This is the fourth in a series of profiles of friars commemorating anniversaries of profession in 2013. The previous issue of HNP Today featured John Felice, OFM.
BOSTON — Richard James, OFM, has had a variety of roles in his half century as a friar. He spent the early part of his ministry making habits and teaching high school in New York. During the latter part of his ministry, he has cared for elderly friars in St. Petersburg, Fla., and in Boston.
Today, as he prepares to commemorate his golden jubilee, Richard serves as director of the money room at St. Anthony Shrine in Boston, as a retired friar. Before the house closed last year, he lived across the street at St. Anthony Residence.
“I’m most grateful to the Province for allowing me to do these things,” said Richard, in his soft-spoken voice.
He grew up in South Colton, a small town in northern New York. After attending what was then called the State University of New York at Potsdam, he decided to join the Franciscans. He professed his first vows in 1963 at St. Raphael Novitiate, Lafayette, N.J., and afterward, studied administration and supervision at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.
Later, he completed a college degree at St. Francis College in Brooklyn with a major in education and a minor in math and science.
A Different Time
“Our lives are so much different than when I entered the Order,” said Richard, referring to today’s high-tech world and fast pace of life. When he first joined, though the Province had more than 1,000 members, more than it does now, the community had more of a family feel, he said. He is quick to add that he likes things simple.
He fondly recalled his friendships with Albert Aldrich, OFM, and the late friars, Leo Clifford, OFM, Peter Sheridan, OFM, Patrick Howard, OFM, and Antonine Masson, OFM.
Richard told The Anthonian in a 2010 article: “In 1974, while stationed at our friary on West 31st Street in Midtown Manhattan, I started my career as a teacher. I commuted by subway every school day to teach mathematics, science and religion at diocesan elementary schools in New York City. The best years of my religious life were the years I taught in those schools with the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, Dominican and St. Joseph Sisters.”
In the 1980s, while teaching, he spent summers working in the Franciscan Pilgrimage Office in New York City, traveling to Canada as well as around the United States and Europe.
He lived at St. Francis Friary in Manhattan while teaching and working in the afternoons with teachers in the archdiocesan school office, rewriting textbooks for the essential learning skills in science for kindergarten through ninth grade. He also gave workshops to all teachers involved with teaching science to kindergarteners through ninth-graders to update them with the new materials required in New York State.
One of the most rewarding parts of being a teacher, he said, was the gratitude he received from parents in seeing their children do well.
In 1995, he moved to St. Anthony’s Friary in St. Petersburg, where he lived until 2008, tailoring habits from 1994 to 1997 and working as a practical nurse. From 1998 to 1999, he served in finance, music and teaching at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, N.J. In 2008, he moved to St. Anthony’s Residence in Boston where he continued to work as a nurse, providing healthcare assistance by giving injected medications to friars who needed them and making sure oral prescriptions were taken. Richard said he learned a lot about nursing from his sister, a registered nurse, when the two cared for their dying mother.
“It was rewarding to work with the older friars, especially in how receptive they were to letting me take care of them. They were very grateful for everything we did.”
Now, in his spare time, Richard likes to read, mostly the Bible and biographies of the saints. But he also enjoys a good science and geology book. He enjoys seeing his siblings in upstate New York, whom he visits in the summer. He will attend a jubilee in his hometown of South Colton, celebrated by the bishop of Ogdensburg, but admits to not liking a fuss being made over him. “I’m pretty sincere, humble and traditional,” he said.
As a long-time teacher, Richard said he is an observer of life and is happy to have had such a rich one.
“While my friends in South Colton did not know much about male religious life, I must confess I never suspected that I would have such a rich variety of careers — tailor, teacher, tour guide, practical nurse — all done in the service of the Lord, serving in the footsteps of St. Francis,” Richard said in his “Franciscan Journey” published in The Anthonian in 2010.
Richard and his seven classmates will be honored by the Province at the annual jubilee celebration in June.
— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Upcoming golden jubilarians who will be profiled include Michael Madden, OFM, Emeric Meier, OFM, and Michael Putich, OFM.