Monday, 20 August 2007

Book of Condolences

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When I see the modern manner by which he is addressed I feel I don’t know the man. He could sound like one on a wanted list. R.J. Sullivan aka Ritchie, Nicholas Owen, was nick[!] named Ould Nick by some of his students [with a few choice descriptions carved on some desks] and probably the ladies of Mary Ward also had some names for him . You remember him as a pastor, a good shepherd, an intellectual whereas he was always Ritchie to me, the fellow I met long ago in Liverpool . A mate whom I could talk to plainly and he to me.

I knew him as Ritchie and often called him Sullivan. In later years he claimed descent from Suleiman the Magnificent and often referred to himself as a little Turkish delight. He was aware that both names when translated meant “one eyed”. He took great delight in his surname, was an Everton supporter [brother Bernie was a Liverpool supporter] and the family had a dog called Paddy whose party piece was to sing for visitors.

I came to Liverpool aged 16 straight from the bogs in the Black North to work for my first and only employer in the Customs in Liverpool. We worked as clerks in Branch 6 in the Cunard building. The Chief Clerk was Tom Cronin from Cork whose claim to fame was the advice he gave to Beatty on the bridge at the Battle of Jutland. When Beatty said "there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today," Tom advised "Steer two points nearer the enemy." Advice which Beatty gladly accepted and the result is history. But I digress.

I was soon told about the fellow who had a crucifix in the middle of his desk. I liked him at first sight. Even in those days he never had a real scouse accent not like his brother Bernie, and as the years passed the accent became more neutral. He was in the Catholic Evidence Guild and used to preach at the Pier Head on a Saturday evening. I was always admonished by him - not preaching , he was licensed to speak on some subjects. I went at times to listen to him with a threat that I would heckle, but never did.

We had one thing in common. Both our parents were postmen. His mother was an intensely religious person and I believe gave him as birthday presents a certificate for one brick for the Cathedral and Butler’s Lives of the Saint’s. Will he appear in a future edition?

One of my memories of him was the Twalfth [my dialect] in Liverpool. I was invited by him to see the procession. We met in Shaw Street. I had never seen such a procession in my life. Billy on his magnificent white charger and the fervent inebriated followers dancing up the footpad singing “ee eye ee eye o ee eye Paddy was a bast…” Then a hail of stones came down from the gardens; a charge was made up the slope which soon ground to a halt due of a long day spent drinking William’s health and kicking the Pope. At any rate the miscreants had vanished. As each band passed SFX the big drum was soundly beaten. Now here was I a bog trotter who had never witnessed anything like this before in my life. I have seen our twafth parade on television but the Liverpool one was more enthusiastic, brighter, more fervent, and more organised. I recall at that time the Lord mayor was called Longbottom of the Independent Orange Order. The centre of Liverpool was closed to traffic for most of July and August. Again I digress.

He came with me to a couple of dances at Bootle Town Hall and up at the Cathedral . Both were around St. Patrick’s Day: I never saw him dance.

At work at times he would discuss the priesthood and would ask what order we should join. Being bigoted I would always plump for the Irish Misson to China. He never cared for them . They were lucky for had I gone to China I might have joined the long march and prayed from my little Red Book. But the day arrived when he told me he was joining the Salvatorians. I had never heard of the order and joshed him about becoming a member of the Salvation Army. But it was plain that something had happened and he was earnest. I often wondered how he picked the Salvatorian and later in life thought it was because he was half German. Later I got an invitation to his ordination.

I could go on and on about him. His mother visited us in Ireland and he was a constant visitor until 1993. He conducted our wedding in 1965 and also my daughter’s in 1993. I never bought his book but believe he referred to my wedding in it. I don’t know what he wrote but the truth is Father Farry the P.P came to him for his fee. Ritchie advised me of what was happening. I approached my brother who had forgotton to bring the money and Ritchie ended up paying. As a reward we brought him with us on our honeymoon.

I’ll leave you his good friends with this blessing

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back,

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rains fall soft upon your fields and,

Until we meet ,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Gordon McKeown

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Thanks to Fr Richard for providing sanctuary for me at times.

Thanks for his wonderful sense of humour and for sharing Gs and Ts with him.

In particular thanks for one confession which was difficult for me and probably for him too as he was not too well at the time.

Thank you for your generous giving of yourself.


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At the time when it was becoming more common for girls to become altar servers as well as boys, my four young daughters became servers at Keele Chapel in the early 90s.They were dubbed by Father Richard as "Serviettes."

As a family we remember many happy times among the varied congregation at Keele Chapel - with father Richard, of course, as its spiritual force. We loved him very much and will miss his humour and humanity. God Bless Richard!

Sue and Pete Holmes; Jessica; Isobel; Bryony and Cecilia.

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One of Richard's favourite poems was Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven and you can see why he identified so much with the poet because Richard spent his life living very much in this world but longing for the next. His whole life was a journey, as it is for all of us, and one where he constantly sought self-improvement and found himself wanting. He never censored anyone and yet he felt he was always just a whisker away from failure.

