June 28, 2013

Father Richardt celebrates, reflects on 50 years as priest

John Paul Cole, left, and Alex Jackson, participants in the Bishop Bruté Days vocations camp, carry torches during a eucharistic procession on June 12. (Photos by Charles Peñalosa)

John Paul Cole, left, and Alex Jackson, participants in the Bishop Bruté Days vocations camp, carry torches during a eucharistic procession on June 12. (Photos by Charles Peñalosa)

(Editor’s note: Two archdiocesan priests are celebrating their 50-year jubilees in 2013. This week, we feature Father J. Larry Richardt, who was ordained on Dec. 19, 1962, but celebrates his ordination with the Class of 1963.)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Father J. Larry Richardt was ordained a priest in December of 1962, his “nightmare” was the thought of being called to an accident site to offer the anointing of the sick.

His worst fear soon became a reality.

“My very first call was a motorcycle wreck on U.S. 40 in West Terre Haute,” Father Richardt recalls. He was serving at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Terre Haute.

“I got the call, and I felt calm. I knew God was with me. I had the heebie-jeebies later, but at the moment I was able to anoint [the dying man] while the medics were working on him.”

The call to offer the sacrament at an accident site proved to be one of the first of many grace-filled moments throughout Father Richardt’s 50 years as a priest.

The journey begins

Father Richardt’s journey of grace began toward the end of his eighth-grade year at the former St. Paul School in Tell City. He says his call “was a sudden sort of thing.

“It was a Friday in May. The pastor came to our classroom and said if anyone wanted to go to Saint Meinrad High School, that he needed to make arrangements for a pre-entrance test. That day after school, I said I’d like to make arrangements.

“That night at supper, I told my [family]. They were astounded because I never talked about [the priesthood] before,” says the eldest of six children.

“I guess [the call] must have been there for a while, but never got articulated.”

After graduating from the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, he was informed by then-Archbishop Paul C. Schulte that he’d been selected to attend the Pontifical North American College in Rome to receive the last stage of his priestly formation there.

During his last year of seminary in Rome, Father Richardt was present for the commencement of the Second Vatican Council. He recalls the excitement of the time.

“Every week, Archbishop Schulte would meet with us and talk about what was going on. To sit down and talk with the archbishop and see how excited he was—even though the implementation was slow, it was still a live, dynamic, unfolding experience.”

‘… pastoral to everybody’

Father Richardt has spent 29 of his 50 years as a priest serving in parishes around the archdiocese and as chaplain for Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in St. Mary of the Woods and the Sisters of Providence.

He recalls the first baptism he celebrated as a priest as being another profound, grace-filled moment.

“I realized with that first baptism that it was only through baptism that I would be known as a father—I would never have a son or daughter of my own. I saw it as a confirmation from God, but also a little sad.”

His former parishioners also confirm his calling as a priest.

“He was very well-liked and very active with the people, very extroverted,” says Providence Sister Elizabeth Grannan. She was a teacher at Sacred Heart School in Terre Haute, the school of the parish where Father Richardt was first assigned.

“He was very pastoral to everybody,” she said. “He would pray in the chapel before and after Mass.”

Fred Evrard of St. Pius Parish in Troy says Father Richardt “was always friendly, always had a nice sermon. I never saw him in a bad mood.”

Evrard was more than Father Richardt’s parishioner—he was also his grade school friend.

“He almost talked me into going [to Saint Meinrad High School] with him,” Evrard recalls.

Judy Meunier was also a childhood friend of “Father Larry,” as well as his parishioner and employee at St. Paul Parish in Tell City.

“To me, he was always the same,” Meunier says. “He was a good Christian, a good friend, someone you could always talk to.

“He was always just Larry—then he was Father Larry, which took a while to get used to,” she admits.

Father Richardt’s brother, Steve, lives in Oklahoma and makes a pilgrimage with him every other year. He marvels at his brother’s pastoral gift.

“Just being around him and observing how he speaks and treats other people, many of them who he just met, is a great experience in itself. When people meet him for the first time, he makes you feel like you have known him all your life.”

He recalls a moment when Father Richardt’s extroverted nature provided a good laugh while on a pilgrimage to Greece and Turkey.

“We were eating lunch in Istanbul, Turkey. We walked by an area where men were sitting on pillows on the floor smoking tobacco using ‘hooka’ pipes. He just sat right down and joined them like he was one of them. Everyone in our group and the people in the cafe got a big kick out of it!”

Back to Saint Meinrad

Father Richardt made up for the years he missed at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology—and then some. From 1975-86, he served in various roles there—professor, deacon internship director, academic dean, vice rector and acting president-rector.

From 1992-98, Father Richardt served as director of spiritual formation at St. Meinrad, then as a part-time member of the spiritual formation staff from 2005-08.

“When I first met Father Larry, I was a seminarian at Saint Meinrad,” says Benedictine Father Mark O’Keefe, former rector and current professor at the seminary.

“He loves his priesthood. He has a deeply spiritual personality.

“He’s also a very fine preacher. That’s a reflection of the depth at which he applies the Scriptures and his insight into the Scriptures.

“From my perspective,” adds Father O’Keefe, “he’s a great supporter and formatter of priests.”

Reflecting on 50 years

In his last years of active ministry, Father Richardt served as the archdiocese’s interim part-time director of the Ministry to Priests program and on the metropolitan tribunal.

He retired in 2008 and now lives in Huntingburg, Ind. He spends most of his time caring for his mother, while still continuing his spiritual direction ministry.

“I don’t have much free time,” Father Richardt says of his retirement.

As he reflects on his 50 years as a priest, he marvels at the blessing of his calling.

“I like being a priest. I think that I’m still growing in being a priest and not just doing priestly tasks.

“[I like] enabling people to uncover the working of God and grace in their lives and celebrating the sacraments with folks—I found and still find that very profound.

“[I appreciate] being allowed into peoples’ lives in ways that are so unexpected.”

Most of all, Father Richardt is awed by the grace that he has received through his ministry.

“I think what I learned most is that I really do believe what St. Paul said about ‘my grace is sufficient for you’ [2 Cor 12:9], and what Jesus said about paying attention to today—my grace is sufficient for each day. As I reflect on my journey as a priest and disciple and baptized person, God’s grace was always there.

“I keep being surprised by God and grace.” †

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