Tennessee—The Volunteer State. It’s been the home to Davy Crockett, three U.S. Presidents, and the first admiral of the United States Navy, David Farragut. The list is long and distinguished of the legendary citizens that have graced the soil of this most blessed state. Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the 16th state on June 1, 1796. Tennessee was the last state to leave the Union and join the Confederacy at the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War in 1861. Seventeen years later, perhaps its greatest legend or perhaps a saint, was born.
Father Patrick Ryan was born in 1845 near Nenagh, County Tippery, Ireland. He was of a good family, but his parents were evicted from their home by a ruthless landlord and forced to emigrate. They settled in New York, where Patrick grew to young manhood.
In his quest to be a priest, he entered St. Vincent’s College, Cape Girardeau, Missouri in October of 1866. Although he was no genius, says one of his schoolmates, he was one of the soundest and most reliable students in the seminary and was noted for his common sense. He excelled in athletics, and few could equal him in handball. He was ordained a priest in the summer of 1869.
He eventually landed on his feet in Chattanooga, where he took charge in July of 1872. In the decade from 1870-1880, the population increased from just over 6,000 to almost 13,000, thanks in large part to the Chattanooga Iron Works. It was because of this population growth and professing Catholics, which Father Ryan help found the Minor Basilica on East Eighth Street.
During his time in Chattanooga, Father Ryan had faced many difficulties within his parish. The city was just recovering from a series of disastrous fires that had destroyed much of the business district, and a cholera epidemic threatened the residents in 1873. To make things even worse, a massive flood came in 1875, and along with it came “Yellow Fever.”
By 1878, four-fifths of the population rushed to leave the city, but Father Ryan stayed behind to minister to his flock. Eyewitnesses reported seeing him going door to door in the worst-infected parts of the town to see what he could do for the sick and needy. The amazing thing is that he continued to minister even after contracting the dreaded disease.
Jim Wogan, the Director of Communications at the Diocese of Knoxville, recently spoke with Father David Carter, the rector at Sts. Peter and Paul and he was quoted as saying “Here we have a priest who could very easily have fled the city, or stayed away from the areas that were afflicted with the ravages of the Yellow Fever,”
“But following an impulse of great charity, Father Ryan went into those places, stayed, and ministered to the people that contracted the disease, and died from it while ministering to his people in a very heroic way.”
On June 14, Bishop Stika signed a decree officially establishing the Diocese of Knoxville as the petitioner of the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Rev. Patrick J. Ryan. By Bishop Stika’s decree and documents signed at the Chancery on Aug. 9, the cause for sainthood for Fr. Ryan is now open, and he considered a Servant of God, the initial phase of a rigorous process of being pronounced a saint by the Church.
“Father Ryan was a man of holiness and a man of Christ who through his efforts to minister to the sick became ill himself. He gave his life for people in trouble,” Bishop Stika said.
“The Bible reminds us that Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down your life for another. Fr. Ryan did that.”