Interview of Marie Ryan
Interviewer: What kind of work, paid or voluntary, were you doing in Newfoundland in the 70’s and 80’s.
Ryan: In the 70’s and 80’s, I was in leadership in the congregation. I was working within our own group. We have an elected leadership, and that’s where I was in the 70’s and 80’s; but at the same time, I was doing counseling and spiritual accompaniment. Some people call it spiritual direction, where people come to talk about their lives. It’s different from counseling. You know, counseling is somebody who comes to talk about a specific issue that they’re having, but spiritual direction is more of a… it’s about their spiritual lives, which is about all of their lives, but how they can grow or how they might have some spiritual difficulty they wanted to talk about it; and I don’t want to go into any more than about it, but that’s what I was doing, as well as doing personnel and formation stuff within our own group.
Interviewer: Okay. Was that in St. John’s?
Ryan: Well, we were centered in St. John’s but the work took me all around, wherever we had sisters in the island.
Interviewer: Okay. What kinds of things were you doing to help improve the lives of others, like during that time.
Ryan: Well, during that time, the counseling where I was available and I was available particularly to people who didn’t have money to go to a counselor, where you needed money to pay for every session that you had. The other thing I did at that time, which was a new thing for me and a new thing for a lot of others, was to work with a group of Catholics at the time who were separated and divorced and who felt they didn’t have a place within the church community or within the local community – you know, within the civil community – and so I would meet with them every week and just help them in whatever areas… some women, for example, who were just out of a marriage didn’t know much about business and how to run, you know, the business of the family – not a business but just the family… the economy.
Ryan: Yeah. And, you know, didn’t know a lot of things and they needed help badly. So we would get speakers in, you know, just to help them to brighten their lives and to feel good about themselves.
Interviewer: Can you remember any situation where you helped other women find their voice or helped encourage them to do something you think they might not have otherwise done.
Ryan: Lots. Lots and lots. A lot of the women I work with now – women who have been in married situation, particularly - and people think, well, what does she know about marriage – but for a long time and not having the courage or not feeling they could make it on their own, and so they stay and stay and stay for a long time until they can get… like this morning, I had one who’s been seventeen years in a marriage that she knows she shouldn’t be in, and she’s trying to find her way to have the courage and, you know, the ability to carry on on her own, so I’ve lots of examples of that.
Interviewer: Okay. Would you say you stepped outside the traditional roles of a woman in the 70’s and 80’s in any way?
Ryan: Traditional role - (chuckles) well, I’m sure I did.
Interviewer: Like do you want to describe some of the unconventional things that you did and like your motivation why you did that.
Ryan: Well, I went on protests, you know, like and there was lots of other women there too but the general role of women wouldn’t have been to go down on Water Street to protest something or to speak at some of those rallies that we would have; and I wouldn’t say it was rare, but it wasn’t the usual of women.
Interviewer: Yeah. Do you think of yourself as someone who’s worked for equality for women?
Ryan: I hope I have.
Interviewer: Okay. I’d be surprised if you said no, actually. (chuckles)
Ryan: (Actually, I would hope I have)?.
Interviewer: You’d be surprised; a lot of the women that I’ve interviewed are very… like they don’t feel they’ve done a whole lot to help people.
Ryan: Well, when I look at what some people have done… more hands-on… I know I’ve done a lot of work that I can’t talk about – you know, like on one to one with people – and I have worked with men too, and I have worked with couples but I would… if I listed all of them, the majority of them would be women and women in marital…
Ryan: …crisis situations.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. No, I would never belittle what I’ve done in that sense. You know, like I know without bragging… I’m shy and I usually don’t talk about what work I do, and I can’t talk about like names or situations or anything like that, but I know people have gone out of here stronger women.
Interviewer: Can you remember when you first became aware of social injustice around you?
Interviewer: Can you like give me specific details?
Ryan: I’ll give you one but I think my passion for social justice, when I wouldn’t have known the word then and wouldn’t have said my mother and father were involved in social justice… but when I look back at my childhood my mother and father were always involved. We were always being (sent)?... - I grew up in the depression time - and always being sent with bread to this family, with milk… because we had cows – with milk to this family, with something else… and if we killed… if my father killed a sheep or a lamb or whatever else you’d kill, you know, like that was quartered and, you know, given to the next-door… and my mother was the same, but my father was always… whatever happened, he was a handyman. He had to be. He was running to fix this for somebody or running to fix that for somebody. It was never a question of payment. Never heard him criticizing or, you know, complaining or anything like that. So that’s where my passion came from. I know that’s part of me. My awareness grew… at one time when… long before I studied (in)?... but it was possibly the impetus that got me to go to study when we were asked as a group if there was anyone who would want to go and study psychology and be available for the people of god. It was related to a woman in a very difficult marriage situation; and back in those days which… - I’m talking about the 50’s or the 60’s – where would you go in rural Newfoundland to talk to somebody but the priest. If people had difficulty of whatever kind, they would go to the priest. She went to the priest with this difficulty. She was being abused and in every which way and he told her her duty was to stay with her husband. That did it. That did it.
