Agnes Ryan: 95 and still on mission
8 July, 1944, four women came together in Launceston, Tasmania, to start the project that became the Missionary Sisters of Service. That same day a letter arrived from Western Australia, enquiring about the new venture. The writer was Agnes Ryan. In December that year, she arrived in Launceston to join this embryonic community, eager to contribute her gifts, talents and strong sense of mission.
Over the years Agnes has been at the forefront of movements in the Australian Church, particularly in the area of religious education and faith formation of people of all ages. An excellent teacher, she trained our sisters in teaching methods and religious education curriculum development in the early years of our congregation.
From the late 1950s, Agnes was involved in the renewal movement in religious education. She developed catechist training courses, and set up training programmes for religious education teachers in State schools and parish based sacramental preparation. She played a key role in the setting up of the CCD in Tasmania, Toowoomba and Brisbane dioceses through the 1960s and ’70s. She taught catechetics at St. Pius X seminary in Banyo, Brisbane, the first woman on the seminary’s staff.
While Agnes was trained as a primary school teacher, her great love was working with groups of adults. With them she loved to explore the rich sources of our faith tradition: the Scriptures, theology and spirituality.
As time went on, her interest shifted from teaching to spiritual formation, from head-knowledge to heart-knowledge. Agnes read deeply and widely. She delighted in sharing the richness of her reading insights with individuals and groups, and draw them into her growing love of God. In turn she was enriched by them as they shared their wisdom with her.
Now 95 years old, Agnes lives at St Catherine’s Aged Care facility, Baldwyn, Vic. She still has her strong sense of mission, now expressed in gratitude and love.
When asked what we should write about her in this issue of H&B, she didn’t give a thought to her achievements of her 66 years as a Missionary Sister of Service. She spoke, rather, about what fills her life and her days now:
“My mission now is to be wherever Jesus wants me to be, to live each day, walking with him…
“Love is the one thing that matters. It is at the heart of everything. The desire for love goes to the core…
“Love is a beautiful thing – family love, companionship love… It is a carat of gold.
“Each person I love calls out something special from me, a different expression of love.
“Gratitude – there is so much to be grateful for. When I don’t know how to pray, I just sit here, full of gratitude.
Agnes has known periods of deep suffering during her life. The journey through years of inner darkness transformed her, birthing in her the luminous qualities of love, gratitude and peace. This is what touches us when we visit her. It also touches the staff of St Catherine’s who hold her in great esteem and affection.
25th August 2011, two and a half weeks short of her 96th birthday, Agnes Ryan went home to the God she loved and served for almost 67 years as a Missionary Sister of Service. Some beautiful tributes to her have come from people who were enriched by her ministry over the years. They are posted on Latest News.