Born: Portstewart, Ireland, on January 16,
Took the habit: Sicklinghall September 21, 1854
Vows: Sicklinghall on September 29, 1855 (No. 403)
Priestly ordination: Marseilles, on June 23, 1859
Died: Kilburn, London, on April 29, 1919
William Ring was born in Portstewart, in the diocese of Down and Connor, Ireland, on January 16, 1834. His father was a Protestant doctor and for the sake of his practice the family moved to Belfast. William was brought up as a Protestant but became a Catholic at 16 years of age. While his father was initially opposed to this, he eventually became a Catholic himself. William came to know the Oblates through Father Robert Cooke. He began his novitiate in Sicklinghall on 21 September 1854, together with Fr. William Young and Mr. John Clarke, and made his oblation on 29 September 1855. He received tonsure from Bishop Briggs, the Bishop of Beverly, on 3 October 1855 and minor orders and subdiaconate on 4 November 1856 from the same Bishop. He received diaconate from the Founder in Leeds on 9 August 1857 and then continued his scholasticate formation in Montolivet in 1857-1859. In his reports Father Antoine Mouchette, scholasticate formator, wrote in 1857: Brother Ring “has pleased me very much. He was attracted by the life of Brother Camper, he is very regular, docile […]: excellent religious, full of good will and zeal; I see it as a real loss to have him ordained so soon; one more year here would have made of him an accomplished religious; I am sure the whole community will miss him very much.” He was ordained priest by Bishop de Mazenod on 23 June 1859 and returned immediately to his province. In a memoir testifying to his life-long reverence for the Founder, written in 1902, Father Ring wrote: “I lived with the Founder for two years in Marseilles, was admitted to friendly intercourse with him, and received from him special favours…Among my privileges was the commission to visit the English-speaking prisoners in the city gaol, to comfort them in his name and on his behalf. Another commission authorized me to set up an English propaganda to prepare the Oblate students for their apostolic work in the English-speaking countries. Here I must state that the immense desire of all the students to be sent to labour in the foreign missions, regardless of suffering and death, gave me an exalted idea of my confreres and increased my admiration and reverence for him who had poured out his heart into the breasts of the young levites an ardent hunger and thirst for the salvation of souls.”
He spent some time in the newly founded St. Kevin’s Reformatory Glencree and thereafter, from 1860, was for many periods assigned as a missionary to the House of Retreat, Inchicore. He attended the South Dublin Union as chaplain in 1861. In 1863 he moved to Leith to employ his special talents in establishing the new mission under the guidance of Fr. Noble, and in March 1865 to Tower Hill where he became superior in 1867. He distinguished himself in a cholera outbreak by his devotion to the sufferers, and again in a famine. He also devoted himself to the foundation of schools. After narrowly escaping death in a railway accident in 1870 that cost the life of his confrere Edward Healy, he recuperated in Kilburn and in 1874 was appointed to the mission staff in Inchicore. This was his usual address from 1874 to 1903. However, he was appointed again as superior of Tower Hill in 1882, and on the death of the provincial Father Gubbins, became provincial in 1883-1887. He also held the offices of superior of Belmont House (1887-1889) and Inchicore (1892-1901). In his latter years he spent some time in the United States, preaching and fundraising.
