Fr. Richard Husted, OFM
Fr. Richard Husted, OFM, has been a Franciscan for 38 years and a priest for 32. St. Joseph Church, East Rutherford, N.J., where he is pastor, is celebrating its 125th anniversary. The parish is a vibrant one, due in no small measure to his liturgical skills.
I was in the eighth grade at the parish school, St. Anthony’s in Butler, N.J. One night at the supper table, after a visit from a vocation director by the name of Fr. Salvator Fink, OFM, I announced to my parents that I had decided to go to the seminary for high school. My father responded, “Absolutely not. You’re too young. End of discussion.” But it wasn’t the end of the discussion. Together Mom and Dad struggled to try to discern whether this was another one of my hairbrained ideas or a genuine call from God. As it turned out, it might have been a bit of both.
In any event, I persisted with the idea and ended up going to St. Joseph’s Seraphic Seminary as a freshman in high school. My father was convinced that I would not last two weeks, and so he refused to buy me a black suit. Instead, we had one dyed. I guess I will never know whether I would have been so persistent, if my parents had been accepting right from the start. Even at that young age my conviction, I think, was partly a measure of my own need to make an independent decision.
One way I was able to overcome bouts of homesickness was to remember how confident I pretended to be about this decision. With each passing year, I learned more about Francis of Assisi. I liked his story. I could identify with his struggle with his father. It seems that the longer I stayed, the more I became convinced that I was where God wanted me to be.
Thirteen years for a boy of 14 seemed like an eternity. Finally, I, and 23 other young men were ordained Franciscan priests. The year was 1966, the middle of the Vietnam war and the ending of the Second Vatican Council. Both events had a way of challenging each of the men ordained to minister in ways they never could have imagined.
For me, the challenge was an exciting one. For nine years I was part of a team of friars and sisters and laity who developed a retreat ministry called Christ House. It was there that my enthusiasm was sparked for the partnership that could happen with wonderful men and women who worked at putting into practice the visions of Vatican II. Ours was the task to develop programs for high school seniors, priests, brothers and sisters who were struggling to rediscover their place in the Church, and laity who were thirsty to explore their faith.
Many of the people to whom we ministered were those who felt left out of the Church. They were not finding in their parishes what they were searching for. They were alienated and marginalized but persevered in their search.
Those nine years were wonderful. While others of my ordination class were leaving, because words and deeds did not always match, mine was the experience of a vibrant community of friars and laity willing to share the journey no matter how difficult.
The next step seems logical now but was one of the most painful of my life. While many people were not looking for a lifetime commitment to religious life, they were searching for an experience of living in a faith community. Without much more than intuition, six of us began what was to become a 10-year ministry to young adults called Berakah (a Hebrew word that means blessing).
And what a blessing this ministry was! We lived together in a community, sharing our lives, our talents and our resources, to offer a sense of hospitality to young people who, for whatever reason, felt alienated from their Church.
From that tentative beginning grew a ministry that became one of the most fulfilling and satisfying experiences of my life. The religious men and women I lived with, together with the people who were equal partners in our ministry, had a way of challenging my values as a follower of St. Francis. It was never enough to simply “talk the talk” with those folks; you had to “walk the walk.”
My ministry today as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, a large suburban parish, is no less challenging. It’s hard to believe that I have been ministering here for seven years.
Not too long ago, I can remember saying that I would never want to be in a parish setting. Never say “never.” Our “partners in ministry” always look to grow in their faith with you. People will challenge you to “walk the walk.”
Those who feel on the fringe need to be welcomed home. I can honestly say I have never felt bored in ministry. There is always work to be done, people to do it with, and a God who can take even your harebrained ideas and translate them into a “call” to proclaim that God is in our midst.
— This essay was written in 1998 when Fr. Richard was serving as pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in East Rutherford, N.J. It appeared in the September 1998 issue of The Anthonian magazine.