Fr. Ryan Lee: Passion to serve ­others, give back in thanksgiving

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted anoints the hands of Fr. Ryan Lee during the priestly ordination Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Avondale June 11. (Billy Hardiman/CATHOLIC SUN)

See the full story on the ordination:
Four ordained to the priesthood

Meet the other new priests

Fr. Ryan Lee grew up in Arizona as the oldest child in his family, but only by 60 seconds. He’s got a twin brother and a younger sister and he might be the only priest in the Diocese of Phoenix who knows how to care for an elephant or an orangutan.

That’s because the Brophy College Preparatory graduate spent five years working at the Phoenix Zoo. “I am a thespian and also an athlete,” Fr. Lee said. “I’ve played pretty much every sport there is.” As if all that weren’t enough, he’s into photography and anything outdoors, especially scuba diving, he said.

“I decided very early on as a child that I had been blessed with a loving family and many opportunities that I had done nothing to earn or deserve,” Fr. Lee said. He wondered why he had received so much and others hadn’t. The growing realization led him to a desire to serve others, something he vowed to fulfill.

“I pursued the military and law enforcement seeking to fulfill that burning desire, that call I felt I had. But for different reasons those doors ended up becoming closed to me. That’s how I found my way to my true calling,” Fr. Lee said.

Fr. Lee credits the love and support he received from his parents as something that “would inspire anyone to want to give back for all that they have been given by God.”

He joined the Army ROTC right after high school but was discharged after a knee injury. Although disappointed, he knew God had a plan for his life and that somehow he would be given the opportunity to serve in a way that made a difference. After a stint as an intern at the Flagstaff Police Department during his third year of college, he realized God was calling him to the priesthood.

“There are several things in life that I have always wanted to be and that’s a father, a servant, a counselor, a teacher, a healer — any area I could that would be helping other people,” Fr. Lee said. “When I came to learn more and more who and what a priest was, I realized that all of those things was exactly who a priest was rolled into one.”

His favorite memory from the seminary is the 30-day silent retreat he made after his first year. While 30 days of silence might seem a bit extreme to some, “once you’ve been immersed into it, it’s just so liberating,” Fr. Lee said. “The guidance that I received there laid any doubts to rest about whether or not I was being chosen as a priest … the Lord communicated with me and revealed His will to me during that time and continued to stay with me throughout my years of formation.”

As a newly minted priest, he’s looking forward to celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass and hearing confessions. In the confessional, he said, he will be “encouraging people and motivating them to want to be better and become more like our Lord” so they can bring others to the Lord through their daily lives.

“I’m an action person,” Fr. Lee said. “As Christians, we’re called to take action, through both word and example. We’re not meant to keep the faith to ourselves. We’re supposed to be going out, as Pope Francis tells us, in order to bring others in.”