Sister Alice Ryan, MM

Born: October 30, 1910
Entered: June 28, 1934
Died: June 30, 1997

We gather this morning to remember and to celebrate the life of our Sr. Alice Ryan. She died peacefully in the Residential Care Facility at Maryknoll, New York on June 30, 1997. Sister Alice was eighty-six years old and shared life with us as a Maryknoll Sister for sixty-three years.

Alice Helena Ryan was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 30, 1910 to Agnes Sutton and James Ryan. She had one sister, Marie. Alice attended William Russell Elementary School and graduated from Dorchester High School in 1928. She attended the Teachers College of the City of Boston obtaining a Teacher’s Certificate in 1931. Alice was employed as an elementary school teacher for the Boston Public Schools from 1931 – 1934.

After hearing about Maryknoll through The Field Afar magazine, Alice applied to and entered Maryknoll on June 28, 1934. She received the religious name of Sr. James Agnes and made her First Profession of Vows on January 6, 1937 at Maryknoll, New York. She professed her Final Vows on the same date in 1940 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In 1937, Sr. Alice was assigned to Hawaii where she served as an elementary school teacher in Punahou and Waikiki until 1949. Returning to Maryknoll for Renewal in 1949, she was assigned to Ancon, Panama where she was principal of the elementary school and taught grades one and six. She spent 1956 in Guatemala and then returned to Panama in 1957. Sister Alice was Superior in Ancon during 1958 – 1959 and in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico from 1960 – 1961.

In 1961, Sr. Alice was assigned to Guatemala where she would spend most of the next twenty years. She served as Coordinator of the Practice School for student teachers from 1961 – 1965. She became Coordinator of the Primary School Division in 1967 and Director of the newly established Department of Adult Education in 1973. In this capacity, she developed a series of short courses for the mothers of her students and alumni. These women, because of family obligations, had no opportunity to discuss their problems. The courses provided the women with an opportunity to read and discuss Guatemalan reality, movements in the Church, etc. She is remembered by them with much gratitude and love. Ana Josefina Fuentes, the current Coordinator of Adult Education at Colegio Monte Maria, sums it up best: “Sr. Alice’s testimony has left us strong!”

Sister Alice was a woman of principle and committed to speaking her truth. Across the street from Monte Maria, a Formfit lingerie factory was located. In front of the factory, their products were advertised on large billboards. Sister Alice crossed the street one day and requested that they stop advertising in this manner as it was not promoting a positive image of women. The manager honored her request and removed the offensive billboard.

Her students remember her as a highly committed and enthusiastic educator whose ministry extended beyond the classroom to touch and inspire all whom she met. Her lifelong love of teaching, whether in the elementary school classroom or in adult education, was clearly apparent to all. As she prepared to leave Guatemala in 1981, she wrote: “It is particularly hard to say goodbye to Guatemala as my relationships with the mothers in the adult education program and with the children in our daily classes have become very strong and deep.” She was pleased that her replacement in the classroom was a young laywoman and graduate of Colegio Monte Maria. Sister Alice wrote: “It is a great joy to know that the work will continue.”

In 1981, she made the decision to leave Guatemala and asked to be assigned to the Senior Region for health reasons. She went to Terryville, Connecticut where she did part-time pastoral work in the Immaculate Conception Parish until 1989 when she made her request for assignment to Monrovia, California. In 1993, Sr. Alice returned to Maryknoll, New York for health reasons.

Sister Alice remained an active and interested member of the Congregation during all of her sixty-three years as a Maryknoll Sister. She was a faithful correspondent and continued reading and taking courses even into her years of retirement. Her many ideas were freely shared with Congregational leadership throughout the years. As each General Assembly approached, she wrote up in detail her proposals and sent them to the Central Governing Board of the time.

Much of Sr. Alice’s correspondence related to commemorating Mother Mary Joseph’s life. In 1975, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of MMJ’s death, she wrote to the Central Governing Board to suggest that Mother’s rooms be preserved along with her books, photos, etc. in a “memorabilia room.” She also requested that Sr. Barbara Hendricks, then President, “…give us some interesting lines of study on Mother’s message and life,” saying “it would be a blessed chance to take a new direction, reviewing what some of us have forgotten: the altogether disarming simplicity and joy, prayerfulness and loving breadth of soul, refinement and apostolic spirit of MMJ.”

Today’s Gospel reading from John states:

“Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”

This offers us a reflection on Sr. Alice’s life as a Maryknoll Sister and, in particular, the nearly sixty years that she dedicated to education. She remained in contact with some of her former students and took great pride in what they achieved. She wrote that the little she had to offer her students in the classroom bore much fruit in their lifelong accomplishments and especially in their service to others.

We offer our loving condolences to Sr. Alice’s family and friends. We wish to welcome Cecile Theriault and Fr. Edward J. Muha, friends from Immaculate Conception Parish in Terryville, Connecticut where Sr. Alice spent eight years in mission.

We also welcome our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Bill Mullan, who will celebrate this Eucharist of Resurrection with us, as together we give thanks for the gift of Sr. Alice Ryan’s life.