Ryan, John, 1849-1922, Jesuit priest

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Ryan, John, 1849-1922, Jesuit priest

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27 October 1849-14 July 1922


Born: 27 October 1849, County Limerick
Entered: 22 April 1879, Sevenhill, Australia - Austriaco-Hungaricae Province (ASR-HUN)
Ordained: 1872, Rome, Italy - pre Entry
Final Vows: 15 August 1890, Australia
Died: 14 July 1922, Malvern, Melbourne, Australia

Superior of the Irish Jesuit Mission to Australia Mission : 30 September 1894; 11 February 1901-1908; 09 April 1913-1917

Part of the St Ignatius College, Manresa, Norwood, Adelaide, Australia community at the time of death.

◆ Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University online :
Ryan, John (1849–1922)
by Daniel A. Madigan
Daniel A. Madigan, 'Ryan, John (1849–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ryan-john-8314/text14581, published first in hardcopy 1988

Catholic priest

Died : 15 July 1922, Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

John Ryan (1849-1922), Jesuit priest, was born on 27 October 1849 at Limerick, Ireland, only child of Thomas Ryan and his wife Catherine, née Butler. He was educated at The Crescent, Limerick, and, having begun in 1869 his ecclesiastical studies at the Irish College, Rome, was ordained there on 1 November 1874. The training Ryan received there under Monsignor Tobias Kirby rooted him firmly in the tradition of Ireland's Cardinal Cullen and gave him much in common with Australia's Irish episcopacy. Early in 1872 he had been recruited for the diocese of Maitland, New South Wales, by Bishop Murray, but soon after his arrival there in August 1875, he was appointed president of the new St Charles' Seminary at Bathurst. To the delight of its founder, Bishop Matthew Quinn, he set about recreating his Roman Alma Mater in Bathurst. Ryan, who since 1873 had been considering joining the Society of Jesus, was accepted as a novice on 27 March 1879. He made his first vows on 27 April 1881.

By temperament and training Ryan had a concern for order and a talent for administration which proved a windfall for the Jesuit mission in Australia. Considerable expansion in the late 1870s, a shortage of capable manpower from Ireland and the financial burdens brought about by the depression of the 1890s all contributed to the poor state of the mission at the turn of the century. Quite soon after becoming a Jesuit, he was put in positions of authority and responsibility as rector of St Patrick's College, East Melbourne (1886-90), of St Ignatius' College, Riverview, Sydney (1890-97) and of Xavier College, Melbourne (1897-1900). He was often exasperated by the careless administration of his predecessors. During his two terms (1901-08, 1913-17) as superior of the Australian Jesuits his competent administration proved crucial to the survival of their enterprise.

At the same time Ryan continued to serve the Australian Catholic Church at large, which was also facing a period of consolidation. He shared Cardinal Moran's vision of a firmly established and organised Church in which the clergy were well trained and obedient to their bishops, and the laity were adequately cared for and regular in their religious practice—a similar transformation to that wrought by Cullen in Ireland after the famine. With Michael Watson, S.J., Ryan began a devotional magazine, the Australian Messenger of the Sacred Heart, in 1887. His help was enlisted by the Presentation Sisters and later by the Sisters of Mercy in attempts to amalgamate their disparate convents, which the bishops had founded rather haphazardly with sisters recruited ad hoc from Ireland. He was committed to the spiritual formation of the clergy and the religious, through an extensive retreat ministry, and of lay people through the fostering of sodalities and popular devotions. Although Ryan and Daniel Mannix held very different views, Ryan won the respect of the wily prelate in negotiations for the foundation of Newman College at the University of Melbourne. 'Ripe in years and ripe in work', said Mannix, he died at Malvern on 15 July 1922 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew.

Select Bibliography
U. M. L. Bygott, With Pen and Tongue (Melb, 1980)
Argus (Melbourne), 17 July 1922
Advocate (Melbourne), 20 July 1922
D. A. Madigan, John Ryan, S.J.—a Contribution to Australian Catholicism 1875-1922 (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1977), and for bibliography.

