Fr Thomas Joseph Ryder was born in Dunmore, Co Galway, Eire, on 24 July 1912. He entered Maynooth Seminary, Dublin, in 1930 and was ordained on 20 June 1937 at the age of 25. Directly following his Ordination, Fr Tom emigrated to New Zealand – initially for a five year period, but remained here until his death in the year 2000.In December 1937, Fr Ryder began priestly ministry at St Benedicts, Newton, where he was chaplain to Auckland Hospital, the Mater Hospital, and Mount Eden Prison. His parish priest at that time was Mgr William Ormond.
When the World War II broke out, Fr Ryder enlisted for Army chaplaincy duty but was discovered to have Tuberculosis. Consequently he spent most of the war years in the Mater Hospital, recovering. In 1943 he moved to Mission House Vermont Street Ponsonby where, together with Fr Reginald Delargy, he was director of the Catholic Youth Movement, chaplain to the Catholic Students at Auckland University; the Auckland Catholic Teachers’ Training College – Loretto Hall; Sacred Heart College and St Peter’s College. At this time he was also instrumental in establishing the French Jocist Movement – Young Christian Workers, within the Auckland Diocese.
Fr Ryder was transferred to Hamilton in 1952 where he was again responsible for youth. He established Homemakers, a new group for young married women, and also ran a discussion group for jockeys at Hamilton’s Te Rapa race track. Whilst in Hamilton he had the opportunity to meet the Von Trapp Family Singers, of The Sound of Music fame, but it was also in Hamilton that Fr Ryder’s ‘troubles’ began. In 1959, because of a dispute with the then parish priest, Mgr Buxton, Fr Tom was moved to Remuera parish under the supervision of Mgr John Bradley. And then, because Mgr Bradley considered Fr Ryder to be too outspoken, Archbishop Liston ‘banished’ Fr Ryder to the ‘hinterland’ – Kawerau!In 1960 Archbishop Liston appointed Fr Ryder parish priest of the new parish of St Gerard’s in Kawerau; an appointment which Fr Ryder himself always believed to be disciplinary. But it was in Kawerau, far away from the eyes of Archbishop Liston, that Fr Ryder came into his own.
He embraced, and sometimes anticipated, the reforms of Vatican II, which he implemented with great enthusiasm; wisely building up the confidence of his parishioners to lead and teach others their Catholic Faith. He bypassed the Catholic School system and established the first New Zealand Catholic School of Religion, and, together with parishioner Mrs Molly Sara, revolutionised the method of teaching faith to children through CCD and Sacramental preparation programmes. He developed the faith life and knowledge of his parishioners through Adult Education Classes held, of course, in his new School of Religion. In those days, well before television was a fixture in every household, Kawerau was known throughout the North Island to be a parish active and alive with the ‘modern’ post Vatican II Catholic faith.
In 1971 Archbishop Liston was dead and Fr Tom’s good friend Reginald Delargy was now Bishop of Auckland. To his credit, one of Bishop Delargy’s first moves was to bring Fr Ryder out of ‘exile’ and back to Auckland. He appointed Fr Ryder parish priest of St Mary’s Papakura, and here Fr Tom continued his progressive ministry preparing parishioners for lay involvement, lay participation, lay ministries and adult education. In 1971 he was still in the forefront of de-clericalizing the administration, evangelization and teaching roles of the Catholic Church. His successful Kawerau CCD methods were implemented in Papakura, as were his adult education programmes – and a new innovation – young mothers’ discussion groups, which were hugely popular. On any given week in Papakura there would be six or seven different groups of young Catholic mothers reading and discussing their faith, and endeavouring to see these ideals lived out in their families.
In 1974, Fr Ryder played an important part on the Health and Education Committee, commonly known as the Johnson Committee, established by the then Labour Minister of Education, Phil Amos. This Committee, as part of its mandate, had to report on the need for ‘moral and spiritual values’ within the education system. Its final Report, known as the ‘Johnson Report’, shows an amazing prophetic voice which was sadly ignored. The Johnson Committee recommendations were never put into practice.At a local level, in 1977 Fr Ryder began pointing out the need for a Catholic Secondary School within the Franklin area to serve the parishes of Papakura and south, but it was only in 1999 that this began to become a reality with the donation of land and the formal establishment of a committee.Fr Ryder continued in his role as parish priest of St Mary’s until 1988 when Fr Dennis Horton took over the office. Fr Ryder then became Pastor Emeritus and as Pastor Emeritus continued to offer parishioners regular Adult Education Classes in Church History and Bible Studies. He also maintained his sacramental ministry during this time.In June 2000 Fr Tom was admitted to Middlemore Hospital and later transferred to the Lady Elizabeth Rest Home, Papakura, where he died on 19 July 2000, in the 64th year of his priesthood, at the age of 88.He chose to be buried in Papakura South Cemetery beside many of his friends and parishioners who lie there.