White smoke at last! Excitement, optimism and thanksgiving summed up the prevalent mood at the Bishop’s House at Katoto in Mzuzu as news broke that Pope Francis has appointed Father John Ryan as bishop of Mzuzu Diocese.
The appointment, announced by Archbishop Julio Murat, the papal envoy to Malawi and Zambia, yesterday makes the Irish priest—who has served in nearly all districts in the Northern Region since his arrival in Malawi aged 26 in 1978—successor of Bishop Joseph Mukasa Zuza who died in a road accident on January 15 2015.
In Zuza, Catholics in the Northern Region lost a pious and soft-spoken leader remembered for always interacting with people of all manner with humility and smiles.
However, the elevation of Ryan brings forth a priest whose first mission is admittedly to promote a “sense of the spiritual” in a world increasingly becoming secular, but commands a lot of respect when it comes to the teaching of mathematics and computer theory at Mzuzu University (Mzuni)—where he is a professor of mathematics—and beyond.
Father Michael Muwowo, who was part of Zuza’s five-strong council of advisors alongside Ryan, has been the administrator of the diocese which comprises the Nkhata Bay, Rumphi, Mzimba and Likoma since the fateful day a Toyota Hilux crashed on the sidewalk and killed the outspoken bishop.
“Monsignor Muwowo, the diocesan administrator of Mzuzu, remains in charge of the possession of the Episcopal See of Mzuzu diocese,” Episcopal Conference of Malawi secretary general Henry Saindi announced on Tuesday.
ECM has not yet come up with the consecration date of the new bishop who is currently helper at the nearby St Augustine Parish and founding trustee of Ungweru, a non-governmental organisation he helped found.
Yesterday, Muwowo, who served at St Paul’s Parish in Mzimba together with the bishop-elect, spoke highly of the bishop-elect.
Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Diocese, who was in charge of St Patrick’s Seminary when the bishop-elect was a teacher of mathematics, described Ryan as “a gift from God” when it comes to spirituality and education.
Besides the minor seminary, Ryan has served in several parishes, including St Paul’s in Mzimba, St Steven at Kasantha north of Karonga, St Mathias in Chitipa’s sprawling hills of Misuku and St Born in his hometown of Tipperary, Ireland, Ryan left St Patricks for Mzuni in 1998.
Mzuni credits Ryan with the introduction and modernisation of a two -year postgraduate programme in coding theory as well as the first PhD studies in mathematics.