Hickey’s farewell to a beloved worker

07 Jan 2010

By Anthony Barich

Hugh Ryan with Archbishop Hickey at a farewell celebration, 23 December 2009. Photo: Anthony Barich.

Archbishop Barry Hickey, Auxiliary Bishop Donald Sproxton and five senior priests of the Archdiocese concelebrated the first Mass in the Sanctuary of the Blessed Sacrament in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary to wrap up the 47-year career of the Archbishop’s Press Secretary Hugh Ryan on December 23.

Stunned that the Archbishop and his Auxiliary would offer to celebrate the Mass for his retirement, Mr Ryan said after the Mass that working for Archbishop Hickey has been the highlight of his career that has included working for WA Premier Charlie Court among others, and as Chief of Staff at The West Australian.

Archbishop’s Executive Secretary Fr Robert Cross, Vicar for Clergy Fr Brian McKenna, former Dean of the Cathedral Mgr Thomas McDonald and Archdiocesan Office for Evangelisation head Fr Michael Slattery also concelebrated.

Referring to Mr Ryan as “our beloved worker”, Archbishop Hickey said his Press Secretary since September 10, 2001 had a key role in helping him proclaim the Good News while assisting him in writing scripts and dealing with an often hostile secular media.

After celebrating the Mass in thanksgiving for Mr Ryan’s “faithfulness, application of duty and wisdom”, Archbishop Hickey told The Record that he knew his Press Secretary was right for the job, having easy relationships with secular media; and “he knew how to handle Charlie Court, so handling me was child’s play”, he joked.

Hugh Ryan, centre, with daughter Carmel, left and wife Joy. Photo: Anthony Barich.

Mr Ryan’s role was central, he said, as “one has to use modern media to promote the message of Christ and the works of the Church and comment on issues that touch on morality in the public arena”.

“His links with the media were vital, and have taken a great weight off my mind,” Archbishop Hickey said.

The Archbishop will replace Mr Ryan in time but the communications role will change and will likely be split in two, with a special emphasis on utilising modern communication technologies.

Bishop Sproxton said he saw Mr Ryan as a mentor, preparing him for an interview with The West Australian, and helped him to see that “journalists are only human” as he was previously apprehensive about meeting them in the secular arena.

The role of media in the Archdiocese is evolving, he said, and Mr Ryan “set the foundations” for this. He is believed to be the second Press Secretary of a Perth Archbishop after Archbishop William Foley previously employed one.

Mr Ryan, an Ocean Reef parishioner, said that his biggest challenge during his time under Archbishop Hickey was getting the secular media to understand what the Church says and thinks on various issues, as well as encouraging them to publish it. Photo: Anthony Barich.

The Record Editor Peter Rosengren said that Mr Ryan, who wrote most editorials for the newspaper in recent years, had become a father figure to many at his office, whose approach to journalism “always brings us back to what we should be doing – professional journalism, telling the truth, not just truth as we like to tell it”.

Mr Ryan’s editorials, he said, were “masterpieces – cool, measured, rational, and, in a calm way, demolishing the insane matters happening in society today and proposing other ideas, while writing of the beauty of the faith and the history of the Church”.

Mr Ryan, an Ocean Reef parishioner, said that his biggest challenge during his time under Archbishop Hickey was getting the secular media to understand what the Church says and thinks on various issues, as well as encouraging them to publish it.

“My job was about finding ways to explain this to journalists, as what many of them knew about the Catholic Faith was enough to make you laugh at times,” Mr Ryan said. They key, then, he said, was to explain the Faith to them in a rational way, as one can’t just say “it is because we say so”.

“Indeed, this is the case for the rest of the world in the way we communicate” the truth, he said.

“The Church is always based on rationality and human nature,” he said. Having said that, working for the Archbishop was “the best job I’ve had in my life, as you spend your time thinking about the Faith and the Church – the two most interesting things you can study.”

Hugh Ryan with Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton, 23 December 2009. Photo: Anthony Barich.

After spending three years as a teacher in Collie (where he met wife Joy) having been born in nearby Bridgetown, living in Balingup and attending a Sisters of Mercy boarding school in Donnybrook and five years at St Ildephonsus’ Boys’ School, New Norcia, Mr Ryan started his journalism career in January 1962 at the Kyabram Free Press, Victoria, then at the Deniliquin Pastoral Times, NSW, before returning to Collie to work for The Collie Mail, where his only child, daughter Carmel, was born.

He wrote for the Suburban Section of The West Australian from 1970 and was sent to Port Hedland for two years before returning to general reporting in Perth, including covering Parliament, which he described as “the most educative time”.

He was then night chief of staff (COS) at The West Australian, then assistant COS, writing editorials, before leaving to be press secretary for Liberal MP June Craig, Minister for Lands and Forest. He also worked for Liberal MP Paul Omodei, among others.

He also managed his own public relations firm from 1984-87.