Mary Perkins Ryan: Twentieth century religious educator educating to a new vision of church

Ann Morrow Heekin, Fordham University


Nearly three decades before the Second Vatican Council convened, Mary Perkins Ryan and other leaders of the American liturgical movement foresaw a pastoral orientation to the religious education of the laity. It was a renewal focused on the full and active participation of the laity in the liturgical life of the church. Its aims were to correct the apparent sterility that had characterized Catholic parish life at the start of the twentieth century. As a catechesis for the liturgy, the early movement understood the liturgy in broad sense of the public prayer life of the church. It envisioned all the liturgical practices of the Catholic tradition---the Mass, the sacraments, the praying of the Divine Office and participation in the annual cycle of the liturgical year---as formative of the Christian life. Moreover, these early reformers considered that the aim of popular liturgical education to be the practice of living the liturgy that formed the basis of individual and social transformation in Christ. In much the same way that contemporary feminist theory helped to make manifest the invisibility of women in the story of church tradition, Ryan's legacy includes her role as a model for the voice of women in twentieth century religious education. She received other women like herself---who held no advanced academic credential---into the community of religious education. She did so by giving them both an example to follow in her own life work, and a channel for their voices to be heard and their perspectives recorded in the journals she edited. When considering the contributions of the generation of women that followed Ryan, including Maria Harris, Mary Charles Bryce, Mary Boys, Gloria Durka and Joanmarie Smith, Ryan's significance as a foremother in the field of religious education must also recognize her role in bringing into conversation the voices of women to the wisdom of the teaching church. If we consider that the feminist voice is a metaphor for intellectual and ethical growth, the historical gains of the religious education movement and the rise of women in the pastoral leadership of the church over the last fifty years would have been limited if not for the legacy of Ryan's work and her presence. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Subject Area

Religious education|Theology|Womens studies|Biographies|Education history|Religious history

Recommended Citation

Heekin, Ann Morrow, "Mary Perkins Ryan: Twentieth century religious educator educating to a new vision of church" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3214719.