Father Ring will always be associated with Our Lady of Lourdes and is thus responsible for a devotion that has entered into the spiritual patrimony of his province. He made a private pilgrimage to the Grotto in September 1879 to perform a service for the Bishop of Toronto. Preaching in St. Teresa’s Church, Clarendon Street, Dublin early in 1880 he exhorted the people to send petitions to the shrine. He conducted the first pilgrimage from the United Kingdom to Lourdes in 1882. In the same year, with the help of Brother Malone, he had built a replica of the Lourdes grotto, which was solemnly opened and blessed on 1 May with more than 6000 participating in the ceremony. He organized a second pilgrimage in 1886 and earned the praise of the Pope. While superior of Belmont he built there the first chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes. He enrolled countless ‘Associates’ to pray and who shared in the privileges of the pilgrimage. As superior of Inchicore he was responsible for the completion of the chancel of the church which was formally opened on 8 December 1899 and for the decoration of the sanctuary of the church in gold leaf with superimposed colour designs, dominated by its statue of ‘The Immaculate Conception.” He was trusted by people of every kind in the Church. Cardinal Guibert entrusted him with a special personal message for Cardinal Manning Archbishop of Westminster. Cardinal Logue of Armagh wanted him to represent him at the Catholic Congress in Chicago in 1893 when Father Ring visited the United States on business. In June 1900 he was in London ready to give evidence (for the third time) before a Parliamentary committee in favour of the inclusion of the township of Kilmainham, of which Inchicore formed part, within the Dublin city boundaries. Later that year he was entrusted by the Irish Bishops with the organization of a national pilgrimage to Rome – it was 1893, the year of the Pontifical Jubilee of Leo XIII. For this work he again received the commendation of the Pope. He organized another pilgrimage to Rome in 1900 in honour of the Jubilee Year and in 1902 in honour of the Pontifical Jubilee, again at the request of the Bishops. He planned an Irish pilgrimage to the Holy Land but this was blocked by the outbreak of the First World War. Through the Association of Mary Immaculate he organized a crusade of prayer for peace.
The author of his obituary wrote: “Father Ring devoted himself to the preaching of missions during the years he was attached to Inchicore. But his apostolate, so zealous and fruitful, was directed chiefly towards material works, for the foundation and direction of which he had received from on high a quite special gift and which, moreover, according to the ways of Providence, are almost as necessary as preaching for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.” He was indeed a great builder and a great fund-raiser, with a large staff of helpers, in particular for the Tower Hill mission, for Belmont and Belcamp and for the church in Inchicore. Even so, this would seem to be a rather narrow judgement of his work, which touched many lives in a directly spiritual way.
At the end of his life he retired to the juniorate in Belcamp Hall. He was seriously ill in 1915. Nevertheless in 1916 he preached at length in Inchicore on the Venerable Oliver Plunkett. He went in September 1918 to preach a novena in honour of Our Lady of Grace in Tower Hill. He took ill with influenza, retired to Kilburn and there preached his last sermon on 9 February 1919. He died there on 29 April 1919. He is buried in the Oblate cemetery in Inchicore. He is still remembered in Inchicore where a street is named after him.
Sources and Bibliography
G. A.: 22 files: oblation formula, extracts
from newspapers, will; about 400 letters.
Codex historicus Lys Marie, Sicklinghall 1852-1864
Codex Historicus House of Retreat Inchicore, Dublin 1856-.
“Father William Ring”, in Missions OMI, 56 (1922), p. 724-729.
Missions OMI, 1863-1919, passim
Ring, William, o.m.i., “A Contemporary’s Tribute to Our Founder”, in De Mazenod Record, 20(1952) p.3-4;
“A Life and a Centenary: Father William Mary Joseph Ring”, in De Mazenod Record, 2(1934) p.15ff.
Ring, William, o.m.i., “The Venerable Oliver Plunket”, in Missionary Record 17(1916) pp.85-97;
“Father Ring”, in Missionary Record, 11(1901) pp.217-224;
“Father William M. Ring” (obituary) in Missionary Record, 19 (1919) July/September pp.43-47.
“Interview with Father Ring”, in Missionary Record, 8(1898) p.237-238.
“Father Ring, A Reminiscence”, in Missionary Record, 19(1920) pp.85-86, 104-105, 124-126, 159-160, 180-181, 213-214, 226-227, 245-247; 268-270, 283-284, 307-310, 320-321, 371-372, 405-409, 419-420, 461-462, 20(1922), pp.42-49, 77-78, 102-104, 114-119.
Cooke, Robert, o.m.i., Sketches of the Life of Mgr. De Mazenod, edited by Thomas Dawson, Dublin, 1914, pp. 197ff
Denny, Vincent, o.m.i., Reaching Out, Dublin 1991, pp. 74, 109-113, 124-127.