At over six feet tall, Jerry Ryle’s deep voice has a slight Irish lilt. Now, a retired priest, he grew up in the Land Park neighborhood of Sacramento. At the time, the neighborhood was composed of working class families and Sacramento was a small city – with a population of just 240,000 people.
“Back then no one locked their doors,” he said. “I always wanted be a soda jerk at Vic’s Ice Cream Shop. They had the best ice cream.”
Jerry never got the job, but he worked as a bag boy at the Arata Brothers grocery store next to his family’s bar, the Irish Tavern.
“Oak Park was heavily Irish and then it was mostly black and now it’s getting gentrified,” he said.
Jerry entered the seminary when he was a freshman in high school. Twelve years later, he finished his studies and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Sacramento.
His first assignment was at St. Patrick’s in Grass Valley – a community rich in California Gold Rush history. He then taught at St. Francis High School. Following that, he spent two and a half years at The Abbey of Our Lady of New Clairvaux, a Cistercian farming monastery nestled in the northern Sacramento valley. Though Jerry was attracted to the communal monastic life, he realized that his true vocation was in the parish community. He loves people and savors listening to the stories of their lives.
After leaving the monastery he was sent for several years to St. Philomene’s Church in Sacramento. He then was entitled to a new sabbatical year which he spent at the University of California in Berkeley. There he pursued studies in medieval European history. After this, he served as an assistant pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Vallejo. From St Catherine’s he was sent to St. Lawrence the Martyr Church, located in the neighborhood of North Highlands. There he was finally made a pastor.
During Jerry’s 14 year tenure at St. Lawrence, three homes near to the church blew up in meth lab explosions and the church’s glass tower was shattered with gunshots on three different occasions.
Once, a lover’s quarrel occurred right across the street from church after evening mass. The victim of the shooting crawled over to the church asking for help. Jerry left his parishioners to meet the man outside so that he didn’t bring the crossfire to the congregation. Two parishioners — Mary, a nurse and Carol, a PE teacher — came with Jerry to help the man before an ambulance arrived.
“Mary automatically took off her white wool coat and made a pillow for his head and I thought that was the sweetest thing,” Jerry said.
The man survived, but it took over a year for the shooting to come to trial.
“It was just another day in North Highlands,” Jerry said.
Because North Highlands had an emerging Mexican population, Jerry decided to study Spanish for two months in Cuernavaca, Mexico to be able to reach out to new parishioners.
But after his schooling in Mexico, the Diocese transferred him to the heavily Spanish speaking parish of St. Christopher’s in Galt. In the rural and predominantly Mexican farming community, Jerry says that he gradually learned conversational Spanish. It took a year for him to become oriented to the culture of the vineyards and the dairies. But, once he was welcomed into the community’s Mexican culture, Jerry said that Galt became a dream come true.
As a retiree, Jerry lives in Campus Commons, and is an avid reader. He enjoys cooking and having friends over for dinner. His favorite dishes include chicken Provencal and pasta Bolognese.
On Tuesdays, he volunteers in the Loaves & Fishes dining room and performs food prep from 6:30 to 10 AM. After that, he volunteers with the Jail Visitation program.
For the past year and two months, he has visited a man named Robert in the Sacramento county jail.
Though Robert spent over a year in solitary he has yet to receive a hearing. He is a poet, an artist and a committed Christian. Robert has come to know God and Jesus Christ through his bible study while in jail.
“You listen, but you also share,” Jerry said about his time visiting Robert.
Jerry has sent Robert paperback books to read including an inspirational book about the lives of saints and a book about colored pencil drawing techniques, recommended to Robert by another inmate.
Robert has shared his artistic talents with Jerry sending him and his family members some of the greeting cards he has designed.
Jerry says that the experience of visiting Robert in the jail has taught him that we are built to encounter one another and learn the healing power of love.