Father Patrick Ryan, Who Courageously Comforted 1878 Yellow Fever Victims, Re-Entombed At Saints Peter and Paul

Saturday, July 31, 2021 - by John Shearer

During both the late morning and early afternoon Saturday, the bells at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic off East Eighth Street could be heard ringing through downtown for an unusually long time.

 

The action was like a symbolic applause for this man who was considered a hero and someone many local Catholics would like to see declared a saint in part for his work as a servant of God in trying to comfort all Chattanooga victims of the yellow fever epidemic of 1878.

 

It was door-to-door work that caused his own death on Sept.

28 of that year from exposure to the disease spread by bites from infected mosquitoes.

 

“There is no greater gift than to give your life for your friends,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika during a morning mass and blessing of the tomb service inside the church. “Father Ryan did indeed give his life for his friends, friends that were Catholic, and friends that were not Catholic.

 

“His memory is still strong today.”

 

Around 250 or so people filled up about half of the seating area inside the Catholic church for the nearly two-hour, high-church mass. It included hymns such as “Be Thou My Vision,” words by Bishop Stika and other liturgy readers, Eucharist (holy communion) celebration, and a rite of commendation and re-entombment.

 

It was preceded by an automobile procession led by a Chattanooga Funeral Home hearse carrying the remains of Father Ryan in a new casket from the cemetery. It culminated with a walking bagpiper-led procession two blocks along East Eighth Street in a westerly direction to the church.

 

Father Ryan had been the first person interred in Mount Olivet Cemetery on the East Ridge side of Missionary Ridge during a major Chattanooga observance in 1886, and before that had been buried outside the church, which was then on Lindsay Street.

 

The native of County Tipperary, Ireland, had emigrated with his family to New York, and after schooling at St. Vincent’s College in Missouri, he came to serve Chattanooga in 1872 from Clarksville.

 

During his time in Chattanooga, he helped start what is now Notre Dame High School in 1876. The bell rung Saturday from the tower was also acquired during his time and has his name inscribed on it. It was moved to the current basilica when the ornate church was built in 1890, officials said.

 

He was not related to Abram Ryan, who served as a priest in Nashville during the Civil War and the man for whom Father Ryan High School there is named, officials said, adding they also learned there were countless Patrick Ryans born in that Irish county during that time.

 

The service was actually the first step in the process toward sainthood, described as the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God.

 

Diocese of Knoxville director of communications Jim Wogan said Saturday that the four-step process that first began in 2016 might take a while. Father Ryan has been designated a servant of God, the first step, by the bishop, and the other steps include veneration, beatification and canonizing, with the final two requiring miracles.  

 

The Very Rev. J. David Carter, the pastor and rector of Saints Peter and Paul, said a committee of inquiry has been gathering research and will send it on to Rome in hopes the church will declare him venerable before Christmas.

 

“We have interviewed those who claim favors of intercession of him,” Rev. Carter said. “We have interviewed some of them. None of them are candidates for official miracles but we are open to this possibility.”

 

Officials added that the exhumation of Father Ryan from Mount Olivet Cemetery was quite a process that began on Monday and included eventually finding a casket that was deeper in the ground than thought.

 

 “It took us longer than expected to find the casket,” said Mr. Wogan. “But despite some of the delays, it went better than expected.”

 

As part of the process toward honoring Father Ryan, an identification of remains has to be made, and officials said they decided to go ahead and re-entomb Father Ryan at Saints Peter and Paul in a new tomb while doing that. It was constructed above the floor in the front right corner of the basilica’s seating area.

 

Church leaders said the body was in a cast-iron casket and had been preserved through the help of arsenic, which was commonly used in embalming in the late 1800s. The well-preserved bones were properly placed in the new casket by those involved in the process following help from some trained hazardous materials workers.

 

A number of other relics were found with the casket, including vestments such as a stole and a scapular shoulder garment of Our Lady, and a wooden crucifix.

 

Church leaders hope to display the coffin and relics in the future as a memorial to Father Ryan.

 

Following the service, Rev. Carter called the day a meaningful one not only for Saints Peter and Paul, but also for the Catholic church.

 

“The Catholic church has been in the news lately a lot for the sins of her priests (due to the clergy sexual abuse scandal), and today it is our hope that the Catholic church is in the news for the bright lights and the ones who really lived out the priestly ministry that Jesus Christ entrusted to His church.

 

“Father Patrick Ryan was a true priest who all priests should try to emulate, who offered his whole life to the sheep as their shepherd.

 

“It should overshadow all the other bad things, not to cover them up, but to say there has been bad but there has been good, also.”

 

* * *

 

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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