Father “Bo” Ryan still in awe through 70 years of Priesthood

Retired priest of the K.C.-St. Joseph diocese has been living, ministering near the Lake of the Ozarks for nearly 30 years — Looking forward to his 70th priestly anniversary, 95th birthday


Father C. Duane “Bo” Ryan remembers the moment he first spoke the words of consecration and knew he was holding the Body of Christ in his mortal hands.

“Thrilling! Thrilling and awesome!” he recently recalled. “It just kind of gets to you. ... You just say, ‘Wow!’”

That deep-seated wonder has persisted through seven decades of Priesthood.

In fact, if Fr. Ryan could go back and tell his newly ordained self just one thing, it would be: “You’re a pretty lucky son of a gun!”

Fr. Ryan, a retired priest of the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese, has spent nearly 30 years living and ministering in retirement near the Lake of the Ozarks.

His priestly ties to the Jefferson City diocese are thick and pervasive.

Anticipating both his 70th priestly anniversary on April 3 and his 95th birthday on May 25, he spent a recent afternoon expressing joy and gratitude for his vocation and all the people it has brought into his life.

“It’s such a privilege,” he said. “It defines who I am.”

Irish ayes

The oldest of two children born to Clifford and Amelia Ryan, Fr. Ryan was raised in a family that took its Catholic faith seriously.

St. Louis Parish in Kansas City and its school were the center of the family’s activities.

“Both of my parents were active in the parish and school organizations,” Fr. Ryan recalled, “and we had a warm and enduring relationship with the priests of the parish, many of whom remained friends of the family after they had moved on to other parochial assignments.”

Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas, taught at the school.

Father Senan O’Connell, a native of Co. Clare, Ireland, was an associate pastor there and became a priestly mentor to young Bo.

Fr. O’Connell was later incardinated into the Jefferson City diocese, ministering until his death in a car wreck when he was pastor of Shrine of St. Patrick parish in St. Patrick.

“He was very good to me and helped me greatly in many, many ways,” Fr. Ryan recalled.

After grade school, Fr. Ryan and his closest friend since kindergarten, the future Father John Hix, enrolled in St. John’s Minor Seminary in Kansas City for high school and the first two years of college.

Fr. Ryan’s parents supported his decision.

“My mother was delighted,” he recalled. “My dad was like, ‘If that’s what you want to do, do it.’”

When in doubt

After six years at St. John’s, Fr. Ryan continued at what was known as St. Louis Prep Seminary in St. Louis, followed by four years of theology at nearby Kenrick Seminary.

He struggled at the end of each term with whether to continue his formation.

“I almost called it quits after the end of my first year in St. Louis,” he recalled.

“But then, I just wrestled with it for a while, back and forth, and I decided to go ahead,” he said.

“And as I gradually grew into it more, probably in another six to eight months, the doubts began to go away.”

He felt confident in his calling by around his second year of theology.

On April 3, 1954, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Archbishop Edwin V. O’Hara of Kansas City ordained him and nine other men priests of what was then the Diocese of Kansas City.

“A clear, crisp day. A beautiful, beautiful spring day,” Fr. Ryan recalled.

In the beginning

Fr. Ryan was struck by how many priests were being ordained for his diocese that day — “some of whom I had known for years, others that were coming from other seminaries who I had never met before.”

His classmates included the late Monsignor Francis Gilgannon and the late Fathers William Forst, Donald Kemper, Charles Pfeiffer and Francis Stangl, all of whom became priests of the Jefferson City diocese when it was created in 1956.

Fr. O’Connell and Father William Conrad, then serving as pastor of Fr. Ryan’s home parish, assisted at his First Solemn Mass.

Years earlier, Fr. Conrad had established what is now Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Ozark.

The week after Fr. Ryan’s ordination, Fr. O’Connell invited him to visit and assist him at St. Mary Parish in Lamar.

There, Fr. Ryan heard his first Confessions and assisted with the Holy Week liturgies.

He was then appointed associate pastor of St. Therese the Little Flower Parish in Kansas City, where he developed a Catholic Youth Organization, coached youth sports in the parish, and taught religion part-time at Bishop Hogan High School.

In 1956, Fr. Ryan and the pastor of St. Therese, Father Michael F. McAuliffe, became priests of the newly created Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

Fr. Ryan said working with the Jefferson City diocese’s future second bishop (+1968-97) helped him develop a keener appreciation for the Priesthood, parish life, education and social justice.

Fr. Ryan said offering Mass was “the easiest thing I ever did.”

 “I still find it a thrill to be able to celebrate,” he said.

Doing new things

Less than a decade into Fr. Ryan’s Priesthood, Pope St. John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council.

Major changes to nearly every facet of Catholic life would follow.

“I’ve always been on the side of ‘We’ve got to do something like that,’” said Fr. Ryan. “So, when Pope John called the Council, and the changes came, I accepted them gladly and tried as best I could to pursue them enthusiastically.”

He found that most of his parishioners were right on board.

