A priest who has worked in the Maori mission in New Zealand since the 1950s has been honoured by Pope Francis.

Pa Mikaere (Michael) Ryan, MHM, was presented with the papal medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice at a Sunday Mass at Te Unga Waka marae in Epsom on December 16.

Pa Mikaere Ryan, MHM, with his medal, accompanied by Pa Peter Tipene.

The medal was presented by Pa Peter Tipene, the dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland, who stood in for Bishop Patrick Dunn on this occasion.

Pa Tipene told the congregation that Pa Ryan, 90, would be able to tell stories about whanau of just about everyone present at that Mass.

“Pa, you have been a wonderful link. You knew my grandparents, I didn’t really know them all that well, but I heard Pa telling stories,” Pa Tipene said.

“We thank you for the gift that you are, not just to our Catholic Maori, but to the Maori world, throughout New Zealand and the world.”

Pa Tipene noted that the New Zealand bishops had wanted to honour Pa Ryan, and sent a lengthy list of his accomplishments to Rome with the medal nomination.

“They listed a whole litany of details . . . that’s not hard to do with Pa, you could write a book about what he has done for our people and for the Church.

“The award is in recognition of your many years of service of Katorika (Catholic) Maori, – all Maori – especially your help with Maori translation work, of which you have been a pivotal part.”

Pa Ryan grew up in England and, after his seminary training as a Mill Hill missionary priest, arrived in New Zealand aboard the Zuider Kruis Dutch emigrant boat in January, 1954.

At the Te Unga Waka Mass, he said the thought of all the people who had helped him along the way.

“I have had terrific luck in my life,” he said.

Pa Ryan spoke of the Mill Hill missionary spirit, which involved going to a country, learning the language of the people, and being very practical.

“If you have got to do it, then do it,” he said, noting the many churches built in this country by Mill Hill priests.

He told a story about a grandmother of Pa Tipene’s. This woman had played in a netball game that Pa Ryan refereed.

She once gave the Mill Hill priest 50 pounds, which, with the permission of his superior, Pa Ryan used to buy a tape recorder. He would play recordings in Te Reo Maori while driving a car, thereby helping him learn the language.

“Thank God for good memories,” he said.