Sister Ann Catherine Ryan

Written on: August 4, 2012

The love of Christ has gathered us together in this Eucharist to celebrate the life of our sister, Ann Catherine. The Grey Nuns have reason to rejoice in God’s call to Frances Ryan who embraced her religious vocation in 1942 and through seventy years of consecrated life, dedicated herself to revealing the wonders of following Christ. Sister Julia, our President, who cannot be with us today, has asked me to convey her sympathy and give some reflections on the gift Sister Ann Catherine has been to us. Thank-you Father Noone and Msgr. Schmidt for your presence with us today, and to Father Nevins, our Principal Celebrant for this Mass. We also hold in prayerful remembrance the deceased brother of Frances and Betty, Father Robert Ryan.

We welcome the family and friends of Sister Ann Catherine, and extend our sympathy to all who loved her and will miss her. We are so pleased that Sister’s family members are here today: her sister, Betty MacKinley, her daughter, Ann and her son, Allan, as well as grandnieces and nephews. We join in your sense of loss, yet with faith in the Resurrection, we rejoice that Sister’s earthly suffering is over. May God welcome her into the everlasting peace of heaven.

It was in Mahanoy City, PA among the strong and hard working people of faith in that community, that Frances’ love of God was nurtured, both by her parents, John and Marie Ryan and in St. Canicus Parish where Grey Nuns had taught since 1925, the year of her birth. Graced with family and sacramental life from her early years, she was well prepared to embrace a call to religious life with the Grey Nuns in Melrose Park, PA. In her faithful companionship with Jesus, Sister Ann Catherine’s life blossomed, as day by day her mission was shared with others.

Grey Nun daily life interweaves prayer, community and ministry. For Sister Ann Catherine, a perfect blend resulted in a wholesome faith life. Lifting her heart and voice in daily prayer, celebrating the birth of the Child Jesus, all year round, honoring Mary, Our Lady of Victory, St. Ann her patroness, St. Marguerite D’Youville, our foundress, and being drawn irresistibly to daily Eucharist; these were sources of love, hope and strength for her journey of seventy years.

Community life among the Sisters is a daily exchange of selfless activities wherein we grow in the knowledge and loving service of one another. There are extraordinary examples of heroism, as well as many occasions for growth in patience, understanding and selflessness. As a Superior among the Sisters, one draws a group together, encourages and holds in sacred trust the Sisters in the community. Sister Ann Catherine accepted such a service as Superior at St. Norbert’s Convent and then for a longer time at the Melrose Academy Faculty House. During these years the Sisters were experiencing many major changes in religious life, as well as at the Melrose site, where a Motherhouse was transferred, and painful decisions regarding the future of education on the property were being discussed and decided. To guide Sisters through such upheaval in these years, speaks to the wisdom, charity, patience and longsuffering such a service must have demanded of her. With the personal pain she bore during this time, Sister Ann Catherine knew the mystery of the cross.

As a community member, Sister Ann Catherine was known as friendly, cheerful, and generous. Her quiet, unassuming demeanor, understanding and skill in listening drew people to her. As community meetings became a norm, she brought openness to a group and calmly participated by speaking candidly and from her convictions about the values to be considered. Was she perhaps a friend of St. Francis, seeing God in all of things? For she walked gently on the earth, delighting in the sweetness of creation, an advocate of green peace before it was in vogue. Who would have a beautiful bird alight on one’s shoulder, as we saw in a picture of her! She fed the birds, loved animals, especially dogs, and decorated her room with rainbow colors of butterflies and refracted light. Plants grew under her green thumb and flowered as she whispered to them. Gratitude was a hallmark of her character, and every small act of kindness was acknowledged as large and deeply appreciated. Her outreach to others went beyond the Grey Nun community. Sensitivity to the sufferings of others prompted her to develop a phone outreach to many who sought her comfort, prayer, and assistance. How lovingly she guided parents, friends, children, and the aging, proving how loyal a friend she was in bearing the burdens of others, and lightening their lives with love, laughter, and hope.

The wholesomeness of Sister Ann Catherine’s personhood was no doubt the reason for her long, successful years as a teacher of little ones. As a Grey Nun, one’s ministry of service fills long hours in each day. For Sister Ann Catherine, her formation of children was a life-time passion. Her classroom teaching and principalships in Catholic schools spanned sixty-three years. She spent these years in several locations. In Georgia, at Immaculate Heart of Mary School, she was one of the foundresses, Here her Sisters fondly coined her familiar name, Lucy, so-called to this day! She spent most of her teaching days in Pennsylvania and New York. In one of her early missions, at St. Rose of Lima School in Buffalo, NY, she was privileged to have Sister Mary of the Angels, fondly called “Wings”, for her Principal, and was ably mentored by her. They also became life-long friends. Perhaps the longest period of her educational service was at Melrose Academy. She served as principal and teacher at St. Ann Hall, where she guided the construction of the new school. Here she met Anne Mattson, a colleague who became our first Associate Grey Nun, and then later a professed Grey Nun. They became good friends sharing their educational talents at Melrose Academy and companioned each other through their retirement years. Sister Ann Catherine was cited as a risk taker, one open to new trends in learning, a cooperative person, genuinely interested in advancing the well-being of others, be it the Principal, other teachers, children, or parents. She could articulate clearly her strong convictions, with confidence that they could be helpful to others. Sister Ann Catherine’s own higher education at college and university, with concentrations in education and history, at which she excelled, provided her with extensive preparation for her long career in the field of education.

Thus one tries to convey the shining goodness of a very quiet, gentle person, who walked gently on the earth, a life so simple and yet so cherished, a life lived gratefully and laid down so quietly. How missed this friend will be! Yet, she who carried Christmas in her heart all year round, would bid us listen to songs of the angels she seemed to hear each day: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will!” So we do rejoice and give you thanks, most loving God!

May the Angels lead you into Paradise!
May you rest in peace!

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