BY SHARON OTTERMAN
It was the bell that first called to him. It was a Sunday afternoon in the mid-1920s, and his family was living in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx.
Now Gerald Ryan he is a monsignor, and he has been a priest for 67 years. He still runs a parish, St Luke’s in Mott Haven, and he is 92, making him the oldest working priest in New York City.
Fr Ryan lives simply, with no air-conditioning, or even a fan, in his presbytery.
His journey as a priest, he said, has been away from the formalities, trappings and titles of the church, in search of a deeper meaning of the Gospel.
“I think I have come a long, long way from when I was ordained,” he said. As a seminarian, he said, he liked the idea of saying Mass, hearing confession and being addressed as “father,” but that was “like a fairytale.”
“It isn’t about serving the church in the way you have envisioned, from the altar, and from the position of authority and power,” he said. “But it is learning what human nature is, and what the struggles of people are. And where Jesus really is.”
Fr Ryan was born in 1920 in Upper Manhattan to Irish immigrant parents; two years later, the family moved to Pelham Bay, after his Fr became a motorman for the IRT subway line. As a boy, Gerald Ryan was an altar server; he began seminary studies in high school.
“I never made a decision that I wanted to be a priest,” he said. “I just grew up with the idea.”
In Greying Priesthood, New York’s Greyest Keeps Faith in Bronx (New York Times)