BUTLER, N.J. — John Richardson, OFM, 80, affectionately known as Gus, recently retired after a long and rewarding ministry, serving rural and urban parishes, both abroad and at home.
From his new home at the Butler friary, Gus shared his story with HNP Today last weekend, talking about a colorful ministry that included living in Brazil, working with disabled veterans, and bringing the Gospel to a small country parish in upstate New York.
First and foremost, he said he was especially happy to live with his brothers in community at the retirement friary. “I enjoy living with the friars. I really missed community life. Now I’m back to it.”
For the past 12 years, Gus was the only pastor serving Saint Mary Church in Obernburg, N.Y., a little white country church of about 130 families in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. He lived alone in the parish’s large rectory.
“It’s nice to be back in a large community,” Gus added. “I’m glad to be back. I’ve been alone a long time. In Obernburg, I was the only one there. There were few friars nearby.”
The parish was founded by German Catholics in 1854. The Province has had oversight of Saint Mary for more than 120 years, according to Gus. Most of the parishioners were farmers, New York state employees or teachers, he said.
Serving a Rural Parish
“There wasn’t a store around, or even a gas station or a bar. The biggest thing in town was the church,” he laughed.
But serving a rural parish was no different, he said, than his previous ministries at larger churches, including Saint Anthony Shrine in Boston, Church of St. Mary in Providence, R.I., Saint Francis of Assisi in Manhattan, and Saint Anthony Church in Butler.
“The needs of the people are all the same,” he smiled. Gus was well suited to serve in the needs of upstate New Yorkers, having grown up in a small town, Elmira, N.Y.
Gus said he very much enjoyed the ministry years as chaplain of the VA Medical Center in West Haven, Conn., a place where he spent 20 years. “I liked it very much. They were good people.”
An Early Calling in Brazil
He also was fond of his first calling in Brazil, serving the people for almost nine years as a newly-ordained friar. He served with Ignatius Smith, OFM, Mark Smith, OFM, who died in 1997, as well as with Dermot Dougherty, OFM.
He said he enjoyed serving a large parish in a country with more Catholics per square inch than the entire state of Connecticut. There, he learned to speak the native language of Portuguese and traveled from town to town sharing the Gospel.
“We had a main church where we lived, but we also had mission churches,” Gus said. “There were a lot of faithful people.”
But after several years away, Gus longed to be back in the community of the friars in New York, and asked to return home.
When he was called to Saint Mary in Obernburg, he immediately connected with the vibrant youth community there. “The people were wonderful,” he said. “They were hard workers.”
“We had an excellent teenage group, and I especially liked working with them. They did a lot for the parish, he said, holding bake sales and other events to raise money to attend several of the Pope’s International Youth Days.
“The youth keep you young,” said Gus.
Now that he’s retired, he plans to stay busy in the friary, helping with Mass and making home visits.
“We had a motto in Obernburg that I ended the Mass with. I would thank the people for coming to Mass, and then say, ‘Smile, God loves you very much.’ ”
With a smile in his voice, when asked why he chose to retire now, he nswered, “I hit 80!”
The photo above shows Gus, left, with Ignatius Smith, OFM, in front of Holy Cross Church, Callicoon, N.Y., where Ignatius is pastor.
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today.