Archbishop Patrick John Ryan – His Life and Times

Extracts from Reviews ...
The Furrow
Pastoral Monthly
Pastoral and Liturgical
Resource Magazine
Monsignor Robert J. Wister
American Catholic Studies
ForeWord Reviews
(bi-monthly magazine
for U.S. librarians
and booksellers)
Maura Cronin
History Department
Mary Immaculate College,
Rev. Mark Tierney, O.S.B.
Glenstal Abbey
Peter Costello
The Irish Catholic
Michael Costigan
The Catholic Weekly
Rev. Kevin Lynch
The Catholic World
Cait Kokolus
Ryan Memorial Library
Dr. Martin Mansergh
Professor William Nolan
University College Dublin
Lou Baldwin
Catholic Standard & Times
Review in The Furow, a pastoral monthly, published by The Furrow Trust and edited at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, County Kildare   After an introduction which deals with the death of Archbishop Ryan in Philadelphia in 1911 and delivers a profile of him, this book is divided into three main parts.  The first deals with his birth in Thurles, his family life and entry into St. Patrick’s College, Carlow to study for the priesthood against the background of the Famine in particular. 

The second part details his life in America, from his arrival in St. Louis as a deacon to his appointment as Coadjutor Bishop there in 1872.  The development of the American church and his contribution to it is well chronicled in the context of the country and the wider Catholic Church.

The third part looks at his ‘leadership both locally and nationally’ after his appointment as Archbishop of Philadelphia in 1884.  In particular, the account of his advocacy of African Americans and Native Americans is important as it ‘was influenced by witnessing slavery in St. Louis and by his experience as a member of a church which was subjected to formalized and state-supported discrimination during his formative years in Ireland’.  A chapter, ‘Connections with Ireland’ narrates how he did not lose contact with the country and the Irish church.

Accompanied by photographs and a Chronology, notes and bibliography, this very readable biography ably fulfils the aim to, despite the destruction of his papers, ‘do justice to him, to his character in all its facets, and to the contribution he made to the Catholic Church and the wider community in his adopted homeland’.

Extract from a review in Intercom, a pastoral and liturgical resource magazine published by Veritas Group, an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops   This biography provides a fascinating and compelling insight into the social conditions on both sides of the Atlantic in the early nineteenth century.  It focuses on the contribution made to the Catholic Church in America by a Tipperary emigrant, Patrick John Ryan.  He was sent to St. Louis as a deacon in 1852 and ordained a priest there in September 1853.  Ryan was unwavering in his dedication to the Church and to preserving peace in times of bitter conflicts, much admired for his mediation skills.
Extract from a
review written by
Monsignor Robert J. Wister
Professor of Church History,
School of Theology,
Seton Hall University,
New Jersey

The full review
was published in
American Catholic Studies
(Journal of the American
Catholic Historical Society,
published at Villanova University)
  What emerges is a man of strong opinions who navigates the stormy waters of the nineteenth and early twentieth-century church without either making many enemies or compromising his basic beliefs.  The archbishop comes forth as a truly genial Irishman who defuses many difficult situations with his charm and wit.

The author allows us to discover the archbishop through well-written, concise, and accurate descriptions of the social, political, and religious conditions of the various settings of the archbishop’s life.  Having visited the sites of the archbishop’s youth, he describes in detail the poverty and oppression of the Ireland of the time, and its impact on the young man.

Mid-nineteenth century St. Louis emerges with all the contradictions of Catholic attitudes on slavery and the Civil War, also showing us Ryan’s steadfast loyalty to Archbishop Kenrick as his coadjutor, never an enviable position.

The most significant portion of the biography, the archbishop’s time in Philadelphia and his role in the school and Americanist controversies, is quite well done.  His pastoral care of immigrants, African-American Catholics and Native Americans is chronicled in an honest and critical manner.  His unflagging support of Mother Katherine Drexel is recounted in sometimes poignant detail.  Ryan emerges as a man in many ways ahead of his times, especially in his friendly relations with Protestant and Jewish leaders, many of whom became his close friends.

ForeWord Reviews
(bi-monthly magazine
for U.S. librarians
and booksellers)

[Review extract]
  What author Patrick Ryan began as an encomium to his not-too-distant relative, the Archbishop Patrick John Ryan, developed not only into a well researched and readable history of the Archbishop but also a short history of Ireland, from 1831 to 1851, and the US, between 1851 and 1911.  It enlightens the growth of the Roman Catholic Church in America and the social and political development of Ireland and the States during that period.