Interviewer: Yeah, ^
Ryan: That did it.
Interviewer: Can you think of a particular issue, event or activity involved with your work for social justice that you were a part of that stands out as being important to you.
Ryan: Well, one of the things that I’ve been involved with for the last sixteen or seventeen years has been the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Interviewer: The provincial one or the…
Ryan: Yeah, the provincial one. Yeah, the provincial one. And, you know, like in year 2000 we had the big rally in Gander and I spoke at that; and in this past year they celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Advisory Council in Newfoundland, and I spoke at that - I did a reflection on that - and, you know, connected to that then were the different initiatives that they would take. You know, sometimes it was protesting. We’ve been at Confederation Building with a whole lot of letters at one time, you know, like the women in the health care unit who didn’t get paid what they were due - we worked hard on that one - and, you know, different… and lots and lots of initiatives that would begin with the Advisory Council; and one of the particular ones is a branch that started from there. It’s called the Agency Against Violence – the Interagency Against Violence – and interagency means there’s people from different agencies that go to that and lobby with the government and try to, you know, get funds for women’s centre, try to get work done in schools where violence starts, you know, on the playground when… very small children on the playground so, you know, like it’s more… it’s not hands-on as much as, you know, trying to get things organized and trying to fight for funds and all that kind of thing.
Interviewer: And how did you get involved with the Provincial Advisory Council initially?
Interviewer: Do you like remember?
Ryan: I remember well, yeah.
Ryan: It was a friend of mine who knew the kind of things I was doing within the community and connected to the community with women, particularly, because this would be the late 80’s when I became immediately involved with that, and she had known me since I came home with my doctorate in ’70. So that was a good many years. She saw what I was doing and she’d say, “You should come to the Advisory Council.” So I paid no attention, and I said, “No, I’m not going to go there.” And she pushed and shoved until I finally went, and I wasn’t going to stay there because we used to have meetings over in the office on LeMarchant Road, but there were people there from every different organization in the city, you know, who were concerned about violence; but they looked at me as if I had church written on my forehead, you know. I’m not representing the church! And I wasn’t; I was representing me and us as the congregation. You know, the church didn’t send me there so I wasn’t… I didn’t have to… I mean, the church doesn’t tell us what we’re going to do here, right?
Ryan: So that’s when I became like… I remember it clearly and I remember my hesitancy in going because I didn’t know these people. We hadn’t been accustomed to being, you know, working with different groups at that time, you know, because I worked with those who were connected with schools, you know, like and the only ones were connected with schools had to do with education. You know, like they weren’t concerned about the poverty in the schools or, you know, all the social issues that impact upon the children in the schools. You know, that’s only coming to birth in recent years.
Interviewer: Oh, okay. What and how big of a role did your involvement with social justice play in your life?
Interviewer: What and how big of a role did your involvement with social justice play in your life?
Ryan: They’re very big roles. The work of social justice identifies who I am. I mean, it’s a part of my identity. You know, who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in is all tied up with… you know, like it’s not just for something to do. It’s what I’m impelled to do. You know, like I had no choice with myself even. I don’t have to be (sent)?. You know, I just have to… it’s like a call. It’s like a real call to be where you can take a stand on some issue or just be a presence to someone. You’re not taking a stand on anything; you’re just being present to someone who’s suffering or someone who needs someone to listen to them. You know, you…
Interviewer: How have others reacted to your involvement in social justice?
Ryan: Others meaning?
Interviewer: Like people around you. I don’t have any specific ‘others’.
Interviewer: Like have there been lots of strong reaction?
Ryan: Well, there’s been sometimes strong reaction, depending upon what the issue is.
Ryan: Depending on what the issue is, there have been strong reactions, but I remember… I remember (something)? a couple of months ago. I had a birthday and (with)?... I come from a big family so I had six brothers and two sisters, and all my brothers are dead; but at the birthday, someone from each family spoke and, you know, like foolish stuff that goes on at birthday parties, and just about every one of them talked about what I do. It was really interesting because I never talked to them about what I do.
