knows the fears and the risks involved and nevertheless goes forward. We’re told that the famous actor, John Wayne, some of you would remember John Wayne, he said that courage is being afraid but still getting on the horse,” the archbishop shared. “I was reflecting, and I thought to myself, did he not find his heart and soul filled with fear? Was he not aware of those who were dying all around him? And yet, he began to go door-to-door to the homes of people, many of whom were deathly poor and deathly sick, in order to minister to them. And as Father Carter said in the docudrama today, to be able to bring the sacraments of Christ to others. He was heroic.”
“Secondly, we honor him because he was not only heroic, but he also in his own blessed way was someone who showed holiness, who showed a love of Christ and a love and a desire to follow Christ as a saint. He did so in the manner in which he not only prayed but also conveyed the sacraments to those in need and those who are distant.”
“And the last H, humility. There is no record, there is no record that we know of in which he himself boasted about the work that he had done. And so we have those three H’s: heroic, holy, humble. Boy, our world needs examples of people who are heroic. In a culture in which we seem to glorify the anti-hero, the person who, if he has a fault, let’s make sure everybody knows about it, but not to lift up the example of someone who goes beyond the call of duty to serve others. We need the hero in our lives. We need the person who shows himself or herself to be filled with holiness, with a desire to follow Jesus Christ. And we need a person who’s willing in many ways to be humble. The world will offer the glitter of those three temptations that we’re told were the temptations of the devil to Jesus in the desert of pleasure, possessions, and power. And for someone to turn his or her back on those in order instead to follow the path of Christ is a saintly act. It is a step that we’re taking, but we ask for His help,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Kurtz said that he prayed those in attendance would be more than just spectators of the event but be inspired and “allow ourselves, through God’s grace, to become a saint.”
He concluded his homily with a story about one of the most famous saints in the Catholic Church, St. Teresa of Calcutta.
“Back in 1976 I was serving as a priest in a foreign country by the name of Pennsylvania,” the archbishop quipped. “And at St. Thomas More Parish, I remember it distinctly, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, came to give a talk. … She spoke with a whisper, and we all leaned forward in order to hear what she was saying. And she spoke in very plain language about simply seeing people in the streets of Calcutta who had not a home or anything to put over their heads, and she could not turn her back on them. She was so inspiring that a man in the first pew, halfway through her talk, stood up in the middle of the church and said, ‘Mother Teresa, you inspire me; I want to come back with you to Calcutta.’ And what she said to him that day I’ll never forget.
“She said, ‘Sir, thank you, but the person that Jesus wants you to serve is already at your doorstep.’ You and I, inspired by the example of Father Patrick Ryan, now 145 years deceased, are asked to look at who is at our doorstep. For whom are we called to be heroic? To be holy? And to do so in a manner that is humble, befitting of Jesus Christ? It’s only when we cease to be spectators and become followers of Jesus, announcing as did Patrick Ryan, I believe in the victory of Jesus Christ over sin and death, that you and I will truly be touched by this cause for canonization. God love you,” Archbishop Kurtz said.
Following the homily came the reading of the Decree of Conclusion and the Swearing of the Oath of the Ordinary.
Archbishop Kurtz read the following in place of Archbishop Fabre:
“I, the undersigned Most Rev. Shelton J. Fabre, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Knoxville, by law, the competent authority in the Diocesan Inquiry on the offering of life and the fama sanctitatis ac signorum of the Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan, having heard the Episcopal Delegate, in conformity with Article 144 §1, 1 of the instruction Sanctorum Mater, DECLARE the definitive conclusion of the Diocesan Inquiry, enabling the Cause to proceed to the celebration of the Closing Session on Sept. 28, 2023, at 5:30 p.m., at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, having completed the last formalities by the norm of law. Furthermore, since I am not going to be present at the Closing Session and have delegated that role to Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, hereby swear to have faithfully fulfilled my task in the Diocesan Inquiry on the offering of life and the fama sanctitatis ac signorum of the Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan; I further swear to maintain the secret of office, so help me God. Given at Knoxville on the seventeenth day of August in the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty-three. Signed by MOST REV. SHELTON J. FABRE, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Knoxville and DCN. SEAN SMITH, Chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville.”
