Remembering Father Martin Ruane, storyteller, evangelizer, friend

By Father Gerard Hurley and Maureen Smith
PEARL – Hundreds gathered at Pearl St. Jude Parish to remember and celebrate Father Martin Matthew Ruane, 76, with a funeral liturgy. He was buried in Gluckstadt St. Joseph Parish cemetery after the Mass Wednesday, May 20.
Father Ruane died May 15 at St. Dominic Hospital after a short battle with cancer. He was born in Menlough, Co. Galway, Ireland, on December 20, 1938, son of the late Martin and Margaret Ruane of Garbally House.
He was the second of seven siblings raised on a small dairy farm. Father Ruane attended the local school after which he went on to St. Jarlath’s Minor Seminary in Tuam. From there, he moved to the Major Seminary, St. Patrick’s College, Carlow, where he completed his philosophy and theological studies.
Father Ruane was ordained on June 8, 1963, at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Carlow, for the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson. He arrived in the diocese on September 4, 1963, and shortly thereafter took up his first assignment at Pascagoula Our Lady of Victories. From there, he moved to Meridian St. Patrick Parish. In 1970, he was appointed the pastor of Belzoni All Saints Parish, where he served for 10 years. Next, he pastored at Clinton Holy Savior where he was best noted for leading the people in building their new sanctuary.
After spending two years at Columbus Annunciation Parish, Father Ruane moved to Pearl St. Jude Parish where he served for 12 years, his longest tenure. He spent one year at Crystal Springs St. John and Hazelhurst St. Martin Parish before finally settling in at Grenada St. Peter Parish and its mission, Charleston St. John.
Those who knew him all mentioned his sense of humor and his great love for evangelizing.
“He loved the Catholic faith and he just felt we had a great treasure in our Catholic faith and he used every opportunity he got to share that. If we were in a restaurant he would start a conversation with the waiter or waitress and find a way to bring it around and talk to them about their faith,” said Father Mike O’Brien, pastor of Jackson St. Richard Parish and friend of Father Ruane.
“He also loved reconciliation services for Christmas and Easter. He did everything to have a big turnout so his parishioners would be ready for the big feasts,” added Father O’Brien.
Father Gerard Hurley, pastor of Flowood St. Paul Parish, agreed. “It was a particular gift that Mattie had. He could really draw close to people. He was the perfect model of a missionary. Once he could draw near, he could instruct people and bring them into the church,” said Father Hurley.
Both men remember Father Ruane’s love for sports, entertaining and telling a good story. He would play golf with friends as often as he could. Once, when Father Ruane was on a golf outing, he met a man fishing and ended up accepting some fish. “He left the fish in the back of Father Walter Maloney’s car. Walter went back to Yazoo City and didn’t even realize the fish were back there. Mattie called me the next day to say Walter had called to say every fly in Yazoo County was in his car,” said Father Hurley.
Father Hurleys and O’Brien said humor was one of the gifts he used to get to know people. “He was a great entertainer, a great friend to the priests and he loved to have a good time,” said Father Hurley. He said Father Ruane was always comforting his fellow clergymen and offering his support.
“Those who have been ordained share a bond in a unique fraternity,” said Mary Woodward, diocesan chancellor. “When a member of the priesthood dies, it is a brother dying to those in that bond. Father Martin Ruane was a brother to so many of his Irish and adopted state’s priests. He was also a mentor to young men considering the priesthood. His life was about priesthood and bringing people to Christ.
“Though there are a million stories from the golf course, his real story is the legacy he leaves – of hearts touched and healed, spirits lifted and revived, lives changed because Father Martin Ruane took the time to share the compassion and invitation of Jesus Christ with those whom he encountered along his own journey to the Father,” Woodward added.
Rhonda Bowden, who worked with Father Ruane at St. Jude, said he was always the one people turned to in times of need. “Once, when there was a standoff in our neighborhood, our first thought was to call Father Ruane. He came – the swat team was there and everything – and he helped talk a man into surrendering,” she said. She also noted that he was able to diffuse almost any situation with humor.
In all, Father Ruane had 52 years of dedicated service, and each assignment brought him great joy in his ministry. He had an uncanny ability to touch the lives of many people because of his enthusiasm, energy and great love of the Catholic faith.
He was preceded in death by his parents and two brothers, Father Tommy and Paddy. He is survived by his brothers, John, Michael, and Larry (Maire); and his sister, Annie “Sister Anthony.”
In lieu of flowers, send donations to the Priests’ Retirement Fund of the Dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi, c/o P.O. Box 2248, Jackson. MS 39225-2248.