February 5, 1838 - April 22, 1886
Abram J. Ryan was born at Hagerstown, Md., where his father worked as a plantation overseer. His family moved to Ralls City, Mo., in 1840, then settled in St. Louis in 1846. Ryan attended Catholic schools and was encouraged to enter the priesthood. He studied theology at the Seminary of Our Lady of Angels (now Niagara University) in western New York State and was ordained a priest in the Vincentian Order in St. Louis in 1860. Traveling on missions for the Vincentians, he developed a reputation as an exciting preacher. However, Ryan’s Confederate sympathies clashed with those of his superiors. In 1862, he left the Order and became a parish priest at St. Mary’s Church in Peoria, Ill. A false story that Ryan was a Confederate spy destroyed his reputation, and he was sent to Tennessee. Ryan did parish work and ministered to Confederate troops, although he never enlisted as an official chaplain. After Lee’s surrender in 1865, Ryan wrote “The Conquered Banner,” the first of his “Lost Cause” poems. In 1867, Ryan was transferred to a parish in Augusta, Ga., where he was a popular speaker and was editor for the Catholic weekly Banner of the South. He used the paper to express his Anti-Reconstruction views, however, and was dismissed from the parish in 1870.
Ryan became a curate of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mobile, Ala., and also served as editor of the New Orleans diocese newspaper. His health failed, and he spent the winter of 1872/73 recuperating in Italy. Ryan’s bishop then sent him to New York State for a year to do parish fundraising. Back in Mobile, Ryan’s Anti-Reconstruction speeches led to his removal from the diocese newspaper and an end to his political lectures. In 1877, he was made pastor of St. Mary’s Church on the outskirts of Mobile. He collected his poems for publication in book form, and Father Ryan’s Poems was published in Mobile in 1879. A second edition, rearranged and with a new title and several new poems, was published the following year by a Baltimore firm. Travels associated with its publication and with fundraising strained Ryan’s fragile health. He retired from St. Mary’s to live in Biloxi, Miss., where he worked on a devotional book. After its publication, he began traveling again to raise funds for various charities. He was frequently ill, necessitating lengthy visits with friends to recover. Ryan died at a Franciscan monastery in Louisville, Ky., in 1886. His body was returned to Mobile for burial.
Father Abram J. Ryan wrote poems on political, religious, and personal subjects. His most famous poems assert the nobility of the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy.
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Photo from Poets of the South, 1903.
Last updated on Oct 10, 2009.