The Life of Father Ray Ryland
Fr. Raymond Olin Ryland was born March 7, 1921, in the small town of Crescent, Oklahoma, the only child of Harry and Dora Cowling Ryland.
In 1942 he earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma. That same year he enlisted in the United States Navy and served in World War II in the Pacific arena as a navigator on the aircraft carrier Nassau as a lieutenant (j.g.).
In college he met Ruth Margaret Silvee, and they fell in love. They corresponded during the war and were married in San Francisco on July 28, 1945, shortly before the war ended.
Fr. Ryland, who had been raised in the Disciples of Christ Church, entered Harvard Divinity School in 1946, eventually graduating from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. His religious affiliation shifted as a result of his study and prayer in seminary, and in 1950 he was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church.
During his first assignment as associate rector at St. Margaret’s Church, his and Ruth’s first child, Risa, was born. In 1952, Fr. Ryland was appointed rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, also in Washington, D.C. During his four years there, the Rylands had two more children, Erica and Chris.
In 1956 he accepted the position of rector at St. Stephen’s Church in Beaumont, Texas, where the next year the fourth Ryland child, Timothy, was born.
In the summer of 1959, Fr. Ryland came full circle geographically, returning to Oklahoma to become chaplain at Casady School, an Episcopal prep school in Oklahoma City. He also served as interim dean at St. Paul’s Cathedral. In 1960, the Rylands welcomed Mark, their fifth and final child.
Throughout Fr. Ryland’s years as an Episcopal priest, he and Ruth continued to read, study, and pray about their Christian faith. It was a long, sometimes arduous faith journey, which he detailed in his 2013 memoir, Drawn from the Shadows into Truth. The result was the Ryland family’s reception into the Catholic Church on the feast of Pentecost in 1963.
Fr. Ryland found employment teaching at St. Gregory’s College (now University) in Shawnee, Oklahoma. From 1964 to 1966, the Rylands lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Fr. Ryland earned a doctoral degree in theology at Marquette University. Returning to Oklahoma City, he took the job of director of ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Oklahoma.
In 1969, he became an associate professor of religious studies at the University of San Diego in California. He was ordained to the permanent diaconate in 1970. In 1980 the Vatican granted the Pastoral Provision in the United States, allowing married clergy converts from Protestantism to be ordained priests under a special dispensation. Fr. Ryland was one of the first applicants from the U.S., and in 1983 was ordained a Catholic priest in the Diocese of San Diego.
In 1991, Fr. Ryland retired as full professor from the University of San Diego and moved to Steubenville, Ohio, to work as an adjunct professor at Franciscan University for three years. For the next several years he and his wife shuttled between San Diego and Steubenville, until in 1998 they moved permanently to Ohio.
Subsequently, Fr. Ryland served in a variety of functions, including as chaplain for the Coming Home Network and Catholics United for the Faith. He served in the local parishes of Holy Family and St. Peter’s and was active in campus ministry at Franciscan University. He lectured widely and published many articles, and at the time of his death was a regular columnist for The Catholic Answer magazine.
Fr. Raymond Olin Ryland died Thursday, March 20, 2014 in Steubenville, Ohio. He was 93.
Fr. Ryland is survived by Ruth, his wife of nearly 69 years; daughter Risë; daughter Erica; son Chris and his wife, Sandi; son Tim and his wife, Leslie; son Mark and his wife, Katie; 22 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.