Sister Ann Catherine Ryan, MM
Born: December 18, 1917
Entered: December 8, 1940
Died: April 25, 2013
Early in the morning of April 25, 2013 our beloved Sister Ann Catherine Ryan peacefully released her spirit at Maryknoll Sisters Residential Care III. Her strength had declined in the past weeks but she still had a soft smile, and a word of gratitude or encouragement for all who visited, an extension of her lifelong and ever-present joy in people, all of whom she received as gifts in her life.
Catherine Henrietta Ryan was born on December 18, 1917 in Bangor, Maine to Charles F. and Mary (Peavey) Ryan. Catherine graduated from John Baptist High School in Bangor and studied for two years at the Gilmar Commercial School also in Bangor. She entered the Congregation of the Maryknoll Sisters at Maryknoll, NY on December 8, 1940 from St. Mary’s Parish in Bangor, ME. She received the name of Ann Catherine and made First Profession of Vows on June 30, 1943. Sister Ann Catherine was assigned to Bolivia in 1945 and made Final Profession there on June 30, 1946.
Following language study, Sister Ann Catherine was assigned in 1946 as secretary to the Bishop of the Pando Vicariate in the northern lowlands of Bolivia. In 1947 she moved from the Vicariate headquarters in Riberalta to a ministry teaching primary school religion classes in the city of Cobija. Realizing that most young women in this remote jungle region had no educational opportunity beyond sixth grade, she started to develop a professional school for them in Cobija. The school was soon moved, in 1951, to Riberalta where the population was larger. The young women from Cobija joined the young women of Riberalta in learning secretarial and dressmaking skills at the Professional School, affectionately known as the “Profe”. Among other gifts, Sister Ann Catherine was a wonderful seamstress.
Former student Bertha Hashimoto, who as a member of the Riberalta Municipal Council, thanked Sister in the name of the community, described her as a “teacher who for 18 years demonstrated and taught values of faith, responsibility, solidarity, justice and love to her students, giving them not just information but values and concrete ways of living as they became professions, wives and mothers who are committed to their people, ready to accept the great challenges of the present historical moment.”
From 1963 to 1980 Sister Ann Catherine left the jungles of Bolivia for the deserts of Lima, Peru, a contrast commented on in her 2006 poem, “A Question” when she said: “Life in the jungle, life in the desert, different as could be, were always shaping me…Everything alive is in constant change moved by Divine Energy, surprises yet to be.” Living amid the poor families of the Ciudad de Dios, “City of God” Parish on the outskirts of Lima, Sister Ann Catherine visited homes, trained catechists with a special emphasis on opening this service to women, and accompanied numerous Basic Christian Communities that met weekly to reflect on scripture and discern what God might be calling them to do for their larger neighborhood. The area lacked basic services but by working together the people struggled to gradually improve this reality, all the while encouraged and accompanied by Sister Ann Catherine whose own trust in God was boundless. Friends often heard her say “Everything Falls”, shorthand for “Don’t worry, everything will fall into place as it should.”
Sister Ann Catherine returned to Riberalta, Bolivia in 1980. For the next 24 years she formed and accompanied Basic Christian Communities in Riberalta. She also became involved in leadership courses for small groups. Her keen interest in the dynamics and relationships between groups on local and national levels gave her the insight to help others recognize where change was possible. And always she continued to support the women who had been her students and were now leaders in educational, parish and civic activities. As her level of energy decreased, Sister Ann Catherine still remained available to all who visited seeking a compassionate ear, some timely advice or the ever-present smile and encouragement.
In 2004 Sister Ann Catherine returned to the Sisters Center at Maryknoll, NY as her health needs became more demanding. There she discovered a gift for poetry and in 2006 shared her first poem entitled “The Rose”. Over the next years, as she reflected on the many wonderful experiences and relationships of her life, she continued to share her wisdom and continued to inspire others through the medium of poetry.
Catherine maintained close, life-long contacts with so many people she had met throughout her missionary life. She was a joyful person who always loved to celebrate. She was always present when invited to celebrate the joys and sorrows of the families in her Basic Christian Communities in Peru and Bolivia. In community life she was always full of fun and all the Sisters looked forward to her skits and impersonations at community gatherings. She certainly filled our lives with “the saving grace of a sense of humor” which Mother found so necessary for a missioner. Her Sister-poet companion, Sister Noel Devine, called her a “Community Builder” because “she could be depended upon to be the heart and the spark of community. She sparked new life in our hearts with laughter and fun. Her openness to new ideas and her welcoming non-judgmental heart attracted a multitude of friends who could share their own ideas and dreams with her.”
As we give thanks for Sister Ann Catherine’s life and the grace that she was for all of us, we welcome our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Bill Coy, who served for many years in Riberalta, and who will preside at our Liturgy of Christian Burial.