Limerick priest taught by Pope is not surprised at decision to resign

Donal O’Regan


Donal O’Regan

LIMERICK’s 1955 All-Ireland winning centre-back, Fr Seamus Ryan, knows the Pope both as a young and an elderly man.

LIMERICK’s 1955 All-Ireland winning centre-back, Fr Seamus Ryan, knows the Pope both as a young and an elderly man.

Fr Ryan, Cappamore, knew him as Dr Joseph Ratzinger when he studied under him in the University of Munster, Germany in the 1960s.

In more recent years he became reacquainted with him as Pope Benedict XVI when he was invited to Castel Gandolfo with other former students.

Fr Ryan, 76, said he wasn’t surprised when news broke of the Pope’s resignation to take place this Thursday evening.

“I didn’t agree anyway with Popes living on until they were sick or one thing or another and I always felt with Ratzinger, he won’t do that.

“I felt that he would resign when he felt he was no longer up to it, that’s the kind of man he is,” said Fr Ryan.

In the Pope’s statement he said: “I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

The last time Fr Ryan saw the Pope in person was at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo last September.

Every year the Pope gathered former students around him to get their opinion on a particular subject.

“I didn’t go every year, I went year on year off. I went last year and I hadn’t gone for a couple of years and I was shocked to see how much the Pope had deteriorated physically anyhow. He had really gotten very old,” said Fr Ryan.

But while his body may not have the strength of years gone bye, mentally he remains a powerhouse said Fr Ryan, who calls him a “genius”.

“It makes every sense [to resign]. Shakespeare said in Macbeth, ‘nothing in his life became him like the leaving it’.

“And his leaving of the Vatican, that was one of his best contributions that he retired because nobody had done it for 600 years.

“It is so different now. When that began, with the Pope not retiring, it was a different world. But now with the speed of communications and everything else, that has changed in my time more than it has changed in the last 600 years.

“Certainly the energy needed for that job today is just colossal,” said Fr Ryan, who has been based in Ballyfermot for 23 years.

He came to meet Dr Joseph Ratzinger in 1963 after he completed a doctorate in theology in Maynooth. One of his professors, Dr Kevin McNamara, suggested the man, who was already quite famous in the German Catholic Church, as his mentor.

Coincidentally it was in the University of Munster. Fr Ryan’s brother, Liam, who lives in Cappamore, wrote the famous song about Munster legend John Hayes.

Fr Ryan once called to the home of Dr Ratzinger who praised the Limerick man’s German. The priest remembers his friendly smile and “touch of shyness which is still evident in the man 40 years later”. They discussed the struggles of achieving their doctoral thesis’ and Dr Ratzinger told him that his lengthy work on the theology of revelation in St Bonaventure had been rejected.

Fr Ryan wrote about the meeting and time studying in Germany in Cappamore’s 2005 yearbook. The priest wondered if the Pope allowed himself a wry smile when he recalls his work’s rejection when he was invested with papal infallibility in later life.

The piece, in which Fr Ryan said his two years in Germany was a wonderful time in his life, actually made it to the Vatican.

“Vincent Twomey in the media office saw it and sent Ceapach Mhor on,” said Fr Ryan. He was then asked to join the yearly meeting of the Pope’s former students in Castel Gandolfo.

As the photograph shows the Pope remembered Fr Ryan well and greeted him warmly.

The Cappamore priest told the Pope he was the best teacher he ever had.

After that meeting he asked his taxi driver what he thought of the Pope.

“I was surprised when he said, ‘to the Romans he is the most popular Pope since John XXIII.” Fr Ryan doesn’t know if the students will continue to meet the Pope but said it would be “very nice if it came about”.