WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Paul Davis Ryan, whom Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Aug. 11 as his running mate for the White House, is a lifelong Catholic whose children attend their parish school in Wisconsin.
Ryan’s inclusion on the presumptive Republican ticket marks the first time both halves of the major party matchup will have Catholics seeking the vice presidency. Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is the first Catholic to hold the post.
The last time the Republican nominee for vice president was a Catholic was in 1964, when New York Rep. William E. Miller was the running mate of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Ryan, 42, was born and raised in Janesville, in the Madison Diocese, where he lives with his wife, Janna, and their three children. The fifth-generation Wisconsin native graduated from Nativity of Mary Elementary School and Joseph A. Craig, a public high school, both in Janesville.
After graduating from Miami University in Ohio in 1992 with a double major of economics and political science, Ryan began working in the Washington office of Sen. Bob Kasten of Wisconsin, for whom Ryan had served as an intern while in college.
After Kasten lost a re-election bid, Ryan worked as a speechwriter for a think tank called Empower America, then as a speechwriter for Jack Kemp, former Housing and Urban Development secretary and a former New York congressman, during his run for vice president in 1996. Ryan then was on the legislative staff of Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., before returning to Wisconsin to work for his extended family’s construction business in 1997.
Ryan first ran for public office in 1998, winning election to the 1st Congressional District seat vacated by Republican Rep. Mark Neumann, who sought a Senate seat that year. Ryan has since been re-elected six times and will remain on the ballot for his congressional seat as he seeks the vice presidency. Concurrent candidacy is allowed in Wisconsin.
Msgr. Delbert Schmelzer, a priest of the Diocese of Madison who was pastor in Janesville for 12 years during Ryan’s youth, told the Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper, that Ryan comes from a strong Catholic family.
Msgr. Schmelzer said he believes Ryan’s Catholic faith influences his public life.
“He emphasizes that our rights come from God and nature. He has a strong vision for the future,” said the priest, calling Ryan “a great gift to our country.”
Ryan’s great-grandfather founded Ryan Incorporated Central, a mass excavation construction business, and his grandfather served as U.S. attorney for western Wisconsin.
His father, Paul Davis Ryan, an attorney, died of a heart attack at age 55. His son, Paul, the youngest of four children, was 16.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan is the principal author of a Republican budget plan that delineates a decade-long plan to reduce spending on nonmilitary programs as a step toward reducing the country’s $15 trillion deficit. The GOP budget also calls for remaking Medicare, establishing Medicaid as a block grant program for states to administer and simplifying the tax code by closing loopholes and lowering individual and corporate tax rates.
Ryan cited the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity as keys to securing a future in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve and to preserving the public safety net for those citizens who are truly in need.
The principle of subsidiarity as found in Catholic social teaching calls for decisions to be made and actions taken at the most local level possible.
Ryan’s argument that the budget reflects Catholic social teaching brought criticism from some within the church, including theologians and social ministry activists. Two bishops who head committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for a more measured approach to the budget.
The congressman co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act and the Right to Life Act, which both would write into law that life begins at the moment of conception. He has voted to ban use of federal money to pay for abortion or any part of a health plan that covers abortion.
He also has voted against allowing same-sex couples to adopt and opposed repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military, reported The Associated Press. The AP said Ryan has supported a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
He also has supported immigration legislation calling for expanding the fence along the U.S.-Mexican border and backed a 2005 bill passed by the House that would have criminalized the act of offering basic assistance to undocumented immigrants.
(Mary C. Uhler, editor of the Catholic Herald in Madison, Wis., contributed to this story.)