Name: Father Philip Ryan
Years ordained: 53
Current assignment: Retired
How did you know you were being called to the priesthood?
I had a moment of awareness when I was in high school. It came and it went, just like that. Upon graduation from high school, my parents thought it was best for me to go to a Catholic college. An older brother had attended St. Ambrose University (College) and so I enrolled there. I was living off the main campus in a building owned by the college and used for a residence hall. A teacher, Father Sebastian Menke, was dean of the building and also an instructor in Latin. I had signed up for introductory Latin. He was kind to me in a manly way.
I believe he was my personal door to purposefully seek entry into the seminary department at St. Ambrose. I spoke to him about it at the end of my freshman year at St. Ambrose. Late in the summer, I spoke to my parents and pastor, Father Gerald Lillis, and entered the seminary the fall semester of my sophomore year.
Aside from your ordination Mass, what was your most memorable Mass?
No one Mass stands out as most memorable. Funeral Masses for my parents, sister and other family are vividly in my memory. Fine celebrations of Easter, Christmas and other great feasts are stored in my memory and heart. Grand celebrations of ordination anniversaries are still nourishing me. Recalling the kind celebrations by parishioners when I was leaving their parishes for a new assignment, I still hold those memories dearly.
What is most rewarding about being a priest?
The hope, confidence and trust ordinary Catholic people place in you. They ask for your prayers, are pleased to include you in their family gatherings and bring you prepared food. This is not because of me being Phil Ryan, but because I am graced with the office and ministry of an ordained priest.
When I came to retire in my hometown of Brooklyn, people said, “It is nice to see a light on at night in the rectory.” People confide in you their hopes and fears, their ideas, hurts and sins, seek healing and, in the matter of sin, seek the assurance of God’s love and the words of God’s forgiveness. Being retired and in reasonably good health, I have the privilege and joy of assisting in various parishes. How many people in our world can go to a parish that they do not belong to, find many faith-filled people gathered in hope, glad to see them, welcoming them and appreciating them for leading them in the Eucharist? They thank you for coming (and upon occasion compliment you on your sermon ). Talk about fulfillment, job satisfaction and finding the energy and reason to keep on doing what you are doing. This is it.
What is most challenging about being a priest?
That God in his love has so much to offer to people in and through the Church, and I am intimately involved in all of this as a minister of Word and sacraments in and for the Church. And yet many people walk away; others seem minimally concerned and involved in all that is offered to them by God. Maybe it is like a mother who prepares a fine meal. Some family may not show up. Others partake of some of that which is offered without showing appreciation. And yet there are always some who faithfully come, eat heartily, join in the community spirit and show real appreciation. These latter help you to keep on your way.
What is your favorite Scripture passage?
“Be still and know that I am God.” — Ps 46:10. It is a constant reminder to me that I am God’s servant and that HE is in charge.
What is your hobby?
My hobby at this moment is writing long responses to simple questions and thus giving rise to space allotment problems to editors. I also read, walk and attempt to view TV in a wise manner.