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(Editor’s note: Three archdiocesan priests are celebrating their 50-year jubilees in 2011. This week, we feature Msgr. Paul Richart.)
Msgr. Paul Richart is a “people person.”
The pastor of St. Paul Parish in Sellersburg smiles often in the course of his daily ministries as a priest—smiles that are enhanced by the sparkle in his eyes, his frequent laughter and his delightful jokes.
These days, the retired Air Force chaplain who achieved the rank of colonel is still shaking his head in amazement after Pope Benedict XVI named him a monsignor on April 11 for his distinguished service to God, the Church and the country.
On Aug. 14, Father Richart and four other priests—one posthumously—were honored as monsignors by Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, auxiliary bishop and vicar general, during an Evening Prayer liturgy at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.
The ecclesiastical honor coincides with Msgr. Richart’s 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte on May 7, 1961, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church in St. Meinrad.
“You never know when lightning will strike,” the 76-year-old priest said during a phone interview on Aug. 11. “That’s how I feel about the monsignorship. I really had no idea anything like that would happen. That was in the furthest corner of my mind. It was quite a surprise. … I think there are plenty of other priests who deserve it more than I do. It’s an honor of the Church, and it’s much appreciated. Archbishop Daniel [M. Buechlein] is very kind, and I appreciate his confidence in me.”
He often looks to his patron saint for inspiration in his priestly ministry.
“St. Paul said, ‘I fought the good fight and I ran the good race’ (2 Tim 4:7),” Msgr. Richart explained. “That’s kind of what I’m trying to do—keep running the good race. … I have not done that much. Mostly, it’s been the people that I served and worked with, like down here at St. Paul’s. I’ve got such good parishioners that they take care of the parish, they take care of me, and the staff here are the ones that really do the work. I just cover the sacramental needs.”
Looking back on his five decades of ministry, Msgr. Richart said he has enjoyed his life as a priest and 29 years of military service as an Air Force chaplain.
The Seymour native, who grew up in St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis, said he hasn’t thought too much about his retirement at an as yet undecided date.
Instead, he simply tries to help make people’s lives better and bring them closer to God.
“Every day you wake up,” he said, “you hope that the devil says, ‘Oh God, he’s still alive! Watch out!’ ”
His Christ-centered life as a Catholic priest has taken him all over the world in his military assignment as an Air Force chaplain.
“That wasn’t my plan,” Msgr. Richart said. “It was God’s plan.”
He will never forget the day that Archbishop Schulte summoned him to the chancery in 1967—during the Vietnam War—when he was serving as assistant pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis.
“Father John Wright and I were there, and Archbishop Schulte called us in and said he felt that we might be good military chaplains,” Msgr. Richart recalled. “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. When we stepped out in the hall, John said he would like to go in the Navy. … So I picked the Air Force.”
His first assignments took him to Air Force bases in Washington state and Greenland.
Next, he served at the Air Force Academy’s Community Center, the parish at the academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he also traveled with the football team as the Falcons’ chaplain.
Following an assignment in Hawaii, where he also helped refugees from South Vietnam, he completed a master’s degree in religious education at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
That master’s degree helped prepare him for service on the Chaplains Resource Board in Alabama, which published religious education materials for enlisted men and women in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
Later, as a command chaplain, he ministered to chaplains at Air Force bases across the U.S. as well as in Europe, Iraq and Somalia.
During those years, he logged countless air miles flying around the globe.
“I enjoyed serving in the military,” Msgr. Richart said, with people who focus on their love for God, country and family.
His special mementos include an autographed racing helmet from Indianapolis Motor Speedway drivers from his time at St. Christopher Parish, a signed football from the Air Force Falcons, an ice axe used to cross glaciers in Greenland and folk art from the Philippines.
He is glad that he has given his life in service to God and God’s people, which he said has truly been an adventure.
“Every day that I celebrate the Eucharist is an honor and a privilege,” Msgr. Richart said. “That is the center—being able to be the instrument of that. When you say, ‘This is my body’ and ‘This is my blood,’ and something so miraculous happens. Everything else circles around that in the parish, and with the people I have served both in the military and the archdiocese. It’s all been focused around the Eucharist.”
Since he was named pastor of the New Albany Deanery parish in 1996, Msgr. Richart has enjoyed fishing with two priest friends—Father John Geis and Father William Ernst—as well as several St. Paul parishioners.
“Some of the men in the parish and I have a seniors’ fish fry in the first part of July so we had to hustle a little bit this spring,” he said. “We were out fishing quite a bit in the ponds and lakes around here.”
As for the future, he said, “I want to live the rest of my life as close to God as I can.” †