Collegeville, Minn. — Rita Prince and Terry Ryan stood beneath the massive concrete bell tower at St. John's University in Collegeville, clutching a picture of their brother. In the 1960s-era photo, Patrick Ryan is dressed smartly in a black suit, his reddish-brown hair swept to the side.
Terry Ryan said her brother was a promising student. But then, she said, Patrick Ryan was sexually abused by a priest, who was also a history professor, in the 1970s.
"He was a straight-A student, he was a good athlete, he had much, much promise. And I believe he was an absolute victim when he came here to this school. He had no family in the area. He probably became a victim to somebody who was looking for someone just like him," Ryan said.
Ryan alleges her brother was drugged and raped by the priest in the fall of 1970. Her brother left SJU shortly after. Rita Prince said he was never the same, and fell into deep depression.
"My brother, Patrick Ryan, never saw his 20th birthday. He was so distraught he hung himself in February of 1971," Prince said.
Prince said her father told St. John's Abbey about the abuse after it first happened, and spoke to an abbey official again in 2002. Her father died in 2004. The priest in question died in 1988.
St. John's Abbey spokesman Fr. William Skudlarek met with the two women, and told them that four years ago the case was handed over to a representative that investigates complaints of sexual abuse. He said this was the first he'd heard of the allegation made 35 years ago. Skudlarek promised the abbey would work with Patrick Ryan's family to find out exactly what happened.
"We will certainly investigate that, and do anything we can to help you and your family. This was a terrible, terrible tragedy," Skudlarek said.
Skudlarek acknowledged there may not be much the abbey could have done about the abuse allegations, since the priest wasn't a Benedictine monk, and didn't work for St. John's Abbey, but rather St. John's University.
An initial statement from the university claimed the first allegation against the priest was made in 2002, and that college officials weren't aware of allegations made in the 1970s. However a later statement from SJU said an archival search had found a record of an exchange in 1971 between Patrick Ryan's father and a St John's University employee regarding the abuse allegation. The school is continuing to search its records for more information
Rita Prince says the only thing her family wants from the abbey and university is to publicly name the priest as an abuser, so if there are other abuse victims out there, they can come forward and start their healing process.
"Our family was never given a chance to heal over this. It did happen 35 years ago, but ... the pain is as if it happened yesterday," Prince said.
St. John's Abbey faced criticism in the summer of 2006 from the abuse advocate group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, for a delay in making public cases of sexual abuse that happened in the 1970s and '80s.
Because of that issue, in August 2006 a sexual abuse victim resigned from a sexual abuse review board. St. John's created the review board in 2002 after settling lawsuits filed by a dozen abuse victims.