Fr. Ryan sainthood documents go to Vatican officials

Fr. Carter, Deacon DeGaetano deliver vital information to Holy See

By John Burger, Aleteia

Another case of a possible saint from the United State is now in the hands of the Vatican.

Father Carter and Deacon Degaetano show the Vatican receipt for the documents. Courtesy Aletieia.

Representatives from the Diocese of Knoxville have delivered to the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints all the paperwork that was done for the cause of Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan, an Irish-born priest who gave up his life ministering during a yellow fever epidemic in the late 19th century.

In addition to his death in service of others, Father Ryan also is remembered for having brought the order of nuns now known as the Nashville Dominicans to his parish.

Deacon Gaspar DeGaetano, vice postulator for the cause, delivered the documents along with Father David Carter, episcopal delegate to the cause, and others on Oct. 4.

In an interview, Deacon DeGaetano said he believes it is only the second cause to be introduced under a new category that Pope Francis introduced in 2017: the free offering of one’s life, where sainthood is conferred because the person knowingly put himself in danger for the benefit of others.

Father Ryan, when pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish (now basilica) in Chattanooga, gave his life in ministering to people who had yellow fever in the epidemic of 1878. He was 33 years old.

The South had a particularly bad epidemic of yellow fever that year. Father Ryan and the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church—good friends—were among just 1,800 people who stayed in Chattanooga, while some four-fifths of the population fled from the pandemic.

Insisting on caring for the victims, Father Ryan came down with yellow fever himself on Sept. 26, 1878. He was much sicker on the morning of Sept. 27, and his newly ordained younger brother, Michael, administered the last sacraments to his older brother. Father Patrick died on the morning of Sept. 28, 1878.

It was Deacon DeGaetano’s idea to initiate the cause when he transferred his Knights of Columbus membership to the council at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, where Father Ryan had been pastor. Council 610 is named for Father Ryan. He suggested to Father Carter, who is rector of the basilica, that it was time to start a cause of canonization for Father Ryan.

Father Carter agreed. So did Bishop Richard F. Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville, who in 2016 petitioned the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to advance the cause. The bishops voted to do so. Deacon DeGaetano formed a historical commission to prepare the paperwork for Rome.

Father David Carter and Deacon Gaspar DeGaetano are joined by, from left, basilica parishioner Corinne Henderson, Father Matthew Donahue, and Dr. Emanuele Spedicato. Courtesy Aletieia.

Along the way, the diocese exhumed Father Ryan’s body and reinterred it in the Basilica of St. Peter and Paul. Father Ryan was not found to be incorrupt, as Deacon DeGaetano was hoping, but his vestments were. He said the diocese is planning to put those vestments on display.

Just days before the presentation of the documents in Rome, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville on Sept. 28 presided over the closing session of the Tribunal of Inquiry that examined the life, Christian virtues, heroic offering of life, reputation for holiness, and signs of intercessory power of Father Ryan. Archbishop Kurtz, who served as Bishop of Knoxville from 1999 to 2007, placed his wax seal on bundles of papers that would be taken to the Vatican.

That day, as well, the basilica presented a documentary about the hoped-for saint, “Father Ryan: A Higher Call,” directed by Veronica DiPippo and produced by Marc Aramian. The film crew agreed to make it at cost.

For Deacon DeGaetano, the next step is to spread knowledge of the cause and “get people to pray for Father Ryan’s intercession” for a miracle. There have already been several interesting “favors” reported after people prayed to Father Ryan.

“There have been a couple of cases that bordered on the miraculous,” the deacon said, but none has risen to the level of a miracle—the proof needed for beatification and then canonization.

Father Ryan joins a number of other Americans, including Blessed Michael McGivney, Dorothy Day, Augustus Tolton, and the Shreveport Martyrs, whose causes for canonization are being considered by Rome.


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