GETTING TO KNOW THE DEAN

Story by Emily Niblick

It’s been six weeks now, and we are becoming adjusted to having a Dean in the Cathedral. Most of us have heard him preach, talked to him, met his wife Erin and their dear little one, Lexie. We have heard some of what he envisions for the Cathedral, and has emphasized that we can grow and be so much more. But how many of us know the story of Dean Ryan?

I had the privilege to sit down and chat with the Dean for some time recently, and in the course of our talk I was elated to hear all about the Dean Ryan that has done so much we don’t know about prior to coming to us. And so, I will endeavor to share with you the story of Dean Ryan Newman.

Born in Tarzana, California, within his first two years his parents had left the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles for the cooler, less developed beauty of Mission Viejo, located in south Orange County. His Mom worked as a teacher, and his father established his own corporation as a Certified Public Accountant. As he moved through childhood (which, incidentally, involved numerous trips to the Emergency Room due to stunts he was just positive he could pull off but somehow went awry). His family eventually grew to include six brothers and sisters. One brother was adopted by the family, and one sister came to the family as an adult—becoming his hanai sister. Dean Ryan, age-wise, fell right smack in the middle.

From the seventh to twelfth grade, he attended St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and School in San Juan Capistrano (you might remember that Canon Anna served as a Chaplain at the School and associate priest at the Church, but well after Dean Ryan attended).  This was actually Dean Ryan’s first exposure to the Church; although his mother’s family were Episcopalians, they had not been attending church—not even Christmas or Easter. While at St. Margaret’s he did very well, serving as the Student Body President, Editor of the School Newspaper, and a three-sport varsity athlete.

And, oh, by the way…when he was a senior, there was a seventh-grade girl named Erin Gregg, who knew who he was but…hey what senior was going to notice a seventh grader?

The school chaplain was a man named Reverend Mike Wallens, and he turned out to have a big influence on Dean Ryan’s spiritual journey and calling. Father Mike recruited Dean Ryan to work for an extraordinary non-profit organization, Special Camp for Special Kids. Father Mike founded Special Camp to address the scarcity of resources for school-age children with disabilities in the community. Campers and Counselors (high school and college-aged students) are paired one-on-one for amazing and unique summer day camp experience.  

Dean Ryan was one of the fifteen counselors in the first year and the following summer, he was hired as a member of the staff. At nineteen years old, in his first year at the University of Southern California, Dean Ryan became executive director of the Special Camp for Special Kids following Father Mike’s departure to Atlanta, Georgia for a new call. Suddenly he founded himself working with large corporations, foundations, and community leaders to bring financial stability to the program. In Dean Ryan’s first year as the Executive, Special Camp was recognized as one of the leading up-and-coming non-profit organizations in the nation and it was the first year in the camp’s history the program ended the year in the black.

And still Dean Ryan a full-time student at USC!

About this time, he finally began to think about ministry. So, in addition to being executive director of the Special Camp, he became part-time youth director and school chaplain at St. Margaret’s—his alma mater! As he began his professional life, he was driving to USC at nights to finish his junior and senior years!

Now, during the earlier years of Dean Ryan’s tenure as Executive Director, it just so happened that Erin decided to volunteer as a counselor for Special Camp. In fact, she served as the Camp Operations Director during her senior year of high school. As it happened, they worked together a lot that year and following Erin’s graduation from high school, Dean Ryan and Erin began dating.

1999 was a crucial year for both Erin and Ryan. Erin graduated high school and continued her studies at Duke University in North Carolina. Dean Ryan was approved by the Commission on Ministry in the Diocese of Los Angeles to attend seminary at The Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. I-95 became well worn by Dean Ryan’s car as it traveled whenever it could to Durham to see Erin.

Following the conclusion of their respective second years semesters, Erin’s family invited Dean Ryan to accompany them on vacation in Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i. On their first full day on the island, Erin and Dean Ryan drove to the east side of the island to watch the sunrise. At Lydgate Beach Park, Dean Ryan proposed to Erin. A year later, Ryan graduated from VTS, and the year after, Erin graduated from Duke and the Newmans got married June 28, 2003 at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church and School.

Dean Ryan returned to California and became the Head Chaplain at the Campbell Hall Episcopal School in North Hollywood. After graduation from Duke, Erin taught for a year at Campbell Hall before she starting medical school at the University of Southern California.