◆ HIB Menologies SJ :
Taken from the “Advocate” 20 July 1922
“Born in Limerick 1849, Father Ryan studied at the Irish College Rome, and on the completion of his ecclesiastical studies he came to Australia. There he was appointed President of St Stanislaus College Bathurst before that was handed over to the Vincentians. In April 1879 he was admitted to the Society of Jesus. While Rector in St Patrick’s College Melbourne in 1886, he took charge of a flourishing Sodality there, which included among its members many of the prominent Catholic laymen of the day. During his Rectorate he also established the :Messenger of the Sacred Heart”, which he supervised for many years, which owes much of its success to his careful management.
In 1890 he was transferred to Riveview, and was Rector there until 1897. In June of 1897 he was appointed to take charge of Xavier College, Kew. His period of office there coincided with the difficult times of the land boom, but he triumphed ..... by his sound administration and careful financing.
From 1901-1907 and again 1913-1917 he was Superior of the Australian Mission, and he carried out this office with conspicuous success.
When he finished as Mission Superior he worked in Parishes at Sydney and Adelaide.
In failing health he returned to Melbourne, and he died at Malvern. His friendliness and unfailing kindness won him many friends, and he commanded the respect of all with whom he came in contact. His long experience and Theological attainments made his opinion of Church, education and general matters much sought for, and he was able to be of great service to the work of the Religious Orders and Church in Australia.
Dr Daniel Mannix, Archbishop of Melbourne, presided at the Requiem in Richmond, and at the conclusion said ‘If Father Ryan had his own wish, no words would be uttered over his coffin but the words of the Liturgy. I am not going to violate the spirit of his desire. In Father Ryan we feel that we have all lost a wise counsellor and a trusted and faithful friend. He was well known to the people and Priests of Melbourne, and wherever he was known his character was revered and he was respected. He was not a man to seek popular applause or to attract attention, but, like his Master, he went about doing good unostentatiously and unselfishly, wholly devoted to the work to which his life was consecrated.
He was not an Australian by birth, yet I think that never have I come across any Australian who loved Australia more, or who had more hop in Australia’s future. He was not a Jesuit in the first years of his Ministry, yet I have never come across anyone more truly a Jesuit in heart, mind and soul, and more devoted to the interests of his Society. Were Archbishop Thomas Carr presiding here in my place, I can imagine the words of tender affection in which he would speak of his departed friend. Father Ryan and Archbishop Carr were closely united in their work for many years, and they were closely united in affection. I hope they have now met in a better land where there is no parting. Several times Father Ryan was raised by his own Superiors to the highest position in his Order here in Australia, and when the time came to lay down the burden of Office, he went back into the ranks, the humblest and most zealous of the Priests of the Society.
And so when the last call came for Father Ryan, there was no clinging to life. There was no desire to linger upon the stage when his part had been played. He felt that his work for his Master was done. .......... May we all, but especially the priests of the Society and Melbourne always revere his memory and profit by his example’.”

Note from John Francis O’Brien Entry :
1902 He succeeded Carl Dietel as Superior at Sevenhill. John Ryan Sr wrote “He is very kind and gentle and will look after the old men. He was Superior until 1906.

