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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / The Most Rev. Richard Stika, Bishop of Knoxville, speaks during the First Session of the Tribunal of the Inquiry That Will Examine the Life, Virtues, Offering of Life, Reputation of Holiness, and Signs of Intercessory Power of the Servant of God Father Patrick Ryan at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on Monday, Sept. 28, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Another step was taken Monday in the potential canonization of the Rev. Patrick Ryan as the diocese of Knoxville installed members of a group to lead the inquiry into the Chattanooga priest.

During two services at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville created the committee, which includes the Rev. J. David Carter and Deacon Gaspar DeGaetano of Chattanooga, the Rev. John Orr, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Athens, Deacon Hicks Armor of Chattanooga, Rebecca Dempsey, Jennifer Morris and John Hilgeman.

The group will review Ryan's life and look for any reason why the priest should not be venerated to receive one of the highest honors in the church, Carter said.

(READ MORE: Request initiated to honor Chattanooga priest Patrick J. Ryan)

Ryan led the parish in Chattanooga from 1872 to 1878. Born in Ireland, Ryan was ordained a priest at the cathedral in Nashville in 1869. He served briefly in the Clarksville area before being transferred to Chattanooga in 1872.

In 1876, he helped the Dominican Sisters of the St. Cecilia congregation open Notre Dame de Lourdes Academy.

In the fall of 1878, yellow fever appeared in Chattanooga and around 80% of local residents fled the city. Ryan was among the few who stayed, choosing to make house visits to care for those sick with the disease. Notre Dame converted to a hospital and orphanage where Ryan also tended to the sick.

Ryan himself got sick and eventually died on Sept. 28, 1878, at age 33. More than 100 carriages joined the procession to bury the Chattanooga priest. Ryan was reburied six years later at the newly created Mount Olivet Cemetery in East Ridge.

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Sainthood push for Chattanooga priest gains poignance amid pandemic

The Diocese of Knoxville officially opened the cause for Ryan's sainthood on June 14, 2016. The tribunal established Monday will gather information for a formal request that will be sent to Rome for review.

(READ MORE: Catholic Church seeks OK to exhume priest who died in 1878 while tending sick during Chattanooga epidemic)

Carter said when the cause of sainthood first opened in 2016, it seemed as though Ryan's story was a distant one. Few people living at the time had ever lived through a pandemic.

"All of a sudden we get hit with a global pandemic that affects our every moment," Carter said. "It shut downs our society. It isolates people. People start to hurt. Then we see this great witness of this priest that ministered and served during the times of greatest need."

The sainthood of Ryan would be a gift for the entire city, Carter said.

"It is amazing how God in a time of crisis reminds us of how good he has been in the past and how he works through us as human beings so that his grace may be concrete and help people in need," he said.

Stika said Ryan was a dignified leader. He told those gathered for the noon mass that they were witnessing a historic day for the Chattanooga parish.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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