Bishop Vincent J. Ryan
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
His motto was “Above All Things Charity.” Bishop Vincent J. Ryan strove to make that his life’s guiding principle both before and after his consecration as Bishop of Bismarck on this day in 1940.
Born on a farm in Columbia County, Wisconsin in 1884, Vincent J. Ryan was ordained in 1912. He spent the next 28 years in Fargo, faithfully serving as pastor to St Anthony’s Church, secretary to the bishop and chancellor of the diocese. Father Ryan was also attuned to the social needs of his community; founding the North Dakota Conference on Social Work and organizing the Catholic Charities for the Diocese. For his contributions in the field of social work, the University of North Dakota conferred an honorary doctorate on Father Ryan in 1938.
His efforts also merited him the signal of being appointed a Domestic Prelate with the title of monsignor by Pope Pius XII in 1939. Just six months later he was named Bishop of Bismarck. Thousands of people crowded into St Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo on this day in 1940 to witness the consecration of Bishop Ryan before he left for Bismarck.
His first priority was finances. Just as the state had fallen on hard times during the 1930’s, so had the Diocese. As the war in Europe began to stimulate the American economy and wetter times returned to the Plains, Bishop Ryan reminded those under his care to show gratitude for their prosperity by returning to God a portion of their new wealth.
Over the next eleven years, Bishop Ryan increased the number of priests in the Diocese of Bismarck, launched a monthly diocesan newspaper to educate adults on their Catholic faith and constructed 69 new building including the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, and several other new churches, rectories, schools, hospitals and convents.
But the war in Europe and America’s involvement in it by 1941 also demanded attention. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ryan issued a pastoral letter reminding his flock that there would be no real peace until the world returned to God. To Bishop Ryan, the war was merely one tragic event in a growing world crisis that stemmed from a struggle for the soul of mankind. Thus his most urgent reminder was a reflection of his motto, Charity above all things. “Although we are at war,” he wrote, “we must guard against the hysteria of hate.”
Since the nation was committed to a just war, Ryan encouraged sacrifice for the cause by honoring soldiers, comforting their families, and caring for the war torn peoples of Europe. After the war, the Diocese of Bismarck sent half a million pounds of ground wheat to Europe and 1,300 Catholics from Ryan’s diocese offered to take in or contribute to the upkeep of refugees from Eastern Europe brought to North Dakota.
After guiding the Diocese of Bismarck through years of war and prosperity during the 1940’s, Bishop Vincent J. Ryan passed away on November 10, 1951.
Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall
“Diocese of Bismarck”, http://www.bismarckdiocese.com/default.asp (accessed 2008).
Father Louis Pfaller, OSB, ed. The Catholic Church in Western North Dakota 1738-1960. Mandan, ND: Crescent Printing Company, 1960.
Kardong, Terrence G. Prairie Church: The Diocese of Bismarck 1910-1985. Richardton, ND: Assumption Abbey Press, 1985.