This is the third in a series of profiles about friars commemorating major anniversaries of profession this year. The March 5, 2014 issue of HNP Today featured Brice Leavins, OFM.
WOOD-RIDGE, N.J. — A love of psychology and an independent spirit have guided Richard Mucowski, OFM, through three master’s degrees, two doctorates and varied ministries as a licensed clinical and medical psychologist.
Richard, the guardian and pastor of Assumption of our Blessed Lady Church here since 2011, is a practicing psychologist, specializing in forensic and medical psychology. He has seen patients for addictions, criminal behaviors, depression and anxiety and he has served as a professor at Siena College and St. Bonaventure University, and as president of two universities in the Midwest.
As he looks back on 50 years of religious life devoted to education and psychology, the friar said he has lived by St. Bonaventure’s “Journey of the Soul into the Mind of God.” “Bonaventure’s description of that holy journey became and is what I do,” he said. “I don’t question why God put me where he put me. I accept he’ll take care of me if I do what he wants me to do. The gifts and talents given to me aren’t mine to keep, but are to be shared with my brothers and sisters.”
Richard came from humble roots, growing up in a Philadelphia row home, the son of Ukrainian immigrants. His father was a tailor and his mother worked in textiles, and Richard was the younger of two children. His sister Dorothy, 14 years older, lives in North Wildwood, N.J.
Because of having attended Catholic high schools run by the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and the Augustinians, he jokes that by the time he was professed, he already had a good sampling of religious orders.
Richard’s path to profession began when he joined the Franciscans after freshman year at The Catholic University of America in Washington, where he originally began general studies. Since he grew up in the Byzantine Rite, he decided, at his pastor’s suggestion, to join the former Custody of Our Lady of the Angels in Sybertsville, Pa. Richard was first professed with these Byzantine friars in 1964. The custody sent him to Immaculate Conception Province’s house of studies in Troy, N.Y., for his second year of college. At the end of that year, he went to study philosophy at St. Francis College in Rye Beach, N.H.
Already in his third year, Richard had been in three schools and did not like the instability. He was also attracted by what he experienced in Rye Beach, so he decided to transfer into Holy Name Province. He completed theological studies at Holy Name College in Washington, receiving his master’s in theology from the former Augustinian College.
Richard was solemnly professed in Holy Name Province in 1968, and ordained a priest in 1971 at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington.
A Love of Learning
Richard earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from St. Bonaventure University, studied sociology at the University of Notre Dame, and earned teacher certification and a master of science in education degree from Niagara University. He earned doctoral degrees in education and counseling from University at Albany-SUNY, and in clinical psychology, with a specialty in neuropsychology, from the Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif. Richard did his neuropsychology residency at Thomas Jefferson University Medical College in Philadelphia.
His first assignment after ordination was at Bishop Timon High School in Buffalo, N.Y., where he taught history and religious education. Two and one half years later, he transferred to Siena College to teach sociology and serve as associate chaplain for the next 14 years.
While at Siena, he petitioned and was given an opportunity to study for his doctorate in counseling. The college appointed him a doctoral fellow and he did research for the dean of education. “I realized my disdain for sociology because it was too dry and theoretical, … and that I loved psychology. This science was directly applicable to life and to the students with whom I lived.” Richard also realized that he wanted to be licensed as a psychologist, a certification that he would later obtain in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
After Siena, he served as executive vice president of St. Bonaventure University from 1987 to 1990. Two years later, he became president of Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, and taught in the counseling program. Richard also worked as an adjunct clinical professor at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown, Ohio. After five years, he was named president of the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kan.
While there, he became involved with prison ministry, working with inmates to reduce recidivism. During this time, the active life caught up with Richard, and he considered his rising blood pressure to be a sign from God to move to a different role.
Work in Counseling
Richard returned to the East Coast and asked then Provincial Minister John Felice, OFM, for an assignment to use his psychology skills with the poor. He began taking continuing education courses in psycho-pharmacology with the goal of being able to prescribe medication for patients who would otherwise be unable to afford psychiatry.
Richard also realized that prescriptive privileges for properly trained psychologists in New Jersey would be beyond his reach in his lifetime, despite his extensive training. Two doctors, an internist and a psychiatric, oversaw his work with more than 100 cases of inmates as if he were the prescribing doctor, but without his ever prescribing psychotropic medication.
This inspired him to become an advocate for those “who are left to the vagaries of a broken system of healthcare that focuses on profit instead of care,” Richard said. Through this process, he was designated a medical psychologist by the Academy of Medical Psychology, an independent board of psychologists.
In 2001, Richard began work for The Center for Family Guidance that contracted with New Jersey’s department of corrections to counsel and evaluate inmates in state prisons. This included forensic psychology, and evaluating risk of those involved with violent crimes, the criminally insane and sex offenders.
As states often do, New Jersey put mental health care of inmates out for bid. In the process, Richard’s contract with CFG ended and he reapplied to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to continue working in the prisons for 20 hours a week. For the other 20 hours a week, he worked with classmate J. Patrick Kelly, OFM, at FrancisCare counseling service in Elmwood Park, N.J. Richard also helped local clergy with weekend Masses, which led him to Assumption Church, where Brian Cullinane, OFM, was pastor.
Richard’s blood pressure was rising again and at 65 years old, he realized he needed to change gears. In 2011, he became pastor of Assumption Parish, but has continued to provide counseling and spiritual direction to clergy and religious. Marriage tribunals in Paterson and Newark, N.J., seek out his expertise in cases requiring a psychologist’s consultation.
In his free time, Richard said he enjoys going to the movies, often finding contemporary themes that have a message he can attach to a current take on the Gospel. Walking his two dogs, a Maltese and a Lhasa Apso, forces Richard to get physical exercise every day that he would otherwise ignore. “They get me out and moving, and they love unconditionally,” he says.
He is grateful to the Province for “always giving me the support that I needed to explore the gifts that God has given me on behalf of his people. The friars have been there for the challenge, the support and at all times in my life that I would not have been able to otherwise endure.”
He would like to be remembered “as a simple pilgrim, someone who walked with his brothers and sisters in service to the Gospel and God’s people. When all is said and done, I hope that people see me as someone who helped them come to see God in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise have come to know God, and that he loves them.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jubilarians who will be featured in upcoming installments of this series include Emeric Szlezak, OFM, marking 75 years as a friar.