Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patrick Joseph Ryan (1904–1969)

by James Franklin

This article was published:

Patrick Joseph Ryan (1904-1969), Catholic priest, was born on 13 March 1904 at Albury, New South Wales, eldest of six children of James Vincent Ryan, a Victorian-born farmer, and his wife Sarah Josephine, née Ryan, who came from Ireland. After attending Albury Public School, Paddy helped on the farm before completing his schooling at the Presentation Convent, Chiltern, Victoria, and St Mary's Towers, Douglas Park, New South Wales. He entered the novitiate of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart at Kensington, Sydney, in 1923 and was professed in 1924. In Rome from 1927, he studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University (D.Ph., D.D., 1930). On 18 July 1929 he was ordained priest. Returning to Sydney in 1932, he taught philosophy at the Sacred Heart novitiate.

With Oscar Vonwiller and John Anderson, professors of physics and philosophy respectively at the University of Sydney, Ryan took part in the 'Symposium on Science, Philosophy and Christianity' held in 1936. His ability as a controversialist was promptly and widely recognized. In 1937 he helped (Archbishop) Eris O'Brien to launch Catholic Action in Sydney. The Church used Ryan's skills in a wide range of activities in the 1940s and 1950s—in adult education, pamphlet-writing and—with his colleague Dr Leslie Rumble—broadcasting.

From 1940 much of Ryan's effort was spent on anti-communist activity, both public and secret. As director (from 1942) of the Lay Apostolate in the archdiocese of Sydney, he was effectively the founder (about 1945) of the Sydney branch of the Catholic Social Studies Movement, the secret Catholic anti-communist group in the trade unions and Australian Labor Party.

Despite rain, 30,000 people came to the Stadium, Rushcutters Bay, on 23 September 1948 to hear Ryan debate with Edgar Ross, a communist leader. Ross spoke first, in defence of the Soviet Union. Ryan, in a quiet, unimpassioned voice, claimed that communism was based on a degraded philosophy of life, that its programme necessarily involved ruthless and unlimited dictatorship, and that the Communist Party of Australia had no loyalty to God or country, but only to Moscow. 'In saying that the Catholic Church supported Fascism, Mr Ross was [again the quiet, unimpassioned voice] a liar'. Wild applause followed. Ryan addressed many other large audiences, especially during the campaign for the anti-communism referendum of 1951. He also spoke on the positive aspects of Catholic social philosophy, and its incompatibility with laissez-faire capitalism.

Ryan remained director of the Sydney office during the years when the 'groupers' in many trade unions brought victory over communist control. Contrary to 'the Movement's' practice in other States, he maintained contact with the security services, and occasionally permitted stacking of union meetings by outsiders who were ineligible to vote. Amid fears in 'the Movement' that Ryan's 'cowboys and Indians' methods (B. A. Santamaria's phrase) would compromise the anti-communist cause, he was replaced as director in 1954. The resulting tension contributed to the Sydney and Melbourne branches parting ways. Ryan was a key speaker at the meetings in 1956 at which the vast majority of New South Wales members decided to remain with the A.L.P. instead of joining their Victorian and Queensland colleagues in what became the Democratic Labor Party.

In 1954-62 Ryan was director of adult education in the Sydney archdiocese. Suffering from coronary sclerosis, he died of pneumonia on 18 January 1969 at the St John of God Hospital, Richmond, and was buried in the Sacred Heart cemetery, Douglas Park.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Franklin, 'Catholic Thought and Catholic Action', Journal of the Australian Catholic Historical Society, 17, 1996, p 44
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 23 Jan 1969
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Sept 1948, 20 Jan 1969
  • Ryan file (M.S.C. Provincial Archives, St Paul's Seminary, Kensington, Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

James Franklin, 'Ryan, Patrick Joseph (1904–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 28 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 March, 1904
Albury, New South Wales, Australia


18 January, 1969 (aged 64)
Richmond, New South Wales, Australia

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