New York’s oldest working priest reflects on a life of service to the poor
Father Gerald Ryan, 92, on the power of his Irish heritage and faith
At 92 years old, Father Gerald Ryan is New York’s oldest working priest, a monsignor, and the parish administrator at St Luke’s in Mott Haven, in the Bronx. The son of Irish immigrants — his mother came from a small town near Limerick, and his father from Tipperary — Father Ryan has visited Ireland several times, to explore both family and faith.
His favourite place in Ireland? The shrine at Knock, in County Mayo.
“It’s a prayerful place,” he told IrishCentral. “When you’re there you feel that you want to talk with Mary and Joseph and Jesus.
“It feels peaceful, like when you’re in church and you feel calm and reverential toward God.”
Father Ryan also visited his mother’s childhood home, which he’d always imagined through her stories of Christmas in Ireland. She’d told him of “many parties and dances. People went around from house to house.
“The Irish are a very religious people — or at least they had been,” his mother told him of her childhood. “Living their faith was the most important thing in their lives.
“I think as a community [the Irish] are what Jesus wants us to be, very childlike,” Father Ryan said.
“The Irish are loving and easy to be with. They love stories — there’s no lack of conversation."
Father Ryan was recently interviewed in the New York Times, where he commented that he may well be the oldest serving priest in the US — he does not know, he told the paper.
“I think I have come a long, long way from when I was ordained,” he told the Times. “It isn’t about serving the church in the way you have envisioned, from the altar, and from the position of authority and power. But it is learning what human nature is, and what the struggles of people are. And where Jesus really is.”
He saw the era of massive change sweep across the Bronx, with parishes changing from ministering to whites only to including blacks and Hispanics. Through it all he stayed with the people, became a committed supporter of civil rights and was a leading figure in integrating the newcomers to the church.
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