A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Fr Bernard J Ryan sm

Fr Bern RyanWhat follows is a homily delivered by Fr Paul Sullivan sm at the Holy Name of Mary Church, Hunters Hill , Sydney on 27th February 2015.

When I first arrived in Macksville to work with the Aboriginal community, Br. Steve Morelli, cfc, informed me that Bernie was the face of God to the Aboriginal people. Some of the Aboriginal men who lived on the ‘struggle side’ of life and who knew that Bernie was good for a few dollars and a couple of cigarettes said that Bernie was like Jesus to them. These images capture the experience of people who knew and loved Bernie and who were touched by his charm, grace and faith.

Some people would say that the underlying dynamic of working with the Aboriginal community was one of chaos; anything could happen at any time. Bernie was also blessed with the gift of chaos. So when chaos came together with chaos it was like a reliving of the story of the Book of Genesis: out of chaos came life, out of darkness came light and out of nothingness came fruitfulness.

The Spirit was always present and at work in and around Bernie. This is perhaps where Bernie was at his best. He instinctively knew how to respond to people and their situation and to bring hope into their lives and he did so with care, compassion and tenderness.

St. Theresa of Avila invites us to live according to the spiritual principle: ‘the grace of the present moment.’ Bernie had a unique capacity to live in the present and each moment with people was a time of grace.

Gil Casio, sm, a young Philippino Marist, five years ordained and now on mission in Thailand, after he had interviewed Bernie during the recent Spirituality & Lifestyle program wrote in a letter to Bernie; “you have inspired me by your stories and the life you lived.”

Bernie had a wonderful capacity to inspire young people. He had the gift to encourage people from all walks of life to share in the work and mission of the church. Every month at Macksville we would take two or three phone calls from people in New Zealand and Australia, former students and friends, wanting to catch up with him.

Bernie had a deep sense of mission and the work of Mary and was prepared to take the initiative in establishing new missions and ministries. In New Zealand encouraging teachers, lay people and the family movement. In Rome; initiating missions into Africa, Latin America and the Philippines. In Australia; initiating the mission to the Aboriginal community in the Diocese of Lismore. Internationally he was loved and respected. He was an international man with a universal mind and spirit.

Bernie was not only the face of God to the people, but he did this in a very particular way: this was the way and spirit of Mary. Bernie would say that he was born to be Marist due to the faith and inspiration of his parents, the faith and dedication of his family and the early family connections with the Marist community in New Zealand.

No doubt it was the work of the Holy Spirit that Bernie was elected Superior General at the time the Society of Mary was called to re-write the Marist Constitutions. Bernie treasured the Constitutions, (even though he could never find his copy of them) and they are now an inspirational gift to the Society of Mary.

The readings in today’s liturgy capture the dreams, hopes and prayers of Bernie: ‘ on this mountain all nations and people will be gathered together at the banquet of rich food.’ And ‘that our bodies will be transformed to be like his own in glory.’ Physically Bernie was as light as a sparrow, but in terms of spirit, he was strong, insightful and courageous.

At the end of our Sunday mass with the Aboriginal community Bernie liked everyone to sing a hymn called: “This little light of mine, I’m going to make it shine.”Everyone would join in with the actions that go along with the words. It was a community of faith celebrating light and life.

Bernie was a true light to all he met along the ninety years of his life: always revealing the face of God in the spirit of Mary. May he now be welcomed into the embrace of his God, the source and fullness of light and life, and may he rest in peace. Amen. 

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