Founding archbishop of Anchorage Diocese dies at age 86

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Reverend Joseph T. Ryan, the founding archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Anchorage and first archbishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, has died. He was 86.

Ryan died Monday at Our Lady of Hope residence in Albany, N.Y.

In 1966, then-Monsignor Ryan was named by Pope Paul VI to become the first head of the new Archdiocese of Anchorage.

''... Only two years before, Anchorage had captured worldwide attention because of the 1964 earthquake,'' said Archbishop Francis T. Hurley, who became Ryan's successor in 1976 and continues to serve in that capacity.

''It was significant that the first archbishop was a priest whose ministry had been worldwide -- in the Pacific as a Navy chaplain during World War II, and then as director of the Catholic Near East Society, whose focus was the Holy Land and the support of the places marked by the life of Jesus,'' Hurley said.

After his military service ended in 1946, Ryan returned to upstate New York and was assigned to several churches in the area.

Ryan was appointed chancellor of the Military Ordinariate under Cardinal Francis Spellman in 1957. A year later, he became assistant secretary of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and field director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, based in Beirut.

He returned to New York in 1960 after being named secretary of the Near East Welfare Association and president of the Pontifical Mission.

His Alaska assignment began six years later.

Ryan became titular Archbishop of Gobi and Coadjutor Archbishop to the Military Vicar in 1975. He was installed as Archbishop for the Military Services a decade later.

Pope John Paul II extended Ryan's term beyond the mandatory retirement age of 75, and he finally retired in 1991.

A memorial mass is scheduled Monday at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage.

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