Fraternity of Father Richey

When assignments become blessings

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Bonnar (new)God’s grace is amazing. Think about it! Oftentimes, as priests, we end up living and working with men of whom we ourselves would never on the surface choose to be with. But over time, these “assignments” become “blessings” because these individuals become friends for life.

In one of my assignments, I ended up living with an older priest who, due to his health situation, worked “part-time” as a parochial vicar. This is the same man who, when I was working in clergy personnel, I had to call and let him know that he was being reassigned.

I will never forget what his first words were to me after I shared the news on behalf of the bishop. He said, “Do they have a garage?” I never expected such a response. It turns out, after living with this man for nearly 10 years, I came to see that he is a passionate lover of cars. In fact, on his day off, he would go and look at cars.

One day, before my assignment was official and known, I ran by the parish and noticed that the front doors of the church were blocked by wooden horses. Rich happened to be exiting the side door. I greeted him and asked, “Why are the front doors of the church closed?” He told me that the stone was falling from above. When I asked him what they were going to do about it, he looked at me and said, “That is the next pastor’s problem.” He had no idea that I was going to be the next pastor.

This is the same guy, who upon my assignment to the parish in accord with the clergy personnel policy, I had to seek his permission for my dog to come with me. I held my breath not knowing how he would react. He said, “Well, I like cats more than dogs.” I thought to myself, “Oh no.” But then he said, “It will be fine.” Interestingly enough, Richey and Bobo became best buddies. Richey said, “Bobo acts more like a cat than a dog.”

I never knew this about Rich, but he was so committed to developing fraternity in the house. He always enjoyed eating breakfast and lunch together. And he especially liked going out to dinner. He would often say, “We need to do these things for one another, after all, we are priests.”

Richey also loved for there to be laughter. He was a master at telling jokes at the dinner table. He always had new material. And as funny as the jokes are, I could never remember them.

What helped our relationship was that Richey had been a pastor. He knew the rigors, challenges and demands of the job. He knew that there were many difficult situations in which you could not win. His door was always open for advice or just a listening ear.

As I reflect upon our time together, I was always struck by his commitment to duty in spite of his declining health. Rich was always available to those in need even though he had more bad days than good. You see, Richey suffers from arthritis, among other health issues.

Shortly after retirement, Richey had to have part of his leg amputated. For over a year he has been convalescing awaiting a prosthesis. Early on, he told me that he was offering his suffering up for priests. Although Richey has not been able to stand at the altar, through his personal suffering Richey offers an intentional sacrifice each day. He is one of many praying for us priests.

One of Richey’s famous quotes is, “If you keep the schedule, the schedule will keep you.” Richey was a stickler for being punctual and following the schedule. It kept him going. But he was flexible too, inasmuch as when he would make the liturgical schedule each week, he would often say, “Now, this is done in pencil. We can always change it.”

God’s grace is indeed “amazing.” Perhaps the better way to say it is, “God’s grace is Rich.” Thanks for your friendship and perseverance. I am grateful you are walking again.

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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