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(Editor’s note: In conjunction with the Year for Priests, The Criterion has published a monthly feature titled “Faithful Fathers.” This is the last in a series of profiles featuring a priest from each deanery in the archdiocese. Click here for previous installments in the series)
Born in Seymour, he grew up in St. Philip Neri Parish on the near east side of Indianapolis, where his parents operated Richart’s Food Market.
After graduating from St. Philip Neri School, he said “yes” to God’s call to the priesthood then studied at the former Saint Meinrad High School, the former Saint Meinrad College and Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in southern Indiana.
He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte on May 7, 1961, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey’s Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln.
Priest mentors—“I was impressed by the priests at St. Philip’s,” Father Richart recalled. “Msgr. Albert Busald was the pastor. Father [James] Barton, the assistant [pastor], took a group of boys to Saint Meinrad for a seminary visit. He also coached our basketball team. He was one of those guys that you wanted to be like.”
Seminary formation—“I was not one of the scholars. I was into sports. When I became a deacon, I really got enthusiastic because they let us go out to parishes.”
Favorite aspect of the priesthood—“I enjoy providing the sacraments to people. My homilies are short and down-to-earth. I try to talk to people where they’re at [in life]. I tell a lot of stories. Somebody gave me a Catholic joke book a couple of months ago. I read through that book, and I’d say 70 percent of the stories and jokes in there I had already told. I thought, ‘Why didn’t I publish that book?’ ”
Pastoral ministry—His first assignment was as the assistant pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis.
He helped with parish Catholic Youth Organization activities, and taught religion classes at Cathedral High School, then a boys’ school, as well as at the former St. Mary Academy for girls and Cardinal Ritter High School, all in Indianapolis.
“Father [Leo] Lindemann, my pastor, was the official Catholic chaplain for the [Indianapolis Motor] Speedway. He never really liked to go over to the racetrack that much except on race day so I did the race duties. When I left St. Christopher Parish [in 1967], the Speedway [staff] gave me a helmet signed by all the drivers that year.”
Father Richart displays the helmet in his parish office, and likes to point out the signatures of A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Lloyd Ruby, Larry Dixon, Johnny Parsons and other drivers who were his friends.
“It was really a personal experience with the drivers, mechanics and workers,” he said. “When somebody got hurt, it was tragic for everybody. But it was a grand time, and I loved that ministry.”
Surprise ministry assignment—Archbishop Schulte called Father Richart to the Chancery for a meeting in 1967.
“I figured it was to tell me to go to another high school to teach,” he recalled. “Father John Wright and I were there, and Archbishop Schulte called us in and said he felt that we might be good military chaplains. In those days, it was called the Military Ordinariate, and it was under [the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of] New York. He asked us to step out in the hall to think about it a little bit then come back in and tell him which branch of the service we would like to go in. We had to go in a different branch. When we stepped out in the hall, John said he would like to go in the Navy. I said, ‘I don’t want to go in the Army and be out in the field’ [during the Vietnam War]. So I picked the Air Force.”
After completing the required Air Force basic training, he served as a military chaplain for 29 years.
Military assignments—His first assignments were at Air Force bases in Washington state and Greenland.
Then he served at the Air Force Academy Community Center, the parish at the academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he also traveled with the football team as the chaplain for the Falcons.
His next assignment took him to Hawaii—where he also helped refugees from South Vietnam—then he completed a master’s degree in religious education at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Next, he served on the Chaplains Resource Board in Alabama, which published religious education materials for use in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
As a command chaplain, he ministered to chaplains at Air Force bases across the U.S., Europe, Iraq and Somalia.
The troops and military chaplains are “a dedicated bunch,” he said. “Their priorities are God, country and family. I enjoyed serving in the military and fit very well. These people put their life on the line, and God is an important part of their [daily] life.
“At that time, with the Air Force, you stayed at the bases, which is like parish ministry,” Father Richart said. “You get to build relationships with people.”
Favorite hobby—“I do a lot of fishing, and have fished at practically every farm pond in the locality of Sellersburg,” he said. “… Father John Geis, Father Bill Ernst and myself go fishing together at least once a month.”
Papal audience—During the Church’s Year of St. Paul, Father Richart and 25 parishioners traveled to Rome and Assisi on pilgrimage in February 2009.
“At the papal audience,” he said, “we were really surprised when Pope Benedict [XVI] recognized our parish group as from the United States.”
Benefits of the priesthood—Serving God and providing the sacraments for God’s people at military bases and parishes is a wonderful life, he said, which is very rewarding.
“I enjoyed flying and enjoyed military service, but it’s nice to be here [in Sellersburg],” he said. “This assignment has been like coming to heaven. The people are very friendly, patient and helpful with all of the parish ministries.
“If you want an adventure, the priesthood and religious life can give you an adventure,” Father Richart said. “There is something happening all the time, and it’s very satisfying.” †