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Funeral Mass for Father Frank Richards PE

Celebrated by Archbishop Denis Hart
at St. James Church, North Richmond,
on Tuesday, 23rd April, 2002, at 2.00pm

Introduction

Dear Brother Bishops and Priests
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

United with his surviving sister Eileen, family and close friends we come to bring the gifted, very human, welcoming and dedicated soul of Father Frank Richards to the God whom he served so faithfully in the parishes of Dalyston, South Melbourne, Preston, and Geelong. He is esteemed by all who knew him in the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau, the Catholic Family Planning Centre, and to the parishioners here who respected him as a devoted pastor, while still exercising other work in the Church from December 1972 until June 1992, when he retired to Justin Villa - since then he has known the regard of the sisters, the staff and his brother priests.

He was a priest of God, given for people, always in touch with and reaching out to them. May his generous and priestly soul be granted eternal rest as we come to bid him farewell. That our prayer may be fitting, let us call to mind our sins.

Homily

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I believe that two things help us to appreciate the priesthood in Frank Richards' life.

First, St John Mary Vianney, "It is the priest who continues the work of the redemption here on earth. If we really understood the priest on earth, we would not die from despair, but from love because the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus for us."

Yet the author of the letter to the Hebrews comes closest to the mark, "Every high priest has been taken out of mankind and is appointed to act for men in their relations with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins; so that he can sympathise with those who are ignorant or uncertain, because he too lives in the limitation of weakness. No one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God." (Hebrews 5:1-4).

A good priest is essentially one who possesses an understanding of human nature and an ability to use all his capacity to bring a wide range of people closer to Jesus. This is well illustrated in the very diverse ministry of Father Frank for which we thank God today.

He was born at Nhill on 14th June, 1920. He went to school at St. Anthony's, Glenhuntly, De La Salle, Malvern, and St. Patrick's College, East Melbourne, where he left at the age of sixteen in 1936, to work for four years as a clerk with a manufacturing chemist.

On his twentieth birthday, 14th June, 1940, he enlisted in the 2nd AIF, served in the Middle East as a Rat of Tobruk with the 2nd Fifth Field Ambulance, Seventh Division. He later went to New Guinea in an anti-aircraft regiment for the duration of the war. In subsequent years he maintained friendships and priestly service for many of the Rats of Tobruk. For many years he would do much walking prior to the Anzac Day March. It is fitting that his funeral is in this week.

At the beginning of 1945 he was discharged from the Army, although he did not go to Werribee to study for the priesthood until the following year. He always said that Father Henry Johnson's perception of the differences between Army discipline and Church discipline necessitated this.

He was ordained a priest by Bishop James O'Collins in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne, on 26th July, 1953, and became an assistant priest. In the late 1950's he was a chaplain to National Servicemen, while commencing studies for a diploma of social studies at Melbourne University.

He worked in the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau from 1960 and was greatly valued as a marriage counsellor with gifts of compassion and relationship with many couples. He was responsible for pre-marriage education and marriage education. From 1962-1972 he lived at St. Vincent de Paul's Boy's Orphanage, South Melbourne, and was the chaplain there.

In 1968 when Pope Paul issued the letter Humane Vitae on the regulation of birth, he became the Director of the Catholic Family Planning Centre until 1985. He trained skilled staff to continue that important work.

He has been much sought after as an author and lecturer. In 1969 when he wrote "How to be Married and Happy" he did a series of twenty-one talks on television based upon the book. He was described by one commentator as: "a nuggetty little man with a weather-beaten face". He had a great dry sense of humour and carried the ability to smile even through the toughest situations. Other books "Family Planning the Natural Way" and "Natural Birth Control" followed and have been through many reprints.

During his time as Director of the Centre and afterwards, Father Frank was parish priest at North Richmond from 16th December, 1972, until 3rd June, 1992. In these years, in addition to the many demands of an aging parish, he was also blessed with great interest in people. He spoke often of the couples he helped for marriages and baptisms and the obvious enjoyment he had from their friendship, particularly in later years. People were his joy and he gave to them generously. Often he would telephone me looking for a way to help someone who had found difficulties elsewhere, but who had found in Frank - a compassion, honesty, realism and understanding that others sometime lacked. I lived with him here for twelve years. We were so different and yet North Richmond was always home: a place of friendship and laughter.
  1. In the words of today's readings "the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God" (Wisdom 3:1). People knew him as rich in commonsense, appreciating their individual gifts and accepting of them as they are - everything in life and people is in God's care.
  2. "Nothing can come between us and the love of Christ" (Romans 8:35). This motivated Frank to keep up an outreach to a wide range of people; Rats of Tobruk, family, planning couples, others who were friends of friends and his sisters and his parish family. His life spoke an important belief in God's understanding of people. In retirement he was manager for the Singing Nuns of Justin Villa who brought out one C.D. He joined the committee of the P.R.F. to care for his brother priests.
  3. "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Frank's outreach to a wide range of people, the courage and support in Tobruk, the vision and hope of marriage counselling, the appreciation of normality and compassion for suffering in the parish, his charity and humble use of his considerable gifts in retirement are a reminder that he never lost sight of the spark of immortality, deep in each human soul, which he sought to ignite humbly and unassumingly as a priest of Jesus Christ.
In 1990 he was awarded the medal of the Order of Australia in the most difficult category of all - for service to the community. Whether his work was strictly religious, counselling, encouraging, giving the benefit of his experience or guiding with professional expertise it was always, Frank, with a vision of the priesthood which St. Paul gives us "to be all things, to all people, that he might save some". His reaction to the award and his service are summed up by the words of John O'Brien in the pastor of St. Mel's:
"Well, that's the truth; and for me I want no honours now,
No titles do I covet, for I have one anyhow:
They call me father here around, and I have found it good;
The rich, the poor, the down and out all share that fatherhood;
A father to the thoughtless lad whose friends have been his foes,
The comely lass who cannot see beyond her powdered nose,
And in the dim lit silent Church each weekend over there
I am father to the erring ones who need a father's care.
And men of every creed and none they greet me with a will,
Except the perky bank clerk, who calls me Mr. still,
I am father to the ninety-nine and I would have you know,
I wouldn't swap that title, faith, for aught they could bestow
Nor would I give this backward spot for all their
fiddle-de-dee,
The ups and downs of forty years have made too dear to me
."
 

+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.
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