Sister Bernadetta Ryan
A Reading from Mark, 9:33-38
“They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”’
Steven Spielberg has missed the biggest box office record of his career. He’s not aware of what a sequel to Ryan’s Daughter would bring in.
Here is an Irish Family settled in New York. A young married couple Philip Edward Ryan, a steam fitter by occupation, and Mary Agnes O’Brien, a well-educated lady. Philip has never completed his schooling. Mary Agnes begins to show him the skills of learning phonic basics, the thrill of writing, the joy of writing, of translating his charming Irish wit on to the clear white paper. Here we have a lifetime of sharing not only mind and heart, but knowledge and wisdom.
These loving and self-sacrificing qualities are carried over to Philip and Mary’s five children: Rosalie and Joseph who still survive; Gerald and Philip. An added member to the Ryan five was Mary Cele, a baby who had lost her mother, was taken in by Philip and Mary and brought up to adulthood.
Originally New Yorkers, the Ryans moved about from state to state because of Philip’s job. Mary Ellen Ryan was born on August 21, 1908, in Hancock, Conn., said Sister Ruth Johnson in her commentary for Sister Bernadetta Ryan, who died on Feb. 7, 2002, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 93 years old and had been Sister of Providence for 76 years.
Sister Ruth continued: Woburn and Malden, both in Massachusetts, became the home bases where she completed grade school and high school education. She entered the novitiate of the Sisters of providence before finishing high school at Cheverus and continued her progress at St. Mary’s Academy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Entering the Congregation in June of 1925, she professed vows on Dec. 8, 1927, and final vows on Dec. 8, 1932.
Dedicated to the education of young people, she felt drawn to the primary classes. Her life’s ministry took her to Illinois, Massachusetts, Indiana and Washington, D.C. She became skilled not only as a teacher and principal, but undertook the service of librarian and receptionist at Dunblane and Immaculata. Bernadetta was the kind of person who had developed her great talent: The skill of taking the time to look and see the beauty of all things.
Could this love of life stem from the fact that as a child, she almost died? As a newborn, she was so small and sickly that her parents would warm the oven and place her in this make-shift incubator to sustain her. Her father would say about her that when they took her out of the oven, she was crisp but she soon lightened up!
James Elkins, in his book “How to Use Your Eyes,” says, ‘Our eyes are far too good for us. They show us so much that we can’t take it all in, so we shut out most of the world, and try to look at things as briskly and efficiently as possible.’
What happens if we stop and take the time to look more carefully? Then the world unfolds like a flower full of color and shapes that we never suspected. This I believe is what Bernadetta did. It’s what made her an excellent primary teacher, a constant, supportive friend, and a very prayerful person.
She was a primary teacher most of her life. Being innovative, creative and energetic made her classroom the place to be and her students the children to study. She placed great emphasis on reading and her classroom owned “A Pink Parlor” where you came by invite only. Being able to study and be prepared to read your story brought you into the Parlor. When she taught in Evanston, her reading chart pictured a boy, girl and in a side picket, a wolf. If you weren’t prepared, the wolf was placed beside you. A wailing sound was heard throughout the school when one boy received the wolf and strongly objected.
While in Washington, D.C., Bernadetta did a TV series of Bible Stories and Catholic Doctorine for young people called “Sister Said,” which gained great attention and merited public acclamation.
Sister had a great love of children. She was a born storyteller which enhanced her classroom instruction. She collaborated with Sister Anne Clementine in writing the children’s book about Mother Theodore called “Anne Therese.”
She considered primary education so important and crucial, that each summer she not only conducted classes for the teachers of these grades, but encouraged them to come to sessions where ideas and methods could be shared. The status and outlook concerning these lower grades began to take on a more personal and important regard by many. She could be considered a pioneer and innovator of excellence – and dedicated commitment – towards young children.
For her Golden Jubilee, her father gave her a gift, a trip to Ireland and Lourdes. In order to obtain her passport, she had to provide a baptismal or birth certificates. In both cases, files and buildings had been burned and the necessary proof was not available. Undaunted, she marched her father to the Visa Office and said, “Look here is my proof of birth!” And there she stood, a white haired lady with a white haired father. She got her visa!
To all in Community who knew Bernadetta knew of her loving devotion to her father and the wonderful disposition in caring for him way into his late 90s. This truly was a star role for Ryan’s daughter.
To all who knew her, she was the charming, upbeat person who could uplift your spirit and renew your energy. This very Irish lady had the love of her faith and life as a Sister of Providence. Her prayer was simple and consistent and included goodwill and love towards all. Bernadetta endeared herself to her students, their parents, her faculty – all whose lives touched hers. One year, her class was so devoted to her that later when they were confirmed, each child – boy and girl – took the name of Bernadetta for their confirmation name. Hearing the bishop announce all the Bernadetta’s embarrassed her a little.
In interviewing her friends and combing through arvhices for commentary background, I could say with the Apostle John: Bernadetta did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
The psalmist says: “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord. In the presence of all his people.”
And so, Bernadetta, you have repayed the Lord. You have lifted up the cup of your life and called his name. Your vows have been fulfilled in our presence. And we commend you to his love and to the place that has been prepared for you for all eternity. Ryan’s daughter has gone home.
Sister Bernadetta Ryan
Completed Ministry (in education)
In Indiana: St. Charles, Bloomington (1933-38); St. Joseph, Jasper (1938-39, 1940-44); St. John, Vincennes (1939-40); St. Ignatius, Lafayette (1944-45).
In Illinois: St. Leo, Chicago (1928-30); St. Athanasius, Evanston (1960-62).
In Massachusetts: Sacred Heart, Malden (1945-52, 1962-65); St. Rose, Chelsea (1952-53).
In Washington, D.C.: St. Ann (1930-32, 1953-60, and 1965-73 as principal); Dunblane (1973-80, 1983-85); Immaculata-Dunblane (1980-82); Immaculata (1985-86).
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