Body of Tennessee Priest on Path to Canonization Reburied in Basilica
The body of Servant of God Patrick Ryan, a Tennessee priest who died in 1878 caring for victims of Chattanooga’s yellow fever epidemic, was moved and reinterred at the city’s Sts. Peter and Paul Basilica over the weekend.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The body of Servant of God Patrick Ryan, a Tennessee priest who died in 1878 caring for victims of Chattanooga’s yellow fever epidemic, was moved and reinterred at the city’s Sts. Peter and Paul Basilica over the weekend.
During a yellow fever epidemic in 1878, some 80% of Chattanooga residents fled the city. Father Ryan stayed to minister to the sick, dying of yellow fever himself on Sept. 28, 1878.
Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, who opened Father Ryan’s sainthood cause in 2016, celebrated a memorial Mass and presided over Father Ryan’s entombment on July 31.
“There is no greater gift than to give your life for your friends,” Bishop Stika said, as reported by The Chattanoogan.
“Father Ryan did indeed give his life for his friends, friends that were Catholic and friends that were not Catholic. ... His memory is still strong today.”
The procession from the cemetery where Father Ryan was interred to the basilica was mainly done with Father Ryan’s casket in a hearse, switching to a walking procession with bagpipes near the basilica.
Father Ryan was buried in a cemetery near the basilica following his death in September 1878, and less than a decade later, in 1886, his remains were moved, with a horse and buggy procession, to the then-new Mount Olivet Cemetery about 6 miles away.
The diocese requested that Father Ryan be exhumed in part to confirm that he was a real person and not a “pious legend.” There is strong evidence pointing to the priest’s existence, like letters between clergymen and newspaper clippings.
Hamilton County officials approved Father Ryan’s exhumation in early 2019. When his casket was opened, beside his body were found vestments, a scapular and a wooden crucifix.
Servant of God Patrick Ryan was born in 1845 near Nenagh in County Tipperary, Ireland. His family was forced to emigrate to the United States after suffering eviction from their home, and they settled in New York.
Father Ryan studied for the priesthood at St. Vincent’s College in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1869, he was ordained in Nashville, Tennessee. Later, he was sent to Chattanooga, where he opened the town’s oldest private school.
During the city’s yellow fever epidemic, an eyewitness said that the priest would go “from house to house in the worst-infected section of the city to find what he could do for the sick and needy,” according to a biography of Father Ryan on the website of Sts. Peter and Paul Basilica.
Since 2016, the diocese’s historical commission on Father Ryan's cause for canonization has been investigating his life, with a view toward evaluating his possible beatification and canonization.
The tribunal held its first session of inquiry Sept. 28, 2020. There, Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, presented various documents required to proceed, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ vote on the cause’s advisability and the declaration from the Holy See that nothing obstructed the cause.
Father David Carter, pastor and rector of Sts. Peter and Paul, said the committee of inquiry will send its research on to Rome, in the hopes the Church will declare him “Venerable” before Christmas, The Chattanoogan reported.
Father Carter said the committee has not yet interviewed anyone who has claimed to have received a miracle through Father Ryan’s intercession. At least one miracle is required before a person can be declared “Blessed.”