Sister M. Hildegarde Ryan, MM

Born: March 26, 1908
Entered: April 5, 1928
Died: December 6, 1997

The reading chosen for today’s Gospel is about the Good Shepherd. It reads: “The Father loves me for this: that I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down freely.” This quotation succinctly describes the life of our Sister Hildegarde Ryan who died peacefully in the Residential Care Unit of the Maryknoll Sisters Center at 9:05 p.m. Saturday, December 6, 1997. She was ninety-one years of age and had laid down her life in the service of mission for sixty-nine years as a Maryknoll Sister.

Anna Agatha Ryan was born in Rosiere, New York on March 28, 1906 to Mary Regina Solar and John Andrew Ryan. She had three brothers and one sister. She was a member of Saint Vincent de Paul Parish in Ogdensburg, New York and attended District Number 3 Grammar School in Rosiere and Cape Vincent High School. After graduating from Watertown Training School for Teachers, she taught school in Watertown and Highland Falls, New York from 1925 to 1928. The Supervisor for her student teaching wrote of her: “Miss Ryan was successful with the children in school. She has a real love of children and gains their interest and confidence.”

When Anna Agatha was thinking about becoming a religious, she wrote to her former pastor and family friend, Fr. Tierney, about her thoughts regarding the foreign missions. He wrote back saying, “Maryknoll is your place and it is just across the river from you.” The next weekend, Anna came to Maryknoll, not to look around or ask questions but simply to apply. She entered on March 5, 1928 and at Reception received the religious name of Sister Mary Hildegarde. She made her first vows on October 28, 1930 at Maryknoll, New York and her final vows on October 28, 1933 in Hawaii, where she had been assigned shortly after First Profession and where she spent forty years teaching in primary schools.

After six years in Hawaii, Sister Hildegarde applied to enter the Contemplative Community at Maryknoll, New York. She spent two years there, from 1937 to 1939 before returning to Hawaii, where she once again taught in primary schools on the islands of Maui and Oahu. In addition to her teaching ministry, Sister spent many years in a regional leadership role, on the Regional Council and as Superior. In 1961 she completed her studies at Maryknoll Teachers College graduating with a Bachelor of Education Degree.

In 1971 when Sister was 65 years old she retired from formal classroom ministry and took on the ministry of caring for the Sisters in the Manoa Convent. When asked to share her thoughts about retirement and her work Sister stated: “I do not think of myself as a housekeeper, primarily. Whether I teach or keep house is immaterial. God is so good to give me this time to step out of the feverish pace of life and to just serve in peace, joy and love, witnessing faith and hope in the midst of so much suffering and hopelessness. Best of all it is the time to turn to God in prayer, to be a half-way house, so to speak, carrying in my heart the longing of all of us for the fullness of God Himself and feeling, in return, God’s loving concern for each of us.”

Sister Hildegarde returned to New York from Hawaii in 1978 and responded to a request for Sisters to live in a federal housing project for senior citizens in Schenectady, New York. She was at home with her sister when she received word of her assignment to the Eastern Senior Region and responded to Sister Barbara Hendricks’ letter saying: “Your letter with my assignment reached me while I was at home. My sister asked, ‘Now, do you want to cry or celebrate?’ She knows how much Hawaii meant to me. They were great years which I treasure in my heart. The love and concern of those people for us can only be repaid by the same in our lives. They have always been an inspiration. But I don’t want to spend too much time looking back. There are days ahead with work to do and I want to do my best in whatever the Good Lord has in store for me. It may not be much but I’m grateful for the opportunity.”

Sister Hildegarde and Sister Marie Jogues Coffey spent four years in Schenectady as concerned listeners to and helpers of their fellow residents. In 1981, Mrs. Mary Krug, a women living in the housing project, wrote to express her regard for Sister Hildegarde, she stated: “I just wanted you to know the great kindness of Sister Hildegarde. Everyone who comes into contact with her at the Summit Towers Housing Project and the hospitals she visits loves her dearly. We feel as if nobody can ever take her place. I am 83 years old and I have never met anyone with so much kindness and patience. Nothing is too much for her.”

In 1982 Sister entered into her third retirement at Monrovia, California. Not exactly inactive, she spent the next fifteen years in voluntary ministry visiting nursing homes, teaching remedial reading in the parish school and serving as Eucharistic Minister, especially taking Communion to the shut-ins in the area. In March 1997, due to illness, she moved from Monrovia to the Residential Care Unit at Maryknoll, New York.

In a thank you note to the Central Governing Board for their greetings and prayers for her Sixtieth Anniversary of entrance to Maryknoll, Sister wrote: “It seems the older I grow, the prouder I feel when I say I’m Maryknoll. Something inside me dances!” Today, at this Eucharistic Celebration of Sister’s Resurrection we join with her, as we are sure, she dances into heaven!

Today we wish to welcome Sister’s family and friends. We also welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father Lionel Bouffard, who will preside at this Liturgy of the Resurrection for Sister Hildegarde.