“You are looking at the youngest Christian Brother,” Bro. Phil Ryan says with a wry grin. “I turn 50 in September, and I’m the youngest in the European province.”
The aging population of the Church is nothing new, but it’s quickly becoming a harsh reality for Bro. Phil as a member of the International Edmund Rice Brothers in Mount Sion.
“Mount Sion is the motherhouse of the congregation,” Bro. Phil says. “And it has always been the brothers’ responsibility to look after it. We are an aging brotherhood. So I’m looking at how Mount Sion will look when the Brothers may not be in a managing role down the road.”
As the manager of the Edmund Rice International Heritage Centre (ERIHC) in Waterford, Bro. Phil is a very busy man.
“I’m up at four o’clock, just before four,” he says. “That’s a personal choice. I normally would go and have breakfast, and I would head out to the office before the staff come in. I have 96 staff that support the centre.”
Most of the staff is made up of volunteers, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less dedicated to the centre.
“I have staff coming in before six o’clock,” Bro. Phil says. “I always like to get in to the office for a period of time just to catch up on staffing and schedules and process work for the secretaries and stuff. I need the quiet time to do that. That’s the way I work.”
Bro. Phil values his alone time in the morning, but he doesn’t hesitate to get to work in the mornings.
“After a while, personal reflection time, we would have, as a community, morning prayer together at half-past seven,” he says. “After that, I would be down in the centre, getting the operations up and running for the day. After that, we would plan out. That would be an average day.”
The Christian Brothers at ERIHC are on their feet for nearly 16 hours every day. “We’re up at 6am in the morning until 10 at night,” he says. “We live onsite and on the top floor of the building. I have staff that come in in the evening, but generally, I sign off in the evening time, having an overall responsibility of the place. So that’s my day.”
Bro. Phil describes his main goal as an Edmund Rice Brother “is to look over people who may not have all the advantages in life”. Bro. Phil is pretty familiar with not having all the advantages, having lost the use of his arm in an accident almost 30 years ago.
“Coming back from working with a master farmer to where I was based in Cork on a Honda 50, I lost control in the middle of Cork city in a place called Bishopstown,” he says. “And got knocked off the Honda 50, and I lost my arm.”
He was training at an agricultural college at the time, a profession Bro. Phil assumed he would wind up working in.
“I had a huge background in agriculture,” he says. “I came from a farming background. All my father’s people and all my mother’s people were farmers.”
His parents’ faith was also a big part of Bro. Phil’s background.
“My mother has two sisters in religion out of 10,” he says. “My father would have been a very strong Catholic as well. It would have been quite strong in our family. I suppose the seeds were sowing there.”
Bro. Phil went to a Christian Brothers’ school for primary and secondary school where he developed a close relationship with a brother in the Church.
“I got to know a brother there called Bro. Joe Perkins,” he says. “And he had a big influence on my life, like he shared a love of the sport and games. He was a very personable man, and I could have good conversations with him, and also, he came from my mother’s home part of the country, a place called Drumbane in Tipperary. So I knew his ways a bit.”
Bro. Phil felt such “strong inklings towards” joining the Church that he joined at just 16 years old.
“I wanted to work with people and young people,” he says. “And I was happy to commit to that.”
Although he was committed to serving the Church at such a young age, Bro. Phil’s work hasn’t unfolded quite the way he thought it would.
“I didn’t see myself, initially, involved with teaching or education,” he says. “That wasn’t the desire.”
While working in the brotherhood, Bro. Phil has had the opportunity to work in a variety of different fields.
“I worked in Namibia on a course,” he says. “And I went to Australia for part of it for five months and trained. So I when I came back I worked with in Cork in a centre called the Life Centre, and the Brothers would have a number of life centres around the country so I was involved in that. I loved that.”
But as the manager at ERIHC, he can’t avoid working in education.
“But I’m also part of a campus, the campus of Mount Sion,” he says. “Which has what I outlined plus a secondary school and a primary school, and I would have responsibility for the campus itself. I am responsible for the campus, and I have two principals running the schools. I also chair one of the boards of management.”
Despite the fact that his life hasn’t unfolded the way he may have envisioned when he was 16, Bro. Phil is fully committed to his life serving the Church.
“I always enjoyed working in the heart of it,” he says.