Sister Michael Therese Ryan

Did you know Wings of Hope’s claim to fame is enlisting the original “Flying Nun” as a volunteer pilot in the 1960s?

In 1963 — before we were even called Wings of Hope — our founders raised money to send a Piper Super Cub to Marianist missionaries who were flying medical supplies and support to people living in the Turkana desert who had endured a disastrous famine and floods.

When Sister Michael Therese Ryan of the Medical Missionaries of Mary earned her private pilot’s license in the early 1960s, she also earned the distinction of being the first Catholic nun to do so — well before the American television sitcom, “The Flying Nun,” debuted in 1967. Sister “Bird,” as she would soon be known, flew the Super Cub until it was falling apart, literally, due to hyenas nibbling away at the wings at night. Apparently, they were attracted to the phenol in the wings’ fabric covering.

That’s when Wings of Hope founders, led by Joe Fabick and Bill Edwards, launched a capital campaign to raise $30,000 to purchase a new Cessna U206, an all-metal aircraft better suited to withstand Kenya’s harsh desert conditions — and its hungry hyenas.

The plane made history at a ceremonial takeoff from St. Louis Lambert International Airport on May 25, 1965. Flown by legendary pilot, Max Conrad, the plane would make several stops along the way — including Rome for a blessing by Pope Paul VI — before arriving at its final destination in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 10, 1965.


ABOVE: Sister Michael Therese Ryan

Max Conrad hands Sister Bird keys to new plane.
Max Conrad and Joe Fabick. St. Louis Lambert International Airport, May 25, 1965.
Bill Edwards, Max Conrad and Joe Fabick.
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