In Graying Priesthood, NYC’s oldest priest Keeps Faith in Bronx
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. When an altar server rang the bell during the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Gerald Ryan, then about 4, thought the beautiful sound was coming from the monstrance that held the host.
At age 7, he was hit by a car, and lost his hearing in one ear. The bell remained in his memory, as if Jesus were calling him in stereo.
Now, 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.
“Maybe in the country,” Father Ryan said recently in his broad, courtly accent that is part Bronx, part Fred Astaire. “Maybe anywhere! I’ve been here forever.”
The priesthood is graying: the average age of Roman Catholic priests in the United States rose to 63 in 2009 from 35 in 1970, according to a recent study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. And with fewer young men entering seminaries, more priests are working past 75, the formal retirement age under canon law. In the New York Archdiocese, for example, where only one man was ordained into the priesthood this year, about 25 men over age 75 are still working as priests, and several are older than 85. [more]