New Zealand Marist priest Fr Bernard Ryan, who died on February 21 in Sydney, was a remarkably laid back and friendly person, according to fellow Marist Fr Brian Wysocki, SM.
“I have known him for a long time,” Fr Brian said, “since I was a small boy, and he was a family friend.” They lived in the same area of Lower Hutt.
As a young man, he was a fine athlete, and later became a very good athletics coach when he was teaching in Marist schools.
Fr Bernie was someone who put all people at ease, said Fr Brian, especially when he was superior-general of the Order.
“He was superior-general for eight years, at a very challenging time in the Church.
“It would have been in the late 70s and early 80s, I would say, and I think religious were having a lot more freedom — and some weren’t handling that well.”
Fr Bernie was rather disorganised. He had a distinctive lack of formality, which was notable
because formality was part of the priestly image in earlier days.
Fr Brian said he was charming, even to strangers. “Sometimes people mightn’t understand that
this man was the superior general of a religious order, he was so laid back.”
As superior-general he travelled the world, and so knew where the needs were, “and I think
that was why when he finished his term [as superior-general] he went to work in Australia”.
He worked among the Aborigine people for 25 years from about the age of 64.
He was aged 90 when he died.
“I visited him there where he worked . . . and [the Aborigine people] held him in very high regard.”
Fr Bernie was a student of English literature, poetry, and the arts. “I was told that when some of the family heard he was dying,” said Fr Brian,” one of his sisters got out a book of poetry and read them to him.”
He has three sisters: Sr Moya, OCD, Sr Catherine, RSJ, and Lorna, who married and lives in Lower Hutt.
Fr Bernard Ryan’s appointments were: Professed Feb. 2, 1944; ordained Dec. 12, 1949. 1950-1960, St Bede’s College, Christchurch; 1961-1965, Silverstream; Nov. 1965-May 1966, second novitiate; May 1966-Sept. 1968, studies at Kew, England (Corpus Christiì Catechetics);
Sept. 1968- 1970, Silverstream; 1971, St Augustine’s, Wanganui; 1972-1977, rector St John’s College, Hastings; 1973-1977, provincial councillor; 1975-1977, vicar-provincial;Sept. 1977-Sept. 1985, Rome: superior-general; Aug. 1985-1986 studies, USA, Australia; 1986, Mt Street Seminary Extension (Superior); 1987, St Patrick’s College, Wellington, colloquium organiser; 1989- 2013 Australian Aboriginal Mission: Cairns, Kempsey, Bowraville, Macksville; 2014, Marist Community Maryvale/ Montbel.
Fr Ryan’s requiem Mass was at Holy Name of Mary Church in Sydney on February 27. He was buried at Macquarie Park Cemetery.
May he rest in peace.