(Story from WRCB-TV by Caitlyn Chastain)

On Monday, Hamilton County Court officials agreed to let the Catholic Church exhume the body of a priest who died about 140 years ago. It’s all because the priest, Father Patrick Ryan, is on the path to sainthood. The process started about two years ago; Ryan is already two steps through the five-step process. He is considered a Servant of God.

The Catholic Church requires the body to be exhumed during the Cause for Sainthood for several reasons, including making sure it’s actually there and moving it into a church.

The phrase “the just shall be in everlasting remembrance” is etched on the grave of Father Patrick Ryan at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chattanooga.

Parishioners at Saints Peter and Paul Basilica, and with the Diocese of Knoxville, are hoping those in the Catholic Church will remember his legacy forever.

“He administered to some of the poorest neighborhoods in town during this yellow fever epidemic in 1878,” Terrance Jones said about Father Ryan.

Father Ryan led the congregation at Saints Peter and Paul parish for six years. He died at 33 years old after staying in Chattanooga to help others during the yellow fever epidemic.

Attorney Terrance Jones is a parishioner at the basilica now. “As far as I’m aware, it’s never come up, you know, that any church has asked to exhume anyone’s remains for the purpose of examination with their Cause for Sainthood,” said Jones.

During the Cause for Sainthood, the church needs to exhume Father Ryan’s body, and the Vatican said the process must be done according to local government law.

In Tennessee, a family member must approve of bringing up the body. However, Ryan’s family immigrated to the United States. He’s a priest, so he has no children, and his only recorded relative was also a priest. So, the Diocese of Knoxville petitioned the state for the rights to exhume the body. The state granted it. As a parishioner and a lawyer, Jones was honored to be a part of the process. “It’s fantastic,” Jones said. “I think it’s wonderful for the church and East Tennessee altogether.”

Father Ryan’s final resting place will be at the basilica. It’s not clear when the body will be moved. The Vatican will make that decision. There are still three phases left before Father Ryan can be considered a saint so it could be several years or even decades before that happens. For now, he will keep the title of “Servant of God.”