Fr. Ryan Adams has long felt drawn to oratory life and will enter postulancy for the Oratory of Port Antonio in September
DETROIT — For Fr. Ryan Adams, the celebrations Aug. 13 at the Basilica of Ste. Anne and Aug. 20 at Most Holy Trinity Parish in Corktown were bittersweet.
Parishioners at both parishes, where Fr. Adams has served since 2017, turned out in droves to say farewell.
"What a loss," some were overheard saying. "We knew we were blessed," others remarked, "but we didn't know how much we were blessed."
As Fr. Adams prepares to depart the Archdiocese of Detroit to enter the postulancy in the Oratory of Port Antonio in Jamaica, he felt the love being poured out over him.
“The blessing I am seeing now is I see how much God loves me by your love,” Fr. Adams said in his final homily at Most Holy Trinity. “I’m serious about this: What I am experiencing is your love for me, and I’m not that special. I feel God’s love for me. That’s the gift that God has given me as I am leaving from all of you.”
That love is particularly meaningful to Fr. Adams as he sets off on his journey to Jamaica. Arriving at this point wasn't easy, Fr. Adams told Detroit Catholic.
“I was suffering the last few years. The discernment issues I was going through and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life and my future was very difficult, very trying,” Fr. Adams said in his homily. “Why the Lord puts us through trials is because he wants communion with us in love — he carries us through with his love — and I see in my own trials and my own desert that he opened a new door for me, a door to live out my priesthood in a way I've always dreamed of living.”
On Sept. 8, Fr. Adams will move into the Oratory of Port Antonio of St. Philip Neri in Jamaica, where he will live a common life with five fellow priests, one religious brother and one layperson discerning the priesthood. Together, they will share common meals, community, and prayer time and serve the community surrounding their home in the Archdiocese of Kingston. The territory includes three parishes and two schools.
An oratory is a pontifical society of apostolic life — a “quasi-religious order,” Fr. Adams explained — in which priests live and serve together independent of whatever dioceses they are from.
Although he was ordained a diocesan priest in 2014, Fr. Adams said the desire to live in common life had long been in his heart. While at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, he met Fr. Dan Jones, then an associate professor at the seminary, who shared this desire.
“He was very strong about (how) a priest should live in common life because in common life you get support, and also iron sharpens iron,” Fr. Adams explained. “You can practice true love because God is relational. So in order to grow in authentic love, we need others for that great gift.”
As he continued in seminary, Fr. Adams, alongside Fr. Jones, began exploring the possibility of forming a community for priests. Fr. Jones proposed the idea of an oratory, and the two began to read the life of St. Philip Neri, a 16th century priest who founded a community of common apostolic life.
“Both Fr. Dan and I had this tremendous interior joy that flooded our hearts, and so as I read the life of St. Philip Neri, I thought, 'This is a beautiful life.' His vision of common life was the oratory; it was like Benedictine life, meaning there is a stable life," Fr. Adams said.
When it came time to approach Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron with the idea of establishing an oratory in Detroit, the archbishop responded positively; he told Fr. Jones he had been praying for one and wanted one in the city for some time, and gave the priests the green light to pursue the idea further.
In 2017, the possibility of living together in a community became a reality, and the priests were given Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Midtown as their oratory home. As part of the process of creating the oratory, the priests invited the provost from the Oratory of Port Antonio in Jamaica, Msgr. Michael Palud, to oversee the establishment of the oratory in Detroit.
While other oratories existed in the United States, Fr. Jones felt that Jamaica was a better example of the charism they hoped to bring to Detroit.
“He said, ‘In Detroit, we want to be a missionary oratory, so let's get our wisdom from Jamaica, and let's have Msgr. Palud be our evaluator because want to have that kind of tone to our life,’” Fr. Adams said.
However, the oratory eventually fizzled out — both Fr. Adams and Fr. Marko Djonovic, who had joined the oratory, moved out, and Fr. Jones was eventually reassigned to St. John Fisher Chapel University Parish in Auburn Hills.
Fr. Adams said he mourned the loss of the oratory.
“It was very heavy, and then it became clearer and clearer to me that diocesan priesthood, at least the structure that I am in, is not for me,” Fr. Adams said.
Despite the dashed dream, and despite not sharing common life within the structure of an oratory, Fr. Adams began to devote himself to one of the charisms of St. Philip Neri’s oratory life: the youth.
“I just decided to do it, and I don’t think I have like a charism for youth or anything, but I could feel there was fruit from this,” Fr. Adams said.
However, toward the end of 2020, Fr. Adams said he went through one of the most challenging times in his priesthood. COVID-19 took its toll, first by leaving him isolated, and then through the loss of a young adult he knew well, who succumbed to the virus. Fr. Adams’ pastor, Msgr. Charles Kosanke, suffered a boating accident that claimed the life of a fellow priest, Fr. Stephen Rooney, as well as a parishioner. It all took a toll.
The biggest heartbreak took place in 2021, when Fr. Jones passed away after being diagnosed with cancer.
“That really crushed me, because he was like a father to me. I loved that guy so much,” Fr. Adams said. “I was left to wonder, ‘Where do I go?’”
Fr. Adams took five months off from parish life. However, he never lost sight of the oratory. He realized his vision for an oratory in Detroit was unlikely to come to fruition, and decided to visit the oratory in Jamaica.
“I went down there and felt this flourishment of me as a person and me as a priest,” Fr. Adams said. “I felt in my heart, and even the provost said to me, ‘I can see there is a lot of peace in your eyes.’”
In January 2023, Fr. Adams presented Archbishop Vigneron with a letter asking to be released to the novitiate for the Oratory of Port Antonio. In March, the archbishop granted his release.
For the next three years, Fr. Adams will live and be with the community as he discerns whether he should become an official member and live there the rest of his life.
“There are no vows taken. St. Philip always wanted his men to be free … you can choose to leave at any time, but you make a commitment: ‘I am committed to you guys, and you are committed to me until I go to the Lord in glory,’” Fr. Adams said.
All the while, he will live and work alongside his brother priests serving a poor community.
Oratory life is very simple, Fr. Adams explained.
“You wake in the morning, and you have a half hour of silence before the Blessed Sacrament, and then you pray morning prayer together,” Fr. Adams said. “You eat breakfast together, and then you go off to your apostolate, and they usually try to do it two by two so you get another brother to go with you.”
The oratorians teach in the schools, do parish work or make the difficult trek up the mountain to the sick and elderly. At the end of the day, they return to their home, and again pray before the Blessed Sacrament, do evening prayer, eat as a community and end the night with recreation and fellowship.
Still, it is "bittersweet" to leave behind the parishioners he loves in the Archdiocese of Detroit, Fr. Adams said, but every bit of this long road has been about God molding him into the person he fully needs to be, a prospect that brings him peace.
“Archbishop told me, ‘Follow the Lord light by light,’" Fr. Adams said. "I really like that because instead of thinking so far into the future of what I’ll be like and what this will be like, all I know is what shines before me. What I know is that God has put this desire in my heart for this oratory for many years. It didn’t work out in Detroit, and he opened the door to try it out in Jamaica.”
Fr. Adams doesn't know what the future will hold, but he's confident in following the path God has placed before him.
“There is just light shining there, and I am putting my foot there, and that is all I can see," Fr. Adams said. "In my spiritual development, the Lord has made me so poor and so helpless that I couldn’t put the puzzle together on my own, but now I am seeing that the vision is being brought into life, and it is not by me. It’s by His grace.”