William Francis Ryan, S.J.
Doctor of Divinity
November 24, 2007
Very Reverent Father Chancellor it is my pleasure to present to you Reverend William Francis Ryan of the Society of Jesus. As a scholar and animator he has been involved extensively and for many years in the social and ethical dimensions of development in Canada and throughout the world.
Father Ryan was born in Renfrew, Ontario in 1925. After secondary education in Ottawa, he entered the Jesuits in 1944. After his novitiate and early post-secondary studies in Guelph, Ontario he earned a BA degree in classics and Philosophy from Université de Montréal, an MA degree in labour relations from St. Louis University in Missouri, a licentiate in Theology from Collège S. Albert in Louvain, Belgium, and a PhD from Harvard University in economic development. He was ordained presbyter in 1957 in Brussels.
In his ministry as a Jesuit priest and scholar inspired by the ethos of Father Pedro Arrupe, General of the Society of Jesus, Father Ryan immediately put into service his doctoral research. He began this work in 1964 as a co-director of the social affairs office of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops. In 1971 he founded the Centre of Concern in Washington, D.C., which continues to be a creative and influential think-tank for the implementation of social justice. In 1974 he was one of the delegates to the 32nd Congregation whose decree on Faith and Justice expressed Father General Arrupe’s deep desire that all Jesuit works have an essential focus on the promotion of justice as well as the service of faith.
In 1978 Father Ryan was appointed the Provincial Superior of the Jesuits of Upper Canada (now the Jesuits in English Canada), and with that office Chancellor of Regis College. As Provincial, he attended the 33nd General Congregation of the Society that elected Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach as Father Arrupe’s successor. During his time as Provincial he initiated the Centre for Social Faith and Justice, the predecessor of the Jesuit Forum of which he is now acting director.
After his term as Provincial, Father Ryan took on a new task as General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was a board member of the North-South Institute from 1978 to 1991. During this time he also participated in initial Islam-Christian dialogues in several international meetings. In the 1990s, he organized small group dialogues on social responsibility in government with federal MPs and senior public servants through the Jesuit Project on Ethics in Politics. He also served as special advisor in Ottawa to the International Development Agency on projects concerning the interrelationship of science, religion and development in the context of poor countries. In the midst of these many projects Father Ryan also authored three monographs, numerous reports and articles, and has been a frequent lecturer and contributor to workshops on social justice.
Very Reverend Father Chancellor, Father William Ryan well exemplifies and embodies Regis College’s desire that the minds and spirits of our students formed to bring about a world of justice for all be reflected in lives and actions that do justice. It is for these reasons that I ask you on behalf of the Board of Governors and the Academic Council of Regis College that you bestow on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity honoris causa.