“For the most part, they would go along with what we were doing, and the opposition was never huge,” he said.

He remains supportive of drawing clergy, religious and laypeople into closer collaboration in carrying out the Church’s multifaceted mission.

“I’ve pretty much stayed that way, even today,” he said.

Teach, preach and lead

Bishop John P. Cody, founding bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph (and later cardinal archbishop of Chicago), assigned Fr. Ryan to help create a new Catholic high school in St. Joseph.

He wound up serving as the bishop’s liaison to the school and teaching Latin and religion there while helping out at a local parish.

He enjoyed connecting with his students, especially as their religion teacher.

He still occasionally sees or hears from former students from those days.

“It’s always pleasant, just thrilling, to meet them and see what they’ve done, and learn about them,” he said.

He usually remembers their names.

After Fr. McAuliffe became diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, Bishop Cody asked Fr. Ryan to assist the future bishop with oversight of the schools in the St. Joseph area.

Later, Fr. Ryan also became director of the St. Joseph operations of Catholic Charities of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

For the last two of his 10 years in that city, he also served as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish.

He was then assigned to St. Augustine Parish in Kansas City, where he got to help implement many of the reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Charles H. Helmsing, Kansas City-St. Joseph’s second bishop, then sent him to Independence, near Kansas City, to establish St. Joseph the Worker Parish.

“It was thrilling!” said Fr. Ryan. “The people were all excited, and they were glad to jump in and help do every possible thing you could suggest.”

About 10 years later, he was appointed pastor of a long-established parish in Kansas City, with many needs and tight finances.

The stress affected his health, which continued to deteriorate.

He served as an associate pastor of several parishes until Bishop John J. Sullivan, third bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, granted him retirement in the early 1990s.

Come to the water

Fr. Ryan always loved the Lake of the Ozarks, where his family often visited throughout his childhood.

“It was almost unpopulated back then,” he recalled. “The water was almost as clear as crystal.”

He bought a cabin and some property near the Lake, about 12 miles south of Laurie, in the 1970s, and it became his getaway.

He moved there after retirement and eventually began building onto it.

“Of course, I wasn’t totally familiar with the diocese, but I did know a lot of the priests,” he said.

His sister and her husband had moved to Jefferson City with their family and became members of Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish.

He liked the community at the Lake and fit well into it.

“I found the slower pace just wonderful to work with,” he said. “I think it gave me a whole new lease on life.”

His health began to improve.

“So, after I got settled here, I thought I’d like to go back to work again,” he said.

He had known Father Fred Barnett, who was pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Laurie and the Mission of St. Philip Benizi in Versailles, since their days in the seminary.

Fr. Ryan began helping with Masses in Laurie and Versailles, eventually offering almost all of the Sunday Masses at the St. Philip Benizi mission.

“I found it to be a very nice, dedicated community,” he said. “I was amazingly impressed with the way they worked.

“They were pretty much ready for anything and swung with anything that we tried to do,” he recalled.

As their priest, he found that they also ministered to him on almost every occasion.

“There were so many of them that inspired me in so many ways in how they went about things,” he said.

“And it wasn’t just stand-outs,” he noted. “It was pretty much widespread.”

When Father Edwin Cole, Fr. Barnett’s successor as pastor in Laurie, became seriously ill, Fr. Ryan stepped in to serve as associate pastor there in addition to his duties in Versailles.

Fr. Ryan then served as temporary administrator for a few months after Fr. Cole died.

“By then, I knew the people well, so I could do it,” he recalled.

Heavy heart

Fr. Ryan gradually stepped back from regular ministry as his health became more difficult to manage.

His caretaker, Edrea Eisenhauer, has been helping him for 18 years.

He continued to fill in at parishes near the Lake of the Ozarks after moving to a smaller home in Sunrise Beach.

“The heart ... there’s just not enough of it there to do its work anymore,” he said.

Medicine helps, and he feels pretty good on most days.

“Of course, I’m very slow getting around,” he said. “But you can’t expect to win many races at my age!”

Fr. Ryan has been able to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to several of his neighbors and pray regularly with others.

“We’ve become very good friends,” he said. “Many of them are Catholic, but not all. So we have our little ecumenical Christian community here.”

Last year, Father Michael Penn, pastor of Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lake Ozark, invited Fr. Ryan to concelebrate the Holy Week liturgies in Our Lady of the Lake Church.

“What a joy that was!” said Fr. Ryan.

Call to prayer

Fr. Ryan said he’s grateful for his memories and his Priesthood.

“I’m so happy to be able to be a part of this diocese and to feel accepted and welcome, and I’ve loved ministering to people,” he said.

He asked for prayers for the Holy Spirit to continue moving the Church toward the vision Pope Francis is trying to create and renew.

“And pray for more, good, dedicated priests who will have care and concern not so much for the growth of the Church as its spiritual health,” he suggested.

He also asked for prayers for himself as his jubilee approaches.

“People will pray from their own manner of life,” he noted. “So, I won’t ask for anything other than to pray for me.”