◆ David Strong SJ “The Australian Dictionary of Jesuit Biography 1848-2015”, 2nd Edition, Halstead Press, Ultimo NSW, Australia, 2017 - ISBN : 9781925043280
Among the outstanding Jesuits who established the Society in Australia during its early years was John Ryan, a former priest of the Bathurst diocese who joined the Jesuits on 22 April 1879 at the age of 30. He had been principal of St Stanislaus' College and St Charles Seminary and had studied for the priesthood at the Irish College, Rome.
In his earlier days he had been educated at the Crescent, Limerick, and studied for the secular priesthood at the Irish College, Rome, where he was ordained in 1872. and then returned to Ireland. In 1875, Dr Matthew Quinn, bishop of Bathurst, being in Ireland looking for priests persuaded Ryan to volunteer for Bathurst and to be principal of his projected college and seminary.
Ryan did his noviceship at Sevenhill, 1880-81and then taught at Riverview 1881-1883. After a year living in the parish of North Sydney preparing for his ad grad examinations, he returned to to Riverview teaching Latin, Greek and Italian. However his administrative and financial talents were quickly recognised and he was appointed rector of St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, 1885-90, where he was also prefect of studies and director of the Apostleship of Prayer and the Sodality of Our Lady He also founded the “Australian Messenger of the Sacred Heart, a periodical that continued until the 1970s, and the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary for gentlemen.
He was next appointed rector of Riverview1890-97where he taught for the public examinations and was a mission consultor. From there he went as rector to Xavier College, Kew 1897-1901, and was then appointed superior of the mission1901-08, living at Richmond. After five years working in the parish of Richmond he was appointed superior of the mission for a second time, 1913-17, and then returned to Richmond and parish duties for a second time.
His final residence was in the parish of Norwood where he worked during 1921-22. During his administrative years he also controlled the finances of the college or mission. Few men in the Society were given so many administrative responsibilities.
Ryan's leadership of St Ignatius' College Riverview which coincided with the 1890s Depression, was a time of academic achievement and sporting success. He founded the debating society in 1881. However, there were declining numbers and in 1890 a debt of£25,000 which lasted for many years.
The transfer of Ryan to Xavier College came at one of the most difficult periods in the history of the school. There were only 34 boarders and 40 day boys in June 1897, as well as a debt of £204,000, and an annual deficit of£2000. In a short time the debt was reduced and the number of students increased. He avoided the mistake that a smaller man might have made. He did not check development in the pursuit of economy The grounds were improved and a new pavilion was built. The college joined the Public Schools of Victoria at this time displacing St Patrick’s College. Ryan also launched a new school journal the Xavierian and began the Old Xaverians' Association.
In dealing with the boys, we are told that he was “firm but urbane”. He impressed all by the quiet strength of his manner and though he made a point of leaving details to his subordinates, when he saw fit to act he was determined and unswerving in his decisions. He kept contact with former students, and had a sound knowledge of their future careers.
As superior of the Irish Mission he negotiated due amalgamation of the Austrian and Irish missions, established the Jesuits in the parish of Toowong, Brisbane and founded Newman College, The University of Melbourne. In addition, he moved St Aloysius' College from Bourke Street, Sydney, to Milsons Point, and negotiated very complex and sensitive questions with the Cardinal-Archbishop of Sydney without making an enemy of Cardinal Moran, which showed great wisdom and tact.
Ryan never considered himself suitable for work in schools and asked to be relieved of his leadership position several times. He preferred parish work and enjoyed a fine reputation as a preacher. At these times he particularly worked as a canonist for various religious orders, especially the Sisters of Mercy. He gave retreats and missions as often as the demands of his position permitted.
His main skills were administrative and financial. He was an extremely meticulous person, and even considered himself “fussy” by insisting on correct procedures and religious discipline among the Jesuits. Ryan capably dealt with the financial problems in every house, and highlighted the problems of manpower and staffing. His work contributed significantly to the consolidation of the Irish Mission at the turn of the 20th century.
As a person he defended those in need and, while even severe with himself, was generally large-hearted with others. He was also a man of great faith and devotion. Finally, he had an eye to history, leaving excellent diaries and notes, encouraging Michael Watson to write a history of the mission. He, himself, wrote the narrative of the Richmond Mission. He was a priest of no mean stamina.

