Sister Donna Ryan was a Sister of Mercy for 62 years. She comes from strong Irish roots “firmly grounded in the rich farming soil of Imogene, Iowa,” where her mother’s family was from, including Donna’s aunt, Sister Mary Joel Torpy, and cousin, Sister Vera O’Connor.
Sister Donna’s family moved to Prairie Village, Kansas, where she attended Catholic schools. After graduating from St. Teresa’s Academy in Kansas City, Missouri, she followed the example of her aunt and cousin by entering the Sisters of Mercy in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1959.
Taking her religious motto to heart – With the Spirit for Her People – she has served God’s people in various ways. A good people-person, Sister Donna, knows how to network while improving the status quo. She has left her handprint in every location she has served. For instance, in Boulder, Colorado, she secured an abandoned bus depot that was transformed into Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, which is still operating today within a newer building. In Kansas City, she befriended members of the transgender community, speaking out on their behalf long before anyone else would.
Her first ministry was teaching primary grades in Omaha and Kansas City for 10 years. Former students may remember her as Sister Marian. With a bachelor’s in art, a master’s in religious studies, and a master’s in theology, Sister Donna went on to serve as director of RCIA (Rite of Initiation of Adults) and adult formation programs, campus minister, chaplain to the gay and lesbian community, and assistant director for the Institute of Business Ethics at DePaul University. Her ministry work has taken her to such locations as Colorado, Kansas, and Illinois.
In 1996, she was called to return to her hometown of Kansas City to minister. Over the next 20 years, she provided chaplain/spiritual support, which was an all-encompassing title meaning she was serving God’s people in immeasurable ways. First, Sister Donna served as pastoral associate for the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, then on to Veronica’s Voice, Urban Ministries, HOPE, Center for Spirit at Work, and Justice Project.
Sister Donna had a knack for meeting the faithful outside of the church and then bringing them in. She was key in establishing the Mercy Associates and Companions in Mercy, seeing the full potential of the Mercy charism living on through these two initiatives. “I’m a church lady!” she explains herself.
In 2016, Donna was called to live with her community in Omaha. Her heart, however, remains in Kansas City as she continues to consult and advise the Justice Project from afar.