may 13

Wednesday, May 13th

 Good morning, Good morning,

Update.  The governor, of the Commonwealth, has asked us to continue the lockdown for another few weeks.

The diocesan ordination schedules have also been adjusted.  The priesthood ordinations will take place at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More on Saturday June 6th.  The diaconate, including our own, John Paul Heisler, will take place at the cathedral on June 13th… most likely with restricted numbers of people who can attend.  And diocesan assignment changes for the clergy will take place on June 25th.   Please stay tuned for more details.

I am sorry for the disappointing news.  Let us pray for one another.

In the 19th century the English poet/author Edward Bulwer Lytton, introduced the world to several trite phrases that carry along in today’s world as almost mystical.  How many have quoted his story introduction, “On a dark and stormy night…”  Or how many draw from his phrase of, “The great unwashed.”   And lastly, words he attributed to Cardinal Richelieu, in a play, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Little can be said of the author of the trite phrases but the phrases carry along from generation to generation. 

The attribute of Cardinal Richelieu, fits with the topic of this day, in reference to the poet laureate of the South during the Civil War.  His name was Fr. Abram Ryan (1838-1886).  An Irish immigrant to Norfolk, Virginia.

Many things can be said of Fr. Ryan.  He was a character, a great orator, a skilled writer, and masterful poet who happened to be a Catholic priest.  His father was the manager of a plantation in Maryland, a farm in Missouri as well as a store owner in the same state.  Ryan was a Romantic in the pre-Civil War days and avid devotee of the mystery of the South.  He was a passionate man who changed his name from Abraham to Abram in opposition to the name held by the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.  And in his life’s travels may have crossed along our parish boundaries more than a few times.

His mother encouraged him to enter the seminary at the age of thirteen.  He would later enter the collegiate seminary at Our Lady of Angels Seminary at the illustrious Niagara University, in Western New York.  “Illustrious?”  I had to say that because I went to school there.  Sorry!!  It’s OK.  And there is the rub.  An admirer of the South in a Northern state in the rise of the abolitionist movement.  How did that happen?

Abram Ryan would be ordained September 12, 1860, for the Vincentian Community, just before his twenty-third birthday.  There is a mystery in why the need to ordain him early.  He was not yet twenty three and the minimum ordination age may have been twenty five.  Was it the lack of robust health so much demanded of the early clergy?  Was it in anticipation of the Civil War and the need for chaplains?  Or, was he a child prodigy who could not be denied? 

When the war came the priest fell to great absences from his priestly duties.  Some believe he suffered from diabetes that may have caused neuralgia.  Others checked his travel schedule… because he spent a great deal of time away from his assignments in New York and Missouri, assisting the Southern Army from Louisiana.  He never formally joined the Southern Army but remained a free-lance Catholic chaplain.   The archbishop of New Orleans recruited him, many others,  to be a chaplain to the troops from Louisiana.  

Fr. Ryan’s brother, David, was studying for the priesthood when the Civil War started.  He withdrew from his studies at Our Lady of the Angles Seminary and joined the Southern Cause.  He didn’t last long, and soon after died at the battle of Mt. Sterling Kentucky, in 1863.  His body was never identified.  Fr. Abram suffered a great depression over the loss of his brother. 

The grieving brother spent a great deal of time searching for the body of David but never found it.  On one occasion the local militia asked him to serve as their chaplain.  He was happy to comply and when it came to the next battle he, quite unexpectedly, picked up a gun and started shooting the Yankees.  The Rebels thought such behavior was unbecoming of the Man of God and disinvited him from their militia.

In the remaining months of the war he wandered back and forth through the South.  He gave talks in Alexandria, served as editor for a Catholic newspaper in Atlanta.  On the day of Lees’s surrender to General Grant on the Mclean Farm in Appomattox, he was living in a hotel in Louisville, Kentucky.  When informed of the news he sat down and, on the back of a paper bag, wrote his most famous poem, “The Conquered Banner.”  He later tossed it into the waste basket.  It was the hotel maid who found the poem and took it down to the telegraph office.  Ryan had no clue, while he was having lunch, languishing the loss of the war, his poem was going out over the wires throughout the South.  A poem so dramatic that it became a song for some and mandated memory for others.  Up until a generation ago the grammar school children of North Carolina were required to memorize the Poem.  I leave it to your review. 

The Conquered Banner
by Abram Joseph Ryan

FURL that Banner, for ’tis weary;
Round its staff ’tis drooping dreary;
Furl it, fold it, it is best;
For there’s not a man to wave it,
And there’s not a sword to save it,
And there’s no one left to lave it
In the blood that heroes gave it;
And its foes now scorn and brave it;
Furl it, hide it–let it rest!

Take that banner down! ’tis tattered;
Broken is its shaft and shattered;
And the valiant hosts are scattered
Over whom it floated high.
Oh! ’tis hard for us to fold it;
Hard to think there’s none to hold it;
Hard that those who once unrolled it
Now must furl it with a sigh.

Furl that banner! furl it sadly!
Once ten thousands hailed it gladly.
And ten thousands wildly, madly,
Swore it should forever wave;
Swore that foeman’s sword should never
Hearts like theirs entwined dissever,
Till that flag should float forever
O’er their freedom or their grave!

Furl it! for the hands that grasped it,
And the hearts that fondly clasped it,
Cold and dead are lying low;
And that Banner–it is trailing!
While around it sounds the wailing
Of its people in their woe.

For, though conquered, they adore it!
Love the cold, dead hands that bore it!
Weep for those who fell before it!
Pardon those who trailed and tore it!
But, oh! wildly they deplored it!
Now who furl and fold it so.

Furl that Banner! True, ’tis gory,
Yet ’tis wreathed around with glory,
And ’twill live in song and story,
Though its folds are in the dust;
For its fame on brightest pages,
Penned by poets and by sages,
Shall go sounding down the ages–
Furl its folds though now we must.

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently–it is holy–
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not–unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people’s hopes are dead.

In the post war days Fr. Ryan would continue to travel from rectory to rectory.  While in Augusta Georgia he started up a political magazine.  Later he would settle in Mobile and was affiliated with a school for the children of the former slaves.  He would also venture North of the Mason Dixon Line to promote his poems.  He was equivalent to a modern day “rock star” and was well received in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.  He was invited to the University of Virginia for the unveiling of a statue to Robert E. Lee.  For the Charlottesville visit he recited his poem, “The Sword of Robert E. Lee.”

Fr. Ryan would one day have his own statue, in Mobile, Alabama where he is buried in the Catholic cemetery.  The statue would later be torn down during the race riots of the 1960’s.  Lee would have his statue but may be torn down by dictate of the Mayor of Charlottesville in response to the protestors of 2017 seeking to reinvigorate the Southern image.   

Those were different days for the life of a cleric.  Fr. Ryan was a mystery.  No one ever quotes his homilies at Mass or speaks of his affiliation with the Vincentians or some particular diocese.  He is remembered for his poetry, writings, and orations.  In all things he is remembered as the voice of a broken people in a failed conflict of war… but also in his travels to the North as a voice of restoration and the unification of the country.  To many the pen of the Poet was mightier than the sword.  God bless him.  And let us pray for one another.

                       Marker for Fr. Abram Joseph Ryan

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