The Rev. Michael Ring, a religious leader for the last 20 years in Augusta, died Sunday in Ireland. He was 58.
A memorial Mass will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, his last parish. He returned to Ireland in June on a medical retirement after more than three years battling cancer.
The Rev. Greg Bernard, deacon at St. Joseph's, remembered the Rev. Ring for his sense of humor and his compassion.
St. Joseph held a healing service for the Rev. Ring after his diagnosis, and it was open to all the parishes in Augusta. There was a great turnout. The Rev. Ring said afterwards, "If something dreadful doesn't happen to me, I'm going to have a hard time living this down."
Anytime he was in the rectory, he would take emergency calls himself even when he was sick, recalled the Rev. Bernard.
"He did not let his bout with cancer interfere with his taking care of his flock," said Dr. Virgil Hardin, a parishioner and a doctor at the Medical College of Georgia.
The Rev. Ring had surgery, radiation, immunotherapy and chemotherapy, said the doctor. "He said the treatment was worse than the disease, yet he handled it with valor."
The Rev. Ring was a very down-to-earth person but by no means ordinary, said Dr. Hardin.
Once Dr. Hardin recalled overhearing a long-distance conversation between the Rev. Ring and someone with a wife in an Augusta hospital. The man said he needed money to buy a truck to earn his livelihood, recalled Dr. Hardin.
The priest, though careful with money, felt he should give the man what he asked. The doctor said it sounded like a rip-off story to him and advised him to check it out. The priest found out to his surprise the man's story was fake.
"And then Father Ring asked me how did I know he was being ripped off?" said Dr. Hardin.
The Rev. Ring had three goals after his illness was diagnosed around Easter of 1994: to finish the new church at St. Joseph, to see his 25th jubilee as a priest and to visit his homeland, said Dr. Hardin.
The church was dedicated in June of 1994. He celebrated his jubilee in 1995. And despite the difficulties of his illness, he was able to go to Ireland several times in the last couple of years.
The Rev. Ring was one of several Irish priests recruited for the Diocese of Savannah, considered a mission area with its low Catholic population, said the Rev. Andrew Doris, associate pastor.
"At one time Ireland was the source of many missionary priests, not only to Augusta but to the whole world," said the Rev. Doris.
Near the end of his illness, he wished to go to Ireland but needed about $2,000. In a week, more than $8,000 had been raised by the parish simply because they knew he needed it, said the Rev. Doris.
"And it is not a rich parish. It was just for the love of him. It was just fantastic," he said.
St. Joseph started with the military from Fort Gordon, said Madge Ludwikowski, parish secretary for 21 years.
Today there are more than 35 nationalities represented in the parish, but with his Irish pictures and music, the Rev. Ring made everybody Irish, she said. "He'd talk to them and sort of convert them."
Bishop Kevin Boland has left to attend the funeral in Ireland. About four or five other priests from the Savannah diocese are already there, said the Rev. Doris.