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‘The joy of the priesthood’

Fr.-Ryan-RuizDuring his days as a Mount St. Mary’s seminarian, Father Ryan Ruiz became a poster child for vocations.

Well, a poster man, technically, but his youthfulness didn’t hurt. The distinction arrived when he was asked to serve as model for a promotional poster on behalf of the Cincinnati archdiocese Vocation Office.

Fr, Ryan Ruiz“I think they were just looking for a young face,” he recalls. “But to make my face younger they asked me to shave my goatee.”

The goatee is back and Father Ruiz is back at Mount St. Mary’s, this time as Director of Liturgy, assistant professor of Liturgy and the Sacraments, and Formation Team member.  He returned to Ohio from Rome this summer after earning his doctorate from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’Anselmo.

Amid his studies in Rome, and almost by chance, Father Ruiz was blessed to witness an historic event: Pope Francis’s first public appearance as pontiff.

“The media had been saying the election would be a long process, especially because of the uniqueness of Pope Benedict retiring,” Father Ruiz said. “On the second day of the conclave I was finishing an evening class. It was a rainy, dreary night, and my Argentinian roommate offered me a ride home.”

The offer included a stop at St. Peter’s Square, on the off-chance that a new pope might be elected on only the second day.

“While we were parking we heard bells at the Vatican,” Father Ruiz said. “We rushed to St. Peter’s Square and had a really good spot.”

They arrived in time for Argentinian archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio to step onto the Vatican balcony and introduce himself as Pope Francis. “Most of us had no idea who he was,” Father Ruiz said. “But my Argentinian roommate knew exactly who he was.”

Fr. RuizFather Ruiz, 34, was born in Connecticut, the son of a Filipino physician and an Irish-American mother. He grew up in Urbana, Ohio, where he attended St. Mary’s parish school, then Catholic Central High School in nearby Springfield.  He pursued undergraduate work in philosophy and religion at Denison University, receiving his B.A. in 2003 before enrolling at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary.

He was ordained a priest in 2008 and assigned as parochial vicar at Church of the Incarnation in Centerville, where he served for three years until Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr sent him to Rome for graduate studies.

His road to the priesthood began back in Urbana.

Tom Espelage“Most young men started thinking about the priesthood around the time of their first Communion, and that was the case for me as well,” Father Ruiz said. An early influence was Father Thomas Espelage (left), who retired from active ministry this year.

When Father Ruiz was in elementary school, Father Espelage “would come see us kids, play with us, spent time with us. I was able to see the joy of the priesthood in him. He was a priest who loved being a priest.”

Thoughts of a priestly vocation “always kept me coming back, through various experiences when I drift,” Father Ruiz said. “When I was I was a junior in high school I began to get serious about a vocation, then as a junior in college I asked myself ‘should I take the plunge and make that move?’”

Another formative experience during his college days came when he served in youth ministry at St. Francis de Sales parish in Newark, Ohio. “I learned about how to assist others and articulate my faith, to articulate why I believe what I believe,” he said.

His seminary internship took him to Holy Angels, Sidney. “In an internship you ‘shadow’ a parish priest,” Father Ruiz said. “For me and many other priests formed at Mount St. Mary’s, it allowed us to see the daily ins and outs. We call priests ‘Father’ but it wasn’t until then I saw how a priest acts as a father.

“People, even those the priest doesn’t know well, bring him into their homes, and he’s part of the major celebrations of their lives – their baptisms, their weddings – and also their funerals. That time really solidified my plans.”

Fr. Ryan Ruiz (2)From his vantage point at the Athenaeum, he’s optimistic about vocations.

“It’s a changing world,” he said. “Even from the time I was ordained to now, the world has changed significantly. I’m optimistic about young people still being able to hear God’s call, but it’s a realistic optimism. The world is moving in one direction, a secular and post-Christian direction, and the Church in another.

“In the midst of that split, there remains the amazing activity of the Spirit. You see it in the excitement of young people at World Youth Day, for example, that the faith can still elicit such a reaction. The Spirit is still active in our world. “

Father Ruiz noted that Mount St. Mary’s is expecting 27 or 28 new seminarians when classes start in a few weeks, bringing total enrollment to a 77 or 78.  “We’re near capacity and that’s another reason for optimism.”

As he prepares for his first academic year as a member of the faculty, Father Ruiz feels enriched by his return to where he was formed as a priest, and by the support of the Catholic community.

“I never cease marveling at the generosity of the people of God, their kindness and support,” he said.

“They’re the reason this institution exists, through their spiritual and financial willingness to support this institution. It’s wonderful to see how people bless us and how they beget other blessings in the world.”

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