Father Abram Joseph Ryan, Poet-Priest of the South, and the requiem for the Lost Cause

Today (16-April-2018) I saw an auction listing at Sheppard’s Irish Auction House for a book of poems by Father Abram Joseph Ryan.  This prompted to me to find some of the information I have on Fr. Ryan, who was known as the Poet-Priest of the South.  My interest in Father Ryan began when I was given my father’s copy of the 1927 Jubilee publication of 75th Anniversary celebration for St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in the village of Texas, Maryland.

From the 1927 Jubilee text about the Padian Family from Ballykilcline in County Roscommon, Ireland (this was obtained by oral history as many of the Church’s original records had been lost in a fire; some things are inaccurate):

“Padian, Richard, who gave up his home in Strokestown, County Roscommon, Ireland, to escape the famine, came to Baltimore County and settled on a rented farm called “The Priscilla Owings Estate” about 1850. In 1861, when the war broke out, he sent his three sons off, fearing that they would be drafted into the Union Army. He was an ardent Southerner, and a friend to the colored race, and was to the end, having them always as servants. Two favored ones are buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, Texas. Mr. Padian helped to build St. Joseph’s School and rectory. He held the front pew for fifty years. In time he purchased an estate at Texas known as “Taylor Hall.” Here he carried on an extensive farm. The Railroad Station, Padonia, is named after his family. Two of his sons married. After the father’s death, part of the family moved to New York. Mr. Padian had several daughters, one especially, Maria, who was always interested in Church affairs. She and a Miss Marian Cockey looked after the altar for years. Miss Cockey afterwards married a Mr. Mitchell of Virginia. She was the only Catholic in her family and one of the early settlers. Miss Maria Padian died in 1915. Another daughter, Katherine, died in New York City on March 26, 1926. She was one of the earliest students of Mt. St. Agnes’ College. The clergy were a ll welcome at the home of Richard Padian. When Cardinal Gibbons paid his honored visit to St. Joseph’s, a choice cardinal-colored velvet chair was brought from the old Padian home and placed on the throne. Mr. Padian was laid away in St. Joseph’s Cemetery, in December, 1881. Mrs. Padian died. Michael, the last of the family, died on July 16, 1926. It was while on one of his visits (August 1, 1881) to the Padian Home that Father Ryan wrote the subjoined poem, dedicated to Katherine Padian and here published for the first time”

To Katie

In the Eclipses of your soul,

      Their mournful shadows fall

On me and you and all,

      In wonder where the realms whence they roll;

And when you’ll cry,

      “Oh God: give more of rest and less of night,”

And when you’ll sing,

       “Sweet Christ, give less of dark and more of light.”

In the Eclipses of your soul;

      When grief kneels weeping o’er the graves of joy,

Oh, beautiful Christ: while I sing I pray:

      And e’en when my song hath a human tone,

Thou knowest it every night and day;

      Beneath the octaves my spirit sweeps,

Then on heavenly hidden deeps,

      When a melody moves to all unknown,

Whose sweetest meeting are all they own,

      I never did sing for earth alone.

Beautiful Christ: Thou knowest this:

      My outward song, my inward prayer

Meet in the purest, tenderest kiss,

      And thou, Sweet Christ, are always there.

Thou knowest Thy face I never miss:

To bless the singer with wondrous bliss.

Back of these very words I write

      I see Thy beautiful Face tonight.

Face of my Christ: When her heart is sad

      For whom these words are sung to me,

Shine on it sweetly, make it glad,

      Give it the grace that leads to Thee.

Eyes of my Christ: when her eyes weep        

      Shine on her tears e’en while they flow,

Until her sorrow has sunk to sleep,

       And joy shall awake her former woe.

Hand of my Christ: Ah, lead her on

      The cruel nails have made you sweat;

When the darkness falls and the light hath gone,

      Guide with Thy grasp her weary feet.

Heart of my Christ: Ah, be her rest:

      And be the home of her heart’s love;

Heart lead her’s to Thee above.

When I first saw this poem, it seemed so out of place, as a romantic poem written by a priest to a young woman.  Fr. Ryan seemed to have traveled quite a bit and wrote or dedicated many poems to young women in service to the Catholic church.  A good summary of his background and travels can be found at http://catholicism.org/priest-poet-patriot-father-abram-j-ryan.html.   Although this article refers to him as a true patriot for his poem The Conquered Banner, it also states that, “In his own words, ‘The Conquered Banner became the requiem for the Lost Cause’.”