Dean Ryan would serve for eleven years at Campbell Hall. His last six years, he also served as the Director of Operations, overseeing all the non-academic entities of the campus. During his tenure he shepherded a 40-million-dollar building project from design, through building, to moving in. As the project manager for the school, there were many sleepless nights and 90+ hour work weeks to see the project through to competition. In August 2012, Campbell Hall opened up a 110,000 square foot state-of-the-art, LEED Gold Certified, Arts & Education Center.

Following the massive project, Dean Ryan took a mini-sabbatical for a silent retreat at a Benedictine monastery in Pecos, New Mexico, near Santa Fe. Before he left, Erin jokingly mentioned that the little church they had visited on Kaua‘i during many vacations was in need of a rector. When he came home from Pecos, Ryan announced he going to apply for the position of Rector at All Saints’ Episcopal Church and Preschool.

After three rounds of interviews, four flights across the Pacific Ocean, Erin and Dean Ryan both found themselves with jobs on Kaua‘i. Dean Ryan the Rector at All Saints’ and Erin a physician at the Kaua‘i Medical Clinic and Wilcox Hospital.

Prior to Dean Ryan arriving, All Saints’ had struggled and experience a great deal of turmoil and transition. The church had gone through seven priests in the last fifteen years. The congregation was struggling. Attendance had decline. The grounds had been neglected. The school was struggling.

In partnership with the Vestry and key lay leaders, Dean Ryan set out to revitalize All Saints’. The Vestry and Dean Ryan vision for All Saints’ is to be a cathedral for the people of Kaua‘i—a  center for worship, education, outreach, and the arts. During his tenure, Dean Ryan led a capital program to restore the historic sanctuary to its original glory and to rebuild  Kaua‘i’s only pipe organ.

In an effort to extended their outreach into the community, All Saints’ started Hawai‘i’s first chapter of Laundry Love. Twice a month, volunteers wash, dry, and fold laundry for the community—for free! During a three-hour session, All Saints’ averaged 90 loads of laundry.

All Saints’ worship experience was invigorated and Dean Ryan had ideas to take the Church beyond the wall of the campus into the community. Holy Week was very special and busy week at All Saints’. Public foot washing and stations of the cross on the public beach path were some of the services Dean Ryan brought to the community. Dean Ryan says “good liturgy is good drama” and Holy Week at All Saints’ had lots of drama and plenty of services—18 to be exact!

One the aspects of a Cathedral is exceptional music. All Saints’ began to thrive as center for the arts and worship music was diverse and engaging. The church also became the home venue for three local music organizations. On any given night, there could be any given genre of music streaming from inside.

All Saints’ also had a school and Dean Ryan was also the Head of School. There was always something going on at the All Saints’ campus—day and night. His feeling is that a Cathedral is for the community—not just the church community, but whole community. Cathedrals, Dean Ryan says are places where the spiritual and secular worlds come together to inspire and transform the community.

And so it came to be that last year, Bishop David and Canon Anna went to General Convention looking for a Dean. They had a list. After numerous interviews, they had narrowed that list down to three people who they really liked. Upon return those three names were introduced to chapter, who would eventually vote for their choice of Dean. Via Skype, chapter was able to interview each one, individually, face-to-face (so to speak). When we interviewed Dean Ryan, it was admittedly different. After the interviews and much discussion, chapter’s unanimous choice was Dean Ryan.

Dean Ryan’s favorite hobbies are cycling, sports (his favorite teams are the Los Angeles Angels, the Chicago Cubs, LA Galaxy, and USC (naturally). He is a do it yourselfer at home, and he is a self-described computer nerd.

Dean Ryan and Erin are new parents. What does Dean Ryan think of being a dad? “Awesome, amazing” were his words. He says he didn’t realize how great parenting could be. It has caused him to be more careful to balance his work life with parenthood. Somehow, I think he’ll be just as great at being a dad as he has been in all his other endeavors.

Dean Ryan is typically on the Cathedral campus Tuesday-Fridays and of course Sundays. Granted, parenting duties and sermon writing occasionally has Dean Ryan working from home. You are always welcome to drop by his office and/or schedule a time to meet. The best way to contact Dean Ryan is by email (dean@stjamesfresno.org) or call 559.439.5011.