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Ryan, John (1849–1922)

by Daniel A. Madigan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

John Ryan (1849-1922), Jesuit priest, was born on 27 October 1849 at Limerick, Ireland, only child of Thomas Ryan and his wife Catherine, née Butler. He was educated at The Crescent, Limerick, and, having begun in 1869 his ecclesiastical studies at the Irish College, Rome, was ordained there on 1 November 1874. The training Ryan received there under Monsignor Tobias Kirby rooted him firmly in the tradition of Ireland's Cardinal Cullen and gave him much in common with Australia's Irish episcopacy. Early in 1872 he had been recruited for the diocese of Maitland, New South Wales, by Bishop Murray, but soon after his arrival there in August 1875, he was appointed president of the new St Charles' Seminary at Bathurst. To the delight of its founder, Bishop Matthew Quinn, he set about recreating his Roman Alma Mater in Bathurst. Ryan, who since 1873 had been considering joining the Society of Jesus, was accepted as a novice on 27 March 1879. He made his first vows on 27 April 1881.

By temperament and training Ryan had a concern for order and a talent for administration which proved a windfall for the Jesuit mission in Australia. Considerable expansion in the late 1870s, a shortage of capable manpower from Ireland and the financial burdens brought about by the depression of the 1890s all contributed to the poor state of the mission at the turn of the century. Quite soon after becoming a Jesuit, he was put in positions of authority and responsibility as rector of St Patrick's College, East Melbourne (1886-90), of St Ignatius' College, Riverview, Sydney (1890-97) and of Xavier College, Melbourne (1897-1900). He was often exasperated by the careless administration of his predecessors. During his two terms (1901-08, 1913-17) as superior of the Australian Jesuits his competent administration proved crucial to the survival of their enterprise.

At the same time Ryan continued to serve the Australian Catholic Church at large, which was also facing a period of consolidation. He shared Cardinal Moran's vision of a firmly established and organized Church in which the clergy were well trained and obedient to their bishops, and the laity were adequately cared for and regular in their religious practice—a similar transformation to that wrought by Cullen in Ireland after the famine. With Michael Watson, S.J., Ryan began a devotional magazine, the Australian Messenger of the Sacred Heart, in 1887. His help was enlisted by the Presentation Sisters and later by the Sisters of Mercy in attempts to amalgamate their disparate convents, which the bishops had founded rather haphazardly with sisters recruited ad hoc from Ireland. He was committed to the spiritual formation of the clergy and the religious, through an extensive retreat ministry, and of lay people through the fostering of sodalities and popular devotions. Although Ryan and Daniel Mannix held very different views, Ryan won the respect of the wily prelate in negotiations for the foundation of Newman College at the University of Melbourne. 'Ripe in years and ripe in work', said Mannix, he died at Malvern on 15 July 1922 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew.

Select Bibliography

  • U. M. L. Bygott, With Pen and Tongue (Melb, 1980)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 17 July 1922
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 20 July 1922
  • D. A. Madigan, John Ryan, S.J.—a Contribution to Australian Catholicism 1875-1922 (B.A. Hons thesis, Monash University, 1977), and for bibliography.

Citation details

Daniel A. Madigan, 'Ryan, John (1849–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ryan-john-8314/text14581, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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