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Issue Date:  June 17, 2005

Dick Ryan, Catholic journalist


A mainstay of Catholic journalism and someone familiar to NCR readers, Dick Ryan, died May 3 in New York of cancer.

Ryan, 75, wrote a moving account that ran in NCR’s Feb. 18 issue of a friend from his childhood who had recently died of cancer. It was in that piece that Ryan revealed that he, too, had cancer. “And right up to the day he died, this great old friend who had taught me to drive a car and play poker and who spoke wordlessly to me and my wife about life and death and hope was reaching out one last time to teach me how to die.”

Ryan knew the heart and soul of American Catholicism. He lived it and wrote about it and, particularly in the recent years of the sex abuse scandal, became one of its critics.

Ryan, who lived on Long Island, also wrote for The Tablet, the paper of the Brooklyn diocese, as well as Newsday and The New York Post. During the 1970s, he wrote a column, “Ryan’s Island,” for the New York Daily News. His most recent book was Holy Human: Stories of Extraordinary Catholics.

In an obituary that appeared in Newsday May 5, writer Cristina E. Desposito recalled an April 21 column that Ryan wrote for that paper after learning of his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer: “And sitting there watching television, the idea of life and death was no longer some knee-jerk sermon but rather a jolting reminder, out of the blue, that I had so much more to learn about how to live and how to die.”

Ryan was married to Patricia Cusick after the couple met at an Irish dance in Manhattan. They had six children.

His most recent book, a series of profiles of Catholics, many well-known, was indicative of his view of church as the people of God, a broad community of great diversity.

If writing was one of his passions, he wrote best of those figures whose faith pushed them to act. One such story was a profile of Sr. Lauria Fitzgerald, which ran in April of 1997.

In a vivid scene, he shows Fitzgerald approaching an abandoned warehouse on an icy day to search out a pregnant woman living amid garbage and rubble in a dank basement.

The woman then pointed Fitzgerald toward a man in the shadows, “bent over a cane and obviously in pain. Three nights earlier, someone had stabbed Ray in the thigh.” Fitzgerald knew the man, had helped him from the street to the abandoned building the night he was stabbed. This day she extracted a promise that he would see a doctor.

“It was just the beginning of another day for Fitzgerald, a short, puckish, electric Dominican Sister of Blauvelt who, for the last seven years, has been driving around the poorest Congressional district in the country, one overridden with AIDS, while searching out the homeless that she feeds and tries to help in any way she can,” he wrote.

Ryan grew up in Manhattan, attended New York’s Dunwoodie Seminary and received his bachelor’s degree in 1954, the year before he married.

He received a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University and attended Columbia University School of Journalism.

He received numerous writing awards, including best columnist from the Catholic Press Association in 1976 for his work at The Tablet and first place honors from the New York Press Association in 1986.

He also received the Bard of the Year award in 2000 from the Coney Island Irish Fair.

Dick Ryan is survived by his wife, six children and six grandchildren.

National Catholic Reporter, June 17, 2005

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