Tennessee diocese seeks to exhume priest in sainthood effort

Rev. Patrick Ryan

EAST RIDGE, Tenn. (AP) – A Catholic diocese is trying to exhume the body of a priest who died amid a yellow fever epidemic in 1878, as part of a bid to secure his sainthood.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports the Roman Catholic Diocese of Knoxville petitioned earlier this month for a judge’s order to enable Rev. Patrick Ryan’s exhumation. The diocese needs to unearth Ryan’s body to prove he existed and isn’t a “pious legend.”

It’s unclear whether a judge has the ability to issue the order, as Tennessee’s permit process requires having a living descendant. However, diocese attorney Terrance Jones says that code allows anyone to petition a court.

Ryan, who died at 33, emigrated from Ireland and had no known children.

Assistant Hamilton County Attorney Nell Southerland says the health department likely won’t oppose the effort.

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