“Overeating destroyed my body,” Fr. Ryan Rooney says. “At my highest weight I was 464 pounds.” In a moving short film, Fr. Ryan recounts his story of compulsive overeating and how his recovery has changed his life, inspiring him to help others heal along the way.
After his father left when he was four years old, he sought comfort in eating. He says it became for him an “emotional experience” to cope with the anger and rejection he felt. But his suffering over losing his earthly father also prompted him to rely more fully on his Heavenly Father.
After hitting rock bottom, gaining 70 pounds in six months, he realized he needed help and he sought out a recovery center for priests. Ultimately, facing his demons has allowed him to grow as a man and as a member of the clergy.
He wrote about his struggles in America magazine a few years ago:
My last year of seminary brought my first real-world experience of ordained ministry. I drove an hour and a half each weekend during my diaconate year to my assignment in western Massachusetts. I began to eat on the run. I encountered a lot of stress as I tried to balance work with the study in seminary. The weight started to come back. Getting used to being a minister was really all I was thinking about at the time. My prayer life from seminary was still strong, though some of the daily routine at the seminary felt tedious.
When I was ordained a priest, I was assigned to the parish I had served as a deacon. While I was initially very happy and zealous, my relationship with my pastor was not very strong, and the stress started to take its toll. In addition to regular parish duties, I was suddenly responsible for the needs of our Hispanic community, the adult Christian initiation program, a budding youth group and maintaining office hours at our parochial high school. I loved the parish, but I never quite felt at home, even in the rectory. Ironically, that is where I isolated myself. I made efforts to get back to a gym, but a back injury and some personal issues convinced me to give up. The weight continued to pile on. I asked to be moved, but that would not happen for another six months. I was depressed. I was dying.
I prayed for help, I asked for help, but nothing seemed to be materializing. I felt angry with God but also realized that this anger was not doing anyone much good, especially since my job was to help people to love God. I entered counseling to deal with the stress. My established prayer life became nearly nonexistent. My academic strengths could no longer hide the fact that I was profoundly unhappy and needed a dramatic change.
I began working at a new parish in April 2013, ministering in an inner-city parish with very little money and lots of need. I poured myself out with my new pastor, who was a good friend to me. Despite being happy to be in a new place, I could not keep my weight under control. I weighed 464 pounds. In September of that year, after seeing that my health was not improving, my bishop asked me to enter the Damascus Program, a compulsive eating treatment program for clergy and male religious at Guest House in Rochester, Minn.
Check out the rest.