Ryan: But, I mean, I’ve been on TV a number of times. We had a very active housing… Voices For Justice in Housing was what we called ourselves, and so we were lobbying and lobbying and lobbying with the city, with the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing, with… you know, on behalf of people who didn’t have adequate housing. So they would see me or hear me or see my picture on TV and sometimes my sister used (to get up)?... “What’s she going to say next”- you know, “What are you going to say now”; but, you know, like that was minor, really, but I’m sure there’s some people, you know, like will say, “What’s she doing.” “It’s not our place to be”… in the beginning – but now I think they… I get a lot of support from our own people, and a lot… well, I’m not the only one who works for justice. Emma, who’s in the next office to mine, she does wonderful work for justice, and a number of others – lots of others.
Interviewer: Good. What was the hardest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in your work?
Ryan: The hardest obstacle – I think the biggest obstacle possibly would be me rather than, you know, from outside of me. You know, maybe sometimes in the beginning fear of what people might be saying, you know, like or… because I’m really an introvert to begin with. Most people don’t give me credit for that, but I am.
Ryan: So sometimes it was, you know, who’s going to agree or who’s going to disagree; but I don’t remember any effort to try to stop… yeah, I remember once when I was working with the separated and divorced. There was a question I was told at a meeting of… what was the kind of meeting – (Diocese)? and (Pastoral Council)? – which would be representatives from all the parishes. I wasn’t at the meeting but, I mean, I was told. They were questioning was I qualified to do it and was I just giving an opportunity for these men and women to find somebody else, you know, which is…
Ryan: You know - like marry again, in other words.
Ryan: But, I mean, nobody ever came to me about it so it wasn’t really an obstacle. It didn’t stop me.
Interviewer: Yeah. What were some of the changes you feel you helped to bring about.
Ryan: It’s hard to… that I helped to bring about – I guess whatever changes that the women’s movement has accomplished in the last number of years, that I’d be part of it like everyone else but I’d be one of the many others. I think, within our own group of women, you know, like I’ve been instrumental in raising their awareness of who we are as women and, you know, what our calling is in terms of women’s issues and, you know, the feminist issues and how I could do that was for the… in the 70’s and the 80’s, part of my work was organizing retreats and speakers, you know, to come in to help us to… ^ for to help us make progress, and I knew who I’d be getting in. I wouldn’t get in any (archconservatives)? or any… you know, like I’d get in people whom I knew would open our minds and free us from the baggage that we had carried for years; but, as far as the general community was concerned… - what’s the question again?
Interviewer: The question was - what were some of the changes you feel you helped to bring about.
Ryan: Well, some of the changes wouldn’t be visible changes to anyone except the person who was changed. You know, when I talk about… when I meet somebody who was once ready to give up in discouragement and all that and they have a hold on life again. You know, like I know… and sometimes all people need is listening. I don’t know how many people… - I think I said that to you the day you were all here - that have sat in this office and talked and talked and talked and talked and I listened and listened and listened, and then they get up and say, “Thank you, sister; you helped me a whole lot.” But I did, but I didn’t; I mean, there was no doing on my part except to listen. So I think the changes are minimal in like each one; there was no earthshaking changes that have happened except when the group works together, and there’s been a lot of changes, you know, like in the whole women’s movement. We certainly are not where we were when I began to work there, and that’s everyone’s contribution, you know – sometimes including the bit that the government does to help out.
Interviewer: What is your fondest memory of your involvement with social justice issues in the 70’s and 80’s?
Ryan: One of my fondest ones is working with separated and divorced, because it was possibly my first really active, big group kind of one; and I’m social by nature even though I’m an introvert, so I’m a people person and so I guess that was my… yeah, I think I’d say that’s the biggest one as an ongoing event, you know.
Interviewer: Okay. What was it like being a woman in the 70’s and what do you feel has changed about being a woman since then?
Ryan: I know what the changes… happened for us because we were institutionalized for a long time. I mean, if you met me in the 70’s you wouldn’t see me dressed like this,…
Ryan: …see, for one thing, which is an external thing; but a lot of internal things too, you know, like practices of prayer or times of prayer or schedule of events in – I’m talking about our lives now in the community; I don’t know if that was your question or not.
Interviewer: Well, that’s part of it…
Interviewer: …because how lives have changed (for women)?... ^ (that are all)? women so (it does)?...
Ryan: Yeah. And so the freedom… the liberation for good - not the liberation of freedom to do what you like but the liberation to be (adult)? and to know… what if I’m a… if I’m not a morning person, for example, and I can’t help that. I am a morning person. Sadly, I’m a night person too, which is not good.