Note from Patrick Keating Entry
John Ryan, mission superior, did not lavish praise upon him. He believed him to be good at administration, but not with finances, not overly strict in discipline; firm and decisive, but easily influenced by anyone of strong mind, cool of temper, but not fatherly or sympathetic, somewhat superficial, cold and at times sarcastic, discouraging more than encouraging.

◆ Irish Province News

Irish Province News 6th Year No 1 1931

From 23 to 27 August, Riverview celebrated the Golden Jubilee of its foundation... The College was founded in 1880 by Fr. Joseph Dalton, He was “wisely daring enough” to purchase a fine property on Lane Cove from Judge Josephson, The property consisted of a cottage containing eight or nine rooms with substantial out offices, and 44 acres of land, at a cost of £4 500. 54 acres were soon added for £1 ,080, and an additional 20 acres later on completed the transaction. This little cottage was the Riverview College of 1880. The modesty of the start may be measured by the facts, that the founder of Riverview, and its first Rector, shared his own bed-room with three of his little pupils , and when the College played its first cricket out match, it could muster only ten boys to meet the opposing team. By the end of the year the number had increased to 15.
In addition to Fr. Dalton's, two other names are inseparably connected with the foundation of Riverview. The first is that of His Grace, Archbishop Vaughan, who invited the Jesuits to Sydney, formally opened the College and gave the Fathers every encouragement.
The second is the name of the great Australian pioneer, the Archpriest Therry. “One hundred years ago”, says one account : “Fr Therry was dreaming of a Jesuit College in Sydney... and when he went to his reward in 1865 he gave it a special place in his final testament”. Fr Lockington called Frs. Dalton and Therry the “co-founders” of Riverview, and added
that it was the wish of the latter to see Irish Jesuits established at Sydney.
An extract from the Catalogue of 1881 will interest many. It is the first time that Riverview is mentioned as a College in the Catalogue :
Collegium et Convictus S. Ignatius
R. P, Josephus Dalton, Sup a die 1 Dec 1879, Proc_ Oper
P. Thomas Gartlan, Min, etc
P. Joannes Ryan, Doc. 2 class. etc
Henricus O'Neill Praef. mor. etc
Domini Auxiliairii duo
Fr. Tom Gartlan is still amongst us, and, thank God, going strong. Soon a brick building (comprising study hall, class rooms and dormitories) wooden chapel, a wooden refectory, were added to the cottage, and in three years the numbers had swelled to 100, most of them day-boys.
The first stage in the history of Riverview was reached in 1889, when the fine block, that up to a recent date served as the College, was opened and blessed by Cardinal Moran.
The second stage was closed last August, when, amidst the enthusiastic cheering of a great gathering of Old Boys, the splendid building put up by Fr. Lockington was officially declared ready to receive the ever increasing crowd of boys that are flocking into Riverview. The College can now accommodate three times as many students as did the old block finished in 1889. Not the least striking part of the new building is the Great Assembly Hall erected by the Old Boys as a memorial to their school-fellows who died during the Great War.

◆ James B Stephenson SJ Menologies 1973

Father John Ryan 1849-1922
Born in Limerick on October 27th 1849, Fr John Ryan studied in the Irish College Rome, and on the completion of his theological studies, came to Australia. He was appointed President of St Stanislaus College Bathurst, before that institution was handed over to the Vincentian Fathers.

In April 1879 he was admitted to the Society of Jesus. While Rector of St Patrick’s College Melbourne in 1886, he took charge of a flourishing Sodality there, which included among its members, many of the prominent Catholic laymen of the day. During his Rectorate he also established the “Messenger of the Sacred Heart”. He became successively, Rector of Riverview and Xavier Colleges. He was Superior of the Mission for two periods, 1901-1907 and 1913-1917. On relinquishing office he returned to parochial work at Richmond and Adelaide.

His geniality and unfailing kindness won him many warm friends, and he commanded great respect in all ranks of society. His long experience and theological attainments made his opinion on Church, educational and general matters much sought for, and he was of great service to the work of the Religious Orders and the Catholic Church in Australia.

