Fr. Ray RylandI first met Fr. Ray Ryland over twenty years ago. As a new Catholic, perhaps the most striking thing at the time was also being introduced to his wife Ruth.

He’s married? And a Catholic priest? How can that be?

Boy, did I have a lot to learn. There was this thing called the pastoral provision, and it enabled certain non-Catholic clergy who came into full communion with the Church to subsequently become priests. Thankfully, I had some good teachers – namely my father, Dr. Douglas Lowry, a former Presbyterian minister who had just come into the Church along with my mom. There was also a new friend named Marcus Grodi, another former Presbyterian minister who was in the process of creating a new “apostolate,” a kind of network for non-Catholic clergy who were coming home.

Fast forward to today. Fr. Ray’s funeral was beautiful, a compelling display of the same kind of love and affection he showered on those he met during his remarkable lifetime. My sharp-eyed fifteen year old daughter claims there were 26 bishops, priests, and deacons present. Family members, including sons and daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, outnumbered them. Friends were a greater multiple still. At St. Peter’s Church in Steubenville, there was standing room only. All had come to honor a truly great man.

A great man indeed… since learning of Fr. Ray’s death, I have spent the last few days contemplating whether I have been privileged to know a greater man. So far, I’m not coming up with anyone.

I was privileged to see Fr. Ray a mere ten days ago, at The Coming Home Network retreat (Fr. Ray assisted Marcus in the formation of the apostolate, and was a faithful board member and chaplain for two decades). He was his usual, joyful self. A strong handshake. A great sense of humor. He had been my confidant in times of strife, and this time was no different. Upon approaching him with a question, his answer instilled within me a sense of hope and opportunity. It was powerful, yet somewhat… typical. In a way that doesn’t minimize the power of his words. He was just that kind of man.

I pulled out my copy of Fr. Ray’s memoir, Drawn from Shadows Into Truth: A Memoir the other day. In it, he left the kind of inscription that continues to inspire me. “For Kevin – dearly beloved, deeply respected, son in Christ – Fr. Ray” This brief note had far less to do with me than the kind of man Fr. Ray was – one of deep, abiding charity and humility. If you haven’t read the book, it’s fantastic. Beyond a conversion story, it includes topics such as a deeply insightful chapter on the value of priestly celibacy.

Fr. Ray was my son David’s prayer partner, and a serious one at that. When we discovered that David had medical complications even before his birth, Fr. Ray stepped forward and prayed for him – and has done so ever since. Perhaps now even more so.

Fr. Ray and Ruth were, and are, best friends to my parents. My dad has often remarked just how privileged they have felt to be included in all sorts of Ryland get-togethers, events and even family gatherings. The entire family is amazing. I knew some of this, of course, through my friendship with son Chris and daughter-in-law Sandi. They’re all gifted, and the legacy of Fr. Ray will surely live on for generations to come.

I could go on and on, but there’s a point to all this. Fr. Ray Ryland was an extraordinary man, including as a priest, theologian, attorney, WWII navy veteran, writer (for Our Sunday Visitor, among others), husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend. But here’s the point: what set him apart was his love for others. Despite his intellectual prowess, worldly accomplishments and countless virtues, his greatest triumph consisted of a life steeped in faith, hope, charity and humility.

Fr. Ray, I’m going to miss you dearly. Thank you. Thank you for your tremendous example, your love and encouragement, and your friendship these past twenty years. You won’t soon be forgotten.