July 8, 2005

Msgr. John Ryan, 74, was pastor of
St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis for 35 years

By Mary Ann Wyand

Msgr. John T. Ryan, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis for 35 years and dean of the Indianapolis West Deanery since 1981, died unexpectedly at 2:45 a.m. on July 5 at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis.

He was 74 and would have celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination on May 3, 2006.

He had been diagnosed with cancer on June 28 and was hospitalized for treatment of pneumonia at the time of his death.

Calling was scheduled from 3 p.m. until 8 p.m. on July 7 at St. Anthony Church, with a 7 p.m. prayer vigil and rosary, and from 9 a.m. until 10:45 a.m. on July 8.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at 11 a.m. on July 8 at St. Anthony Church.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein was the principal celebrant for the funeral liturgy. Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger of Evansville and a number of diocesan priests were concelebrants. Msgr. Frederick Easton, vicar judicial of the archdiocesan Metropolitan Tribunal and a longtime friend, was the homilist.

Burial followed at the Priests’ Circle at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Msgr. Easton said Msgr. Ryan “had a very keen sense of his responsibilities as a parish priest. He was very dedicated to his people and was there for them whenever he could be, which was almost all the time, and people knew that. People had a great deal of confidence in him. He inspired all those to whom he ministered pastorally.”

In addition to his parish and deanery responsibilities, Msgr. Ryan was dedicated to his part-time ministry as a hospital chaplain for patients with mental illnesses at the former Central State Hospital in Indianapolis, which was located across the street from St. Anthony Church, and later at Larue Carter Hospital in Indianapolis.

“He was very dedicated to the patients there,” Msgr. Easton said. “He was faithful to the Thursday morning Mass at Central State Hospital for years, until the state closed it, then he went over to Larue Carter Hospital, ministering to the patients there. Ministry to people with mental illnesses was very important to him, and he was particularly good at that. Ministry to the sick was a high priority item for him. He always spoke of it to me when I worked with him for almost 16 years.”

Msgr. Ryan also was dedicated to serving the poor and the elderly, Msgr. Easton said. “He had a good sense of ministering to the poor, the disadvantaged and the marginalized. That’s what he was particularly known for.”

Father William F. Stumpf, vicar of the Vicariate for Clergy and Parish Life Coordinators: Formation and Personnel, said Msgr. Ryan “was one of our greatest priests and … one of our holiest priests. His death is a great loss for the archdiocese.”

His mother, St. Andrew parishioner Pauline Witt of Richmond, and his sister, Elizabeth Pope, also of St. Andrew Parish in Richmond, remembered Msgr. Ryan’s care and concern for the sick and the poor.

“He also helped the street people,” Pope said. “He would let them in at the parish and talk to them and give them food. He was a scoutmaster for years, and on Oct. 21, 2001, he was invested in the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre.”

Pope said Msgr. Ryan “couldn’t have been a more wonderful brother and friend. He was a very, very dedicated priest. That was his calling and he strived to be the best. He was just an all-around good guy. He loved everybody.”

St. Anthony parishioner Rob Bullock of Indianapolis has known Msgr. Ryan for 35 years.

“I started as an altar boy with him when he came to the parish 30 years ago,” Bullock said. “He was a priest’s priest, and there was never a day he wasn’t there for his parishioners. To the every end, he was concerned about his parish and about the people in his parish.”

John T. Ryan was born on Aug. 19, 1930, in Richmond to John D. and Pauline Ryan. He attended St. Andrew School in Richmond and Saint Meinrad’s minor and major seminaries, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.

He was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1956, by the late Archbishop Paul C. Schulte at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. His first Mass was celebrated on May 6, 1956, at St. Andrew Church in Richmond.

Father Ryan’s first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis. In 1958, he was named associate pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis.

In 1967, he was appointed archdiocesan chaplain of the Boy Scouts. The following year, he was named associate pastor of the former St. Catherine Parish in Indianapolis and also served as a high school instructor.

On June 24, 1970, he was appointed pastor of St. Anthony Parish, a ministry he continued until his death. He was named dean of the Indianapolis West Deanery on Jan. 1, 1981. Also that year, he was appointed to the archdiocesan Board of Consultors and named administrator of the former Assumption Parish in Indianapolis.

Father Ryan was reappointed to the Board of Consultors in 1982 and 1983 and reappointed dean of the West Deanery in 1984, 1987, 1990, 1999 and 2003 while retaining his assignment as pastor of St. Anthony Parish.

For a period of three years beginning in 1993, Father James Wilmoth served as dean of the West Deanery, until Father Ryan was appointed to the post again in 1996.

In 1997, he served for a short period as administrator of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis.

Pope John Paul II conferred the title of Prelate of Honor upon Father Ryan on Aug. 26, 1997. Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein invested him with this title during a liturgy on Jan. 18, 1998, at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Msgr. Ryan was named administrator of Holy Trinity Parish in Indianapolis on July 7, 2004, while continuing as pastor of St. Anthony Parish and dean of the West Deanery. His assignment at Holy Trinity ended on Feb. 22, 2005.

On May 3, 2005, the 49th anniversary of his ordination, Msgr. Ryan was appointed administrator of St. Anthony Parish for a period of one year, a ministry position he held until his death.

Msgr. Ryan also served as chaplain of the Indiana School for the Blind and held several executive and chaplaincy positions for the Boy Scouts. He also coordinated the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal in 1981.

Surviving are his mother, Pauline (Kutter) Ryan Witte, and step-father, Walter Witte, who are members of St. Andrew Parish in Richmond, as well as three sisters, Carolyn Green, Elizabeth Pope and Mary Ann Witte, all of Richmond, and two brothers, Walter Witte of New Castle and Joseph Witte of Richmond. He also is survived by many nieces and nephews.

Memorial gifts may be sent to St. Anthony Parish, 379 N. Warman Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46222. †


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