Ryan, Papali’I John (1920–2002)
By David Hay
David Hay, B.A. (Avondale College, New South Wales, Australia) retired in 1996 as president of the Central Pacific Union Mission, Suva, Fiji. A New Zealander by birth Hay has served the church as pastor, evangelist, high school principal in Samoa, and church administrator for nearly 40 years in the South Pacific Islands. In retirement he pastured churches in New South Wales. Hay is the founder, editor, and publisher of the Journal of Pacific Adventist History. He authored Samoa 100 Years Plus on Samoan Adventist church history, which includes also the Adventist church history in New Zealand, Australia, and America. He was married to Fay with two adult children, and later, Cecily with one adult child, and has three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
First Published: July 19, 2020
Papali’I John Ryan (1920–2002)1 was born and educated in Apia, Samoa. Although he was early employed as a stevedore, rugby football occupied his time. Before long, mission superintendent, Raimond Reye arranged Bible studies for Ryan and Ellen Curry, the young lady whom he married in 1948. Employed by the Union Steamship Company in 1943, Ryan served there as its chief stevedore until 1980. Over the years, Ryan came to own and operate the largest and best equipped fleet of heavy equipment in Samoa, and for many years also assisted the local mission with transportation needs without cost. While serving as Apia senior elder,2 Ryan engaged in evangelism in outer villages at one time having twelve persons baptized.3 He also constructed a number of places of worship for new believers.4 Ellen Ryan, meanwhile, was active in service to the community as leader of Dorcas welfare in Apia.5 During the visit of General Conference president, Robert Pierson, in November 1973, Ryan and fellow elder and musician Sauni I’iga Kuresa (composer of the national anthem ) received the General Conference Medal for Outstanding Service to the Church. Ryan served two terms (1967-1972) as member of Parliament representing the constituency of Vaimauga East with distinction.
Following retirement from secular employment in 1980, Ryan continued in local church work and on being invited to pastor Samoan believers in Auckland, New Zealand, not only assisted Samoan ministers, but also cared for South Auckland and East Tamaki churches from 1986 to 1992.6 When Papali’ and Ellen Ryan left Auckland, they were given an emotional farewell. The East Tamaki Samoan church recognized that Papali’I Ryan had built both the faith and membership of the church. An evangelistic program in 1992 alone resulted in thirty-six baptisms.7 The service and luncheon were attended by the Western Samoan Head of State, His Highness Malietoa Tanumafili II. It was the first time the Head of State had visited a Samoan Seventh-day Adventist church in New Zealand.8
Ryan’s overseas service concluded in 1995 after pastoring Samoan churches in Brisbane, Australia. In 1994, the Samoan government honored Ryan with the Samoan Order of Merit for exceptional service to development through the enterprising and pioneering spirit in the use of heavy machinery on government projects. Declining in health, Papali’i John Ryan passed to his rest in Samoa in February 19, 2002, and was buried in the village of Vailele.9
Ryan’s courage, spiritual strength and faithfulness to Christian principles was demonstrated in his encounter with a fellow-parliamentarian during discussion in the National Assembly on his request to extend voting hours by one hour on National Election Day. Since elections were held on Saturday, such an extension would make it possible for Seventh-day Adventists to vote after sunset. With parliamentary proceedings broadcast by radio to all villages, Ryan was asked: “Where was the Honourable member on the previous polling day?” Ryan respectfully addressed members of the House and spoke confidently on his Sabbath activities covering family worship, church meetings, hospital visitation and youth support. He explained that he served God on that Sabbath, and did not vote. In reply, the questioner stated, “I can see now that the Honorable Member Papali’i John Ryan is a true Seventh-day Adventist.” Ryan’s genuine testimony, together with the prime minister’s support, enabled to request to pass into law.10
“A Tour Around the Central Pacific Union Mission.” Australasian Record, June 25, 1973.
Hay, David E. Samoa, The South Pacific and Beyond: The Seventh-day Adventist Churches in the Samoan Islands, New Zealand, United States of America, and Australia. Newcastle, New South Wales: WHO Presentation Services, 2005.
“Head of State Attends Pastor’s Farewell.” Record, March 13, 1993.
Maywald, George W. “Laymen Take Up the Challenge.” Australasian Record, September 16, 1974.
“New Church Opened Near Apia, Samoa.” Record, March 2, 1991.
“Papali’i John Ryan Funeral program and History, February 2002.” Unpublished document held in the personal collection of the author.
Peaty, N. K. “Samoan Community Services Interlude.” Australasian Record, December 20, 1976.
Ryan, E. “Apia Hospital Visitation.” Australasian Record, August 12, 1968.
Turner, T. T. “Walter Mulitalo obituary.” Record, December 10, 1988.
This biography is largely written from the personal knowledge of the author who lived in Apia and Savaii Samoa, for seventeen years. His neighbors were the family of Papali’I John Ryan. The author has chronicled the story of Papili’i John Ryan in David E. Hay, Samoa, The South Pacific and Beyond: The Seventh-day Adventist Churches in the Samoan Islands, New Zealand, United States of America, and Australia (Newcastle, New South Wales: WHO Presentation Services, 2005).↩
E. Ryan, “Apia Hospital Visitation,” Australasian Record, August 12, 1968, 9.↩
George W. Maywald, “Laymen Take Up the Challenge,” Australasian Record, September 16, 1974, 10.↩
“A Tour Around the Central Pacific Union Mission,” Australasian Record, June 25, 1973, 8; “New Church Opened Near Apia, Samoa,” Record, March 2, 1991, 13.↩
N. K. Peaty, “Samoan Community Services Interlude,” Australasian Record, December 20, 1976, 8-9; E. Ryan, “Apia Hospital Visitation,” Australasian Record, August 12, 1968, 9.↩
T. T. Turner, “Walter Mulitalo obituary,” Record, December 10, 1988, 13.↩
“Head of State Attends Pastor’s Farewell,” Record, March 13, 1993, 4.↩
“Papali’i John Ryan Funeral program and History, February 2002,” unpublished document held in the personal collection of the author.↩
Cited in David E. Hay, Samoa, The South Pacific and Beyond: The Seventh-day Adventist Churches in the Samoan Islands, New Zealand, United States of America, and Australia (Newcastle, New South Wales: WHO Presentation Services, 2005), 203.↩