Fr Joseph Linus Ryan, O.Carm. (1928-2009)

A man of many talents would be a good description of Fr. Joseph Linus Ryan, Carmelite, who died on July 17, 2009.

Joseph Ryan was born in Kidare Town on July 31, 1928. He was educated in the local De La Salle School. He played football for Round Towers GAA Club and represented his county at minor level for two successive seasons.  When Joseph had completed his secondary education he decided to join the Carmelite Order. He went to the novitiate in Kinsale, Co. Cork, where he was professed in 1947 and given the name Linus, after one of the early Popes.

He took a degree in Arts at UCD and studied theology at the Carmelite International College in Rome. Joseph Linus learned Italian well and became a cultured Romano. Following his ordination in Rome in 1953 he returned to Ireland and was appointed to teaching in Terenure College, Dublin. He was transferred to the Whitefriar Street Community as bursar in 1964. He also lectured at that time in the Diocesan Institute of Adult Education in Mountjoy Square.

Fr. Joseph was elected Prior Provincial of the Irish Province of Carmelites in 1969, succeeding Fr. Emmanuel McGrath who had died in office. He served in that office until 1976. His seven year term was notable for his contribution to his Carmelite brothers in Ireland and Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. There were also significant contributions to Religious Life in Ireland. The Second Vatican Council had not long ended when Fr. Joseph was elected Provincial. Father Christopher O’Donnell in his homily during the Funeral Mass in Terenure College Chapel remarked that Fr. Joseph’s greatest contribution may well have been in the area of fraternal relations. Before his time Provincials were somewhat distant figures....He changed all that: for starters he was ‘Joe’ to members of the Province and, indeed, many others. In the clash of cultures after the Second Vatican Council he was remarkable for patient listening to people holding all points of view; he managed to maintain the unity of the Irish Carmelite Province, with relatively few losses in personnel.

As Provincial he was also very committed to the Conference of Major Superiors of Ireland, now C.O.R.I. and worked diligently for its renewal. He pushed for its restructuring and served as its President. Fr. Joseph was to the fore in opening serious dialogue between the Religious and Bishops in Ireland. This led to the establishment of the Joint Commission of Bishops and Conference of Major Religious Superiors of Ireland. He also supported the development of the Irish School of Ecumenics. While Provincial he kept up a huge apostolate of one-to- one ministry amongst religious, laity and clergy. He was a much sought after confessor.

Fr. Joseph was Prior of White Abbey, Kildare, from 1988 to 1994 serving as President of Kildare Town Twinning during the 1990s when twinning links were established with the French town of Corps Nuds, a town not far from Lisieux.

Fr. Joseph loved the Carmelite St. Thérèse of Lisieux and served her well. He organised pilgrimages and celebrated her centenaries. He worked for her proclamation as Doctor of the Church. However, the highlight in his devotion to St. Thérèse was the visit of her Relics to Ireland in 2001. He was a superb organiser. He had the ability to plan meticulously and to get a large number of people enthused about a very complex project. During those weeks in 2001 the Relics of St. Thérèse visited every diocese in Ireland and attracted huge crowds. It was an extraordinary success. To honour Fr. Joseph’s achievement he was named Kildare Man of the Year for 2001 and was also nominated for a Special Award in the National People of the Year. He was awarded the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice by Pope John Paul II for distinguished service to the Church.

Earlier this year he organised a second visit of the Relics though on a smaller scale. By now his sight had seriously failed and he was confined to an invalid chair. However, with the help of three telephones and many faithful helpers, this more restricted visit was also an achievement.

Fr. Joseph worked hard for the beatification of the parents of St. Thérèse, Louis and Zélie Martin, which took place at Lisieux last autumn. Only a few weeks ago there was a Mass in Terenure College Chapel when the Director of the Shrine at Lisieux, Monsignor Lagauche, presented Fr. Joseph with a magnificent reliquary of the Blesseds.

Fr. Joseph had a deep love of, and respect for, the institutional church. He was quite traditional in his personal piety and in his theological views. Along with this was a continuous deep personal devotion to St. Thérèse. He struggled with the simple but at times harsh simplicity of the Saint’s teaching. In recent years he endured constant poor health. He bore this with great faith and forbearance. He was never heard to complain about the pain and distress he had to endure.

Fr. Joseph died peacefully on July 17 after nine days of hospitalisation. The Funeral services took place in Terenure College where he had been a member of the Community since 1994. He was buried in the grounds of the Carmelite Church in Kildare Town. Life had come full circle for him as members of Round Towers GAA Club and Knights of St. Thérèse escorted his remains through the town where he had grown up.

He is survived by his sister Mary, his brother Fr. Aloysius, O.Carm., and cousins. We extend sympathy to them, to his Carmelite brothers and many friends. Rest in Peace.