In fact, Fr Richard’s association with the diocese goes back to 2012, when he accompanied the relic of St Francis Xavier on its national Pilgrimage of Grace during the Year of Grace.
He returned to offer the “Retreat in Everyday Life” but his role as Missionary of Mercy (MOM), commissioned by Pope Francis in Rome, has been most dear to him. The appropriately ‘branded’ motor home became a familiar sight as Fr Richard arrived in parish after parish, welcomed the assistance of locals in setting up and proceeded to throw open the doors of the church for the duration of his visit.
On Sunday, 12 November, Fr Richard was fondly farewelled as his time as our MOM drew to a close. The gathering at St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar (just one of the places on Fr Richard’s itinerary), included time to share stories, ask ‘Remember when…?’, enjoy refreshments and send Fr Richard on his way with prayers and good wishes aplenty.
In an early conversation with Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries, Teresa Brierley, the vision of a missionary on wheels had begun to emerge and looking back, Teresa described that occasion as “the beginning of creating a dream”.
Catherine Mahony and Anne Millard led the congregation in a rousing version of “I’ve (You’ve) Been Everywhere”:
You’ve been everywhere, man
Been from here to there, man
Yes sir, me-oh mio,
Right around the dio
Now we say thanks and bye-oh
‘coz you’ve been everywhere.
There was more spirited music with a litany accompanied by a South African refrain – “Jikelele” (God is everywhere) − and a moving feast of people encircling Fr Richard!
Parishioners from Redhead, East Gresford, Old Bar and Cessnock had lovingly prepared tributes to Fr Richard’s ministry among them, and in responding, he cited his favourite Francis-ism: “God forgives, not with a decree, but with a caress.”
Bishop Bill thanked Fr Richard warmly, presented him with a diocesan candle, an image of our patron, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and a photographic record of his time in Maitland-Newcastle.
In return, he asked only for the keys of the motor home!