Interviewer: You’re just not a sleepy person. (chuckles)
Ryan: Yes, I am. I sleep like a log when I go. But if I’m not a morning person, I’m not very well able to be a reflective person at 6:30 in the morning, and one time I had to be. So when the world for us changed and we were… well, we could make mistakes if we wanted to. You know, like I’m sure lots of us did in some ways; but to make choices, to make decisions that, you know, under the guidelines of knowing who we were and what we have committed to do. You know, like I couldn’t go out and stay out all night, you know, down on George Street. That wouldn’t be part of our lives, you know; but if I wanted to go visit somebody, if I wanted to whatever, whatever, you know – it was that freedom to grow into wholeness without just following rules and regulations that were made by someone else, but doing that within the context of the appropriate lifestyle that we’re called to live. You know, it’s almost like if you have a marriage and the woman can’t do anything unless the man says, or that she’s not a whole person.
Ryan: You know, like… and there are some couples like that – some marriages like that. Who’s the head of the house, and sometimes the woman is the head of the house - (chuckles) you know, (no)?, that too.
Interviewer: I’ve seen that.
Ryan: So, you know, like to grow into adulthood, you know.
Interviewer: Okay. I understand.
Ryan: It’s not a matter of aging. It’s a matter of…
Interviewer: Yeah. What one message or fact about what occurred in your community in the 70’s and 80’s would you like young people to know today?
Ryan: Say that again.
Interviewer: What one message or fact about what occurred in your community in the 70’s and/or 80’s would you like young people to know today?
Ryan: One of the things I would like them to know or like them to do or like them to know it was done, whichever way you want to take that question, is to take responsibility for their own personal lives, their growth, etc.
Interviewer: Okay. Do you have any like pictures or things like that that they could use for the project?
Ryan: What kind of pictures would you want?
Interviewer: Stuff like your involvement in the 70’s and 80’s.
Ryan: I’m not good at pictures. I wouldn’t know where to find them.
Interviewer: That’s okay. And what work do you think still needs to be done in your community.
Ryan: Are you talking about our community… now which community are you talking about?
Interviewer: You can go through all of your communities, if you want. (chuckles)
Ryan: But when you said it, what specifically did you have in mind?
Interviewer: I don’t know!
Ryan: You don’t know. You weren’t talking about just our religious community.
Interviewer: I’m not talking about just the religious community.
Ryan: No, no.
Interviewer: Like probably like social justice community.
Ryan: Yeah, okay. Okay.
Interviewer: Like the women’s community at large.
Ryan: Yeah. Yeah. Say the question again.
Interviewer: What work do you think still needs to be done.
Ryan: Mounds of the same work needs to be done: the work for equality, the work for equity, the work to work against violence. You know, like the… I think that we cannot ever give up working towards ending poverty - you know, like this whole campaign of making poverty history.
Ryan: It’s a lovely dream but it won’t happen unless we work, work, and work, all of us together, and I think one of the big things that have to happen in the rural community and - it’s little bits of it in our own communities – is to fight against the dread disease of AIDS. It’s preventable if we work hard enough and give the funds and help people to understand and to… - I mean, that’s more obvious when you look at the world situation - no matter how little. The other thing I think we need to do and it’s becoming more and more obvious: we need to be more aware, more alert, more involved in the growing issue of trafficking of women, and we think it’s not going on Newfoundland because we don’t call it that.
Interviewer: Yeah. Most people don’t think, I think, it’s happening where they’re at. I think a lot of people… right in North America, I think a lot of people don’t think that trafficking women happens here.
Ryan: Well, we know it happens in Toronto and Vancouver and a couple of places like that.
Ryan: We’re having a play this September on trafficking of women.
Interviewer: Where at?
Ryan: Here at Holy Heart, I think.
Interviewer: At Holy Heart.
Interviewer: Okay. I’ll keep my eyes open for that.
Ryan: It’s being done by a group in Quebec, and they’re doing it because the sisters all over the world meet in Rome every now and again – the major superiors – and one of their big projects of the last time they met was to raise awareness about the trafficking of women – women and girls.
Ryan: We’re not talking about women who go out and make a choice to go and sell themselves…
Interviewer: Yeah, the ones who…
Ryan: …but, oh, we’ve had a few public incidents here.
Ryan: Well, at the pizza shop.
Interviewer: Oh yeah. Yeah, I heard about that.
Ryan: And they’re youngsters. They’re not university students even. They’re younger than that. Yeah, so all these social issues I think that… I don’t think the work will be ever done, but it’s certainly far from being satisfactory yet.
Interviewer: Yeah. I agree completely.
Ryan: Now is that all you have to ask me?
Interviewer: That’s all I have. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ryan: (I don’t know)?. (chuckles) It’s interesting talking to you.