We are the towel people,
Soothers, cleansers, healers
Of feet tired and sore and cut from the journey.
Christ’s sent people,
Wiping away the dirt and blood and spittle
Of the world’s hatred spewed onto the faces of the weak.
On our knees before others —
And in homage to them,
for Christ is there.
‘Who’s that bloke sweeping the floor?’ I asked a volunteer at St Canice’s soup kitchen, Kings Cross.
‘That’s Tony Ruhan. He’s a Jesuit priest — pretty bright fella too; got more degrees than you’ve had sandwiches.’
It was in 1997 when I first encountered this ‘bright fella’ with his broom — and I remember well that his sweeping was anything but perfunctory. This was a sacred action because manual work is good for the soul. This was a sacred action because to serve is to pay homage. For Tony, sweeping that floor was tantamount to praising God. No wonder his ‘prodigal’ dedication to such a menial task.
‘God’, says Pope Francis, ‘shows the poor his first mercy.’ (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 198) And this first mercy is well known to each of us.
Whatever one may feel about this dream that triages the marginalised as a priority, we should be careful not to patronise it as noble sentiment; or dismiss it as a niche aspiration for the specialised few — a kind of ‘soup kitchen’ social work.
‘In order for Christ to increase, I must decrease’, said John the Baptist. Tony took these words to heart.
A poor church for the poor, like any divinely inspired dream, invites us beyond what is familiar, what is safe, what is comfortable. This is a disturbing prospect, especially for a wealthy, well-meaning young man — and Church — looking to our Lord for some consolation, for an easier path.
But is not the response the same? You still lack one thing. ‘Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ (Luke 18:22)
And who is it that calls us out and rattles our inner being, but Jesus the Christ who bent down at the foot of humanity to show us the way?
No wonder St Paul was moved to say: ‘Jesus, being in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.’ (Philippians 2:5-7)
Jesus became poor. His foot washing ways established the template for Christian leadership: to serve from a place of humility and vulnerability; a place that too many of us have been loath to visit ever since.
Tony had little regard for honorifics, or status, or personal achievement — he counted his own academic accomplishments as little more than ‘straw’.
Who’s that bloke sweeping the floor? That’s Tony Ruhan: on his knees before others, for Christ is there.
Fr Peter Day is assistant priest at Queanbeyan Parish in the Canberra-Goulburn Archdiocese.
Please pray for FATHER RAYMOND ANTONY (‘Tony’) RUHAN SJ,
who died on the evening of Sunday, 23 December 2018
at Redfern (Sydney), aged 90 years.
1928 (2 July) Born in Sydney, NSW
Secondary education at Marcellin College, Randwick, NSW
1946 Engineering I at Sydney University
1947-48 Novitiate at Loyola College, Watsonia, Vic.
1949-51 Philosophy at Loyola College, Watsonia, Vic.
1952 1st Year Regency at Saint Ignatius’ College, Norwood
1953-55 Juniorate at Loyola College, Watsonia: B.Sc. at Melbourne University
1956-57 2nd and 3rd Year Regency at Saint Ignatius’ College, Norwood
1958-61 Theology at Canisius College, Pymble, NSW; ordained 6 January 1960
1962 St Aloysius’ College, Milsons Point, NSW: taught Maths, Physics, Chemistry
1963-64 Bellarmino, Rome: biennium in Philosophy –PhD at Gregorian University
Sept 1964-July 1965Tertianship at St Andra i Lavanttal, Karnten, Austria
1966-68 University of Chicago, USA: PhD in History of Ideas and Methods
1969 Newman College, Parkville, Vic.: Dean of Studies & Discipline, lecturer
1970 St Thomas More College, Perth: Minister, Dean
1971 Jesuit Theological College, Parkville, Vic.: Professor of Philosophy at Campion College, tutor in Theology
1972-79 Institute of Social Order, Boroko, PNG: lecturer in Philosophy at University of Papua New Guinea
1980 JTC, Parkville, Vic.: lecturer in Philosophy until August, then Sogang University, Seoul, Korea
1981-83 Lecturer in Philosophy at Sogang University, Seoul, Korea
1984-93 Seoul, Korea: pastoral worker
1994-96 Kampala, Uganda: worked for JRS Eastern Africa
1997 St Canice’s, Elizabeth Bay, NSW: pastoral ministry
1998-2013 North Sydney (resident at Surry Hills until 2000, then Redfern): ministry at drop-in centre for homeless people
2014-18 Pymble (res. Redfern): ministry to homeless people