The author, describes his relative as “a pragmatist”.  The Archbishop was a liberal in promoting the role of the Catholic Church as a key player in American life but a conservative in the application of Church doctrine.  He was also noted as an accomplished orator and displayed great charm and wit in his ability to convey the teachings of the Church to all people and to bridge the gap between the Catholic Church and the political community.

Archbishop Ryan was an advocate for the interests of Native Americans and former slaves and he involved himself in resolving work disputes between laborers and their bosses.  While in St. Louis during the Civil War, Ryan managed to serve the needs of both those who were loyal to the Union as well as those who supported the Confederacy, while not publicly becoming a partisan.

Archbishop Patrick John Ryan: His Life and Times will surely be of interest to his fellow church members; but it also has a wider audience with students of history of the US.

Maura Cronin
History Department
Mary Immaculate College,
Limerick for Tipperary Historical Journal

[Review extract]
  This is a most readable and informative work.  The writing style is lucid and the book is well organised.  Its approach is thematic rather than purely chronological, allowing Ryan's career to be examined in the context of both time and place.  Particularly insightful is the treatment of two major predicaments facing Irish-American Catholics at the time.  Their first dilemma was in deciding whether their identity was primarily Irish or American.  Ryan himself, unlike some of his fellow bishops, came down on the side of America - his new and permanent home and his genuine loyalty to his adopted land played a considerable part in healing divisions in the aftermath of the American Civil War.

The second dilemma concerned the reconciliation of Americanism and Catholicism - a difficult task in a state where Catholicism was regarded with some suspicion for a great part of the nineteenth century.  Here again, Ryan proved to be a man of considerable foresight and (for his day) open-mindedness.  As his biographer demonstrates, he successfully fused Catholicism and Americanism and, while a conservative in religious matters, allayed many contemporary suspicions of Catholicism by his easy and genuine openness to individuals and groups of other faiths.

One is left with the feeling that Patrick John Ryan's success as a churchman in later nineteenth century America was to a great extent due to his fortunate personality.  His Catholicism was very like that of his near contemporary, Cardinal Paul Cullen - reformist, devout, and disconcertingly sure of its own superiority - something which might have alienated him and the church he represented from the American world in which he moved.  It seems, however, that his character countered the austerity of his Catholicism: his easy manner, his humanity, and his sense of justice and equity (clear in his attempts to mediate in labour disputes and in his attitude to the integration of African-Americans) built bridges between different religious faiths and different social and racial groups.

Writing the biography of a late nineteenth century Catholic churchman is a difficult task.  There is always the danger of falling into the extremes of adulation or denigration.  This biography of Patrick Ryan avoids both extremes and gives really valuable insights into the life and thinking of a formidable, astute, and likeable individual who lived during a period of considerable political and social flux.

Rev. Mark Tierney, O.S.B.
author of “Croke of Cashel”
(1823-1902) and biographer of
Blessed Columba Marmion

[Review extract]
  This is the story of an extraordinary Irishman, from the town of Thurles, Co. Tipperary, who served as priest, bishop and archbishop in the United States of America for more than fifty years (1852-1911).  From a relatively humble background, he forged a name for himself in both the political and ecclesiastical annals of both St. Louis, Missouri, and Philadelphia.  He was the friend of rich and poor, sinner and saint, black and white, slave and free.  His years of service coincided with some of the most controversial issues in USA history, issues which he met head-on.

Ryan found himself acting as prison-chaplain during the Civil War, 1861-64, as peace maker in the many industrial and workers’ strikes which broke out in the 1870s and later years.  It was as a public speaker that he reached his greatest fame, being endowed with great oratorical powers and an imposing presence.  The book relates the remarkable impact he made on every level of American society.

We are given very helpful historical and social backgrounds, both to the Irish and American situations, during the lifetime of Archbishop Ryan.  This is all the more necessary, seeing that the book is addressed to people on both sides of the Atlantic.  He apparently had no wish to have his life story told and his personal papers were destroyed.   We have to be satisfied to see the archbishop acting for the most part on the public stage, where he was very much at home.

The author, Patrick Ryan, a cousin of Archbishop Ryan, has done a remarkable job of researching his subject and has restored his venerable cousin to his rightful place in American Catholic history.  The book is beautifully produced, and a delight to read and to handle.

Peter Costello for The Irish Catholic   Next year marks the centenary of the death of Archbishop Patrick Ryan, born in Ireland in 1831, who served in St. Louis and Philadelphia.  There is a very strong sense in which the present generations in Ireland are cut off from the life of Catholic America lived by so many of our emigrated relatives.  This book will go a long way towards enlightening them.

Ryan played a significant part in creating the US Church of today.  American Catholicism was developing a character of its own … [but] the Vatican, isolated behind its closed walls and defensive against many kinds of democracy and republicanism, distrusted what came to be called in some Church circles “Americanism”.