Following came the Presentation of the Acts and Swearing of the Oaths by the officials of the Tribunal, including Father Carter, as episcopal delegate for the cause; Father Orr, as promoter of justice for the cause; Deacon Armor, as notary for the cause; Marie A. Martin, as notary for the cause; Rebecca Dempsey, as adjunct notary for the cause; Jennifer Morris Haug, as adjunct notary for the cause; and Deacon DeGaetano, as vice postulator for the cause.
Dr. Waldery Hilgeman, the postulator for the cause, was unable to be present due to health reasons but had signed his oath of conclusion.
Each of the officials of the Tribunal stated the following oath:
“In the name of God, Amen. I, [NAME], appointed as the [TITLE] for the Cause of Beatification and Canonization concerning the life, virtues, offering of life, reputation of holiness, and signs of intercessory power of the Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan, swear to have faithfully fulfilled my task in the Diocesan Inquiry. I further swear to maintain the secret of office, so help me God.”
Additionally, Deacon DeGaetano swore an oath as carrier of the documents to “hand over the transcript and public copy of the Diocesan Inquiry” to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints in Rome.
Following the oaths came the sealing of the documents. Each set of documents was sealed in brown paper wrapping, tied with red ribbon, and secured with wax to ensure that there was no tampering upon the documents arriving in Rome.
Lastly was the Signing of the Instrument of Closure, where Archbishop Kurtz stated the following:
“I, the undersigned Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, Archbishop Emeritus of Louisville, appointed as the Delegate of Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre for this Session, by law the competent authority as Ordinary of the Diocese of Knoxville, concerning the Diocesan Inquiry on the offering of life and the fama sanctitatis ac signorum of the Servant of God Fr. Patrick Ryan, in compliance with Article 150 of the Instruction Sanctorum Mater, declare that on September 28, 2023, in my presence, with the Episcopal Delegate, Promoter of Justice, Notaries, Adjunct Notaries, Postulator, and Vice Postulator present, during the celebration of the last Session of the Inquiry, the closing and sealing of the boxes containing the Archetype, and the two copies conforming to the original, was carried out. On the outside of the four packages containing the transcript and the four packages containing the public copy was attached an inscription by me, furnished with my signature and that of the Notary, that describes the contents therein and the definitive Closing Session that occurred. Given at Chattanooga on the 28th day of September in the year of Our Lord two thousand and twenty-three.”
After the conclusion of the session, there was a reception held in the parish hall.
Denice Eckler, a parishioner of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Chattanooga, attended the event because of her family.
“My husband [Wade] is a deacon, and he also serves here at the basilica in the mornings, and my daughter was very interested in seeing something that we’ve never seen before,” Mrs. Eckler said.
“This is really a historical and spiritual event that we were privileged enough to attend. Just beautiful to be able to attend evening prayer and then watch the closing of the ceremony,” she added.
Mrs. Eckler considers Father Ryan to be an inspiration to others.
“I think Archbishop Emeritus Kurtz said it well when he said that courage is acting even when you are afraid, and we can all use that example. Going into the unknown but knowing that we’re serving the Lord can be a very beautiful example,” she said.
Brian Labudde, a new parishioner at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, attended the event for his children.
“We wanted to bring our children so they could see the process and learn the process of someone being declared a saint,” he shared. “And… even though we’re new residents of Chattanooga and Tennessee, we’re definitely proud of Father Patrick Ryan, and I think that he serves as a model for my children to live a heroic life and to live for someone else, not just for himself. And that’s what I want to show my children.”
As guests enjoyed food and fellowship, Archbishop Kurtz made his rounds greeting the people of the diocese he once served.
“Oh, what a grace it was. I was so pleased that Archbishop Shelton gave permission for me to do so,” he said. “And I knew I would enjoy it, but I didn’t think I’d enjoy it this much. And first of all, the ceremony was beautiful and uplifting, and then seeing the hour program on EWTN made it even more meaningful for me. And, of course, seeing my brother priests and so many laypeople, it doesn’t take long to think, yeah I feel like I just was here.”
Archbishop Kurtz said there is a “certain simplicity” in the life of Father Patrick Ryan.
“He didn’t necessarily choose a place that had yellow fever; yellow fever came to him,” he said. “And in everybody’s life there’s going to be certain things that we plan and certain things that we don’t plan. And the manner in which we respond is really where God’s grace is alive in us. … But especially the fact that you don’t have to go seeking some special thing; God’s plan comes to you. And that’s what happened with Father Ryan, and he responded in a generous way.”
For more information about Father Patrick Ryan and his cause for sainthood, visit frpatrickryan.com.