Archbishop Mannix said of him in his funeral oration : “He was not a Jesuit in the first years of his ministry, yet I have never come across anyone more truly a Jesuit in heat, mind and soul, and more devoted to the interests of the Society”.

He died at Melbourne in July 1922.

◆ The Xaverian, Xavier College, Melbourne, Australia, 1922


Father John Ryan SJ

Father John Ryan was a native of Ireland, having been born at Limerick in 1849. He made his studies for the priesthood at the Irish College, Rome, and after his ordination he came to Australia. He had experience in administration at St Stanislaus' College, Bathurst, of which he was appointed President before the college was handed over to the direction of the Vincentian Fathers. In April, 1879, he entered the Society of Jesus. In 1886 he became Rector of St Patrick's College, Melbourne, where he took charge of the sodality, which included amongst its members many of the prominent Catholic laymen of the city. There he founded the “Messenger”, a permanent apostolate that lives after him. In 1890 he went as Rector to St Ignatius' College, Riverview, Sydney, where he remained for seven years. In June, 1897, he was appointed Rector of Xavier College. He came at a time when his administrative ability was particularly called for. The Melbourne schools were all suffering as a result of the depression consequent on the land boom. Numbers had fallen with startling suddenness, and financial difficulties were grave. He brought the school through these difficult years with the greatest skill, and in a short time under his government, difficulties were overcome and the school began to grow again. But he avoided the mistake that a smaller man might have made. He did not check development in the pursuit of economy, Believing that the future of the school was assured, he did not hesitate to make ready for the coming years. Under his Rectorship the grounds were greatly improved. The new pavilion was built near its present site. The staff was also steadily strengthened. It was during his time that the step was taken of joining the Associated Public Schools of Victoria and finding that the school journal, “Our Annals”, had ceased to appear, he brought “The Xaverian" into existence and was practically Editor of the first number. He also promoted the foundation of the Old Xaverians Association and was present at the gathering which brought it into being. It is only in these later years that one can see how far-sighted he was and how thoroughly he appreciated the place the school was destined to hold. Īu all these efforts he had the constant help of Mr, now Fr Bernard Page SJ, who shared with him his wide views of the school's future. With the boys he was firm but urbane. While he lacked the dignified presence of his predecessor, the Rev Thomas Browne SJ, he impressed by the quiet strength of his manner, and though he made a point of leaving details to his subordinates, when he saw fit to act, he was determined and unswerving in his decisions. In 1901, after four years of fruitful work, he was appointed Superior of the Australian Jesuits, a post which he held till 1907, and which he again filled from 1913 to 1917. During these years he remained in very close touch with the school, and took the greatest interest in its general and athletic progress. He kept always a great interest in the boys who had passed under him, and had a most accurate knowledge of their careers.. When not engaged in government, he was occupied in the parishes of Richmond and Norwood, and had much to do as a canonist with the work of various Religious Orders. His health failed in Adelaide, and he was for some time seriously ill. When better he was transferred to Sydney, but while in Melbourne on the way to Sydney he again became seriously ill. He was placed in St Benedict's Hospital, Malvern, with the Sisters of Mercy, in whose work and organisation he had always been specially interested. There he sank gradually and died on July 15. A very large gathering attended the Office at St. Ignatius' Church, Richmond, the boys being represented by the school prefects. After the Requiem, His Grace the Archbishop spoke feelingly of the work Fr Ryan had done for the Church in Australia, and then gave the Final Absolution. Fr Ryan was buried in Booroondara Cemetery, Kew, May he rest in peace.


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Austriacae-Hungaricae Province of the Society of Jesus

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Austriacae-Hungaricae Province of the Society of Jesus


Ryan, John, 1849-1922, Jesuit priest

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Irish Jesuit Mission to Australia, 1865-1931 (1865-1931)

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Ryan, John, 1849-1922, Jesuit priest

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