This is a conscientiously researched book … it has the distinction of being readable and “unacademic” in tone, yet serious … anyone concerned with issues of Irish Catholic experience in the long 19th Century will also be interested in reading this book.

Michael Costigan for The Catholic Weekly, Sydney, Australia   What emerges [from this biography] is that the red-haired Archbishop was a richly gifted cleric, famous nationally and internationally for his oratory – a kind of 19th century Fulton Sheen, who was also called “the Chrysostom of the American Church” after the great 4th century preacher St John Chrysostom.

He was a zealous pastor, a firm but just leader, a peacemaking conservative, a social justice apostle, an advocate of total abstinence from alcohol and an ecumenist who anticipated the attitudes that came to the fore decades later at the Second Vatican Council.  In both St Louis and Philadelphia he was revered and even loved by leaders of other Christian communities and of the Jewish faith.

One of the book’s features is the way the writer summarises the history of the places where Patrick John Ryan lived and laboured.  Prominent are his accounts of the Great Famine in Ireland, of the movement for emancipation and home rule there, of 19th Century life in the rapidly growing American cities of St Louis and Philadelphia and of the tragic years of the American civil war.

Rev. Kevin A. Lynch, C.S.P. President and Publisher Emeritus for The Catholic World   [Archbishop Ryan] instinctively reached out to all people and possessed an ecumenical sense in his relations with Protestants.  He also encouraged outreach especially to Blacks and Native Americans.  When Ryan died in 1911, he was mourned by all who were touched by his goodness and faith.

The author gives us not only a well done portrait of his famous relative but a panoramic history of the places and times in which he lived.  The book provides a fine survey of American Catholicism, its challenges and growth, in the latter half of the 19th Century.  Church history buffs, especially those of Irish descent, will enjoy it immensely

Cait Kokolus, Vice President for Information Services & Assessment, Ryan Memorial Library, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia PA   This book is a welcome addition to our library historical collection and will be most helpful to our patrons ... it celebrates our namesake, so it is doubly important to our library, and the entire Seminary.
Dr. Martin Mansergh, historian   This biography provides a fascinating insight into social conditions on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th century, the contribution that a Tipperary emigrant, who developed a priestly vocation to the United States in the aftermath of the Famine made to building up the Catholic Church in America, and how he became a very widely respected leader across all religious divides.
Professor William Nolan, School of Geography, University College Dublin.  Former Chairman, Tipperary Historical Society   Patrick John Ryan, the subject of this compelling biography by his kinsman and namesake, was born in rural Tipperary in 1831 and died as archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 1911.  The Ireland he left in 1852 was slowly emerging from the abyss of famine and hopelessness, whereas the land he emigrated to was beginning to harness its vast resources and draw millions from across the globe.  Schools and churches, the foundation blocks of Catholic urban America, were built by pioneers such as Archbishop Ryan and his compeers, who possessed an administrative acumen not often credited to the Irish either at home or abroad.  His work in both St. Louis and Philadelphia is carefully assessed and we get the impression of a consummate communicator and pragmatist who adapted to the multi-ethnic worlds which confronted this son of rural Tipperary.

Conservative and perhaps authoritarian in respect of his unflinching emphasis on obedience from clergy, and by extension the laity, he was nevertheless a liberal on social issues.  Much sought after as a mediator in the bitter conflicts of capital and labour, Archbishop Ryan also championed the causes of both Afro and Native American.  Modelling himself on the two great champions of Catholic Ireland of his youth, Daniel O’Connell and Fr.Theobold Mathew, Archbishop Ryan fashioned a Catholic America not only for the Irish, but for all who travelled to its open shores.  In the process he removed the Irish mantle and donned the garb of America.

Lou Baldwin, Catholic Standard and Times, Philadelphia.
Author of “Saint Katharine Drexel – Apostle of the Oppressed”
  On any short list of great bishops of Philadelphia the name of Archbishop Patrick John Ryan, who served from 1884 to 1911, has to be near the top.  It is surprising that, until now, a full-scale biography of Philadelphia’s charismatic sixth bishop and second archbishop was never written.  Now there is one written in, of all places, Ireland.

The title is “Archbishop Patrick John Ryan: His Life and Times, Ireland – St. Louis – Philadelphia 1831-1911” (Patrick Ryan, Authorhouse, 2010).  The author’s name, Patrick Ryan, is not a coincidence; he is a distant relative, who first stumbled upon Archbishop Ryan while researching his family tree.

The resulting book is as much a social history of 19th century Ireland and America as it is a biography.

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