Monsignor Edward Ryle, a tireless advocate for social justice and the "conscience of the Legislature" for nearly two decades as lobbyist for Arizona’s Catholic bishops, died Wednesday night.
Ryle, 74, collapsed at his home Dec. 3 from a subdural hematoma and had been comatose at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix ever since.
From 1984 until his retirement in 2003, Ryle worked on behalf of the state’s poor and most vulnerable, urging legislators to support KidsCare health insurance, benefits for needy families and programs for foster children. He played a key role in passage of a bill in 2001 to abolish the death penalty for the mentally retarded.
"He’s been the voice of what’s right," said Carol Kamin, head of the Children’s Action Alliance. "And it’s almost impossible to think of addressing these issues — of low-income people, or people who are disenfranchised — without Monsignor Ryle being next to you."
During his years at the Legislature, Ryle enjoyed the respect and admiration of lawmakers, even if they didn’t always vote his way. A gifted writer and public speaker, his testimony in committee hearings cut to the heart of how the proposed legislation would affect children and families.
"It’s easy to talk about social justice. Monsignor lived it, and called others of faith and good will to do the same," said Paul Martodam, who runs Catholic Social Service and knew Ryle for nearly 30 years.
"He has helped me to better know and serve a God who passionately loves all of us, and calls us to love especially the poor and the powerless among us."
Gov. Janet Napolitano, also a longtime friend, said Ryle "selflessly devoted his life to ministering to the less fortunate and advocating for them at the Capitol. I will miss him dearly."
In September, Ryle received the highest award from Catholic Charities USA, the Vision Award, in recognition for his lifelong work against the death penalty and his advocacy for social causes.
On Dec. 2, in his last official act, he offered a prayer at the Martin Luther King ecumenical prayer breakfast. He prayed for immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
"He prayed that our anger and indignation would give way to understanding and compassion," Martodam said.
Ryle, born in Chicago, was ordained in 1956 in the Diocese of Tucson, where he directed the Catholic Charities program in the 1960s. He taught at Catholic University’s School of Social Sciences in Washington, D.C., and was dean of Marywood University’s Graduate School of Social Work.
Ryle’s education includes a master’s in divinity from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and a master’s in divinity from Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio.
This year Ryle established the McArthur Genius Lecture Services to benefit the Monsignor Ryle Fund through the Catholic Community Foundation, funding grants for projects that address social problems in Arizona.
Contributions can be made to the fund by calling (602) 354-2400 or going online to www.ccfphx.org. Services are pending.