Richard was a very spiritual person though he did not think of himself at all as such. He often gave so much to others that he was exhausted and then would judge himself remiss if he took a short-cut in his prayers. He had great vision and clarity sometimes in his ability to cut through to the heart of a problem and find absolutely the right words to help, to console, to comfort and to uplift the spirits of those who needed to feel valued.

He was never the "simple little monk" he said he was and when people wonder what was his gift? What was it that made him so special? It is simply that he, like Francis Thomspon, spent his life searching for God, trying and often failing to be wholly virtuous, and his own very humble and often difficult beginnings enabled him to identify with the suffering and pain of all of us who crossed his path and walked with him for a while.

He never, ever, thought he was anything special. That was reserved exclusively for us.


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Richard was a remarkable man and an inspiration to all who had the pleasure meet him. He will be sadly missed but at the same time will always be with those of us who loved him.

Jan Lowe

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Richard always put others first and could always put people at ease. He lives on in our thoughts and prayers. His funeral though sad was a celebration of a wonderful fulfilled life. In our sadness, we hugged the person next to us for reassurance yet were able to smile at the thought of the Sullivan laughter and times past we all spent together.

Richard loved parties and bringing people together. We can all vouch that he was an excellent chef. Liam reminded me of the curries, which were remarkable because Richard did not particularly like chillis .

In time; perhaps the most fitting tribute to Richard's legacy is for us to gather together on the anniversary of his birth. (2 June)

As Anne White said that whilst we remember him, he remains with us.

Stephen Evans

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I have just been reading Richard's Blog and feel curiously at ease with the idea that he is gone, beacause he hasn't really gone whilst we remember him and can talk about him.

Ann White

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Richard taught me at Christleton Hall in the mid sixties. He was a very caring and gentle man. Last year,after forty years, I made contact with him and we spent a very peacful weekend at Chew Magna recalling our time together and stories of the people we knew.

May he rest in peace. (I was known as Anthony Fox by those who studied with me at Christleton.)

Danny Fox

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I thank God for having had the good fortune for knowing Richard for the last 30 yrs, but I wish it could have been longer. I thank God for Richard’s navigation on my own irregular journey in faith and I now have the hope that one day we can be reunited in glory.

The autobiography is a great comfort. Thank you Richard, that the book contained more "Blessing" than "Telling".

Your fellow (one-time) pipe-smoking buddy,

Liam Madden

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We have opened a book of condolences so that friends of Fr. Richard (RIP) can share their thoughts, observations, anecdotes, prayers.

I am sure Richard’s family in Liverpool and his world-wide Salvatorian family will be comforted by knowing that Richard guided so many of us on our journey of faith.

Please use the comment facility for this posting and I will intermittently transfer them to the book of condolences. If you prefer not to write anything but wish to contribute, then please just leave your name. If you forget to write your name then please contact me directly at and I will add it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Memorial service at Keele Chapel on Thursday 30 August at 7.00pm.

Just to let people know that I am arranging a memorial service for Richard at Keele Chapel on Thursday 30 August at 7.00pm. Fr Michael Miners will say Mass.

There will be refreshments at The Cottage following the service.

Please do pass on to anyone who might like to come.

Ray Bayliss
Catholic Lay Chaplain

Monday, 13 August 2007

Wealdstone parish Mass of Thanksgiving for Richard 7th Aug 2007

Richard’s funeral Mass at St. Joseph’s Wealdstone was very much a family occasion. His nieces and their families from Liverpool were there, still mourning the recent loss of their mum, Flo who was one of Richard’s sisters. His great-niece Kate read the first reading from Isaiah.

Members of Richard’s extended family from his chaplaincy and parish apostolates gathered together with local parishioners who remembered Richard from his days as Provincial based at Wealdstone.

We were made welcome by Fr. Peter Preston (Provincial) and Fr. Michael Doherty (Parish Priest) and by many of his religious family of Salvatorian brothers and sisters. Fr. Milton came from Rome to represent the Generalate and many others came from abroad and across the UK; Fathers Malachy McBride, Liam Talbot, Danny Burns, Lawrence Murphy, Noel Keane, Seamus O'Duill, Terry Cantwell, Desmond Cantwell, Bernard Finan, Thomas Hennessey, John Murray, John Vallomprayil, Henry Nevin, Bill Harrison and Giorgio Malecki. Fr Patrick Kearney and Fr. Floribert were able to attend Richard’s reception on Mon. evening.

Also concelebrating was Fr. Peter Murphy from Southwark Diocese who was a school boy in the Borough parish during Richard’s ministry there.

The importance of Richard’s life as a Salvatorian and priest was symbolised by the Salvatorian handbook being brought up in the offertory procession, together with his priestly Mass kit, which Chew Magna parish had given to him. As Fr. Peter emphasised in his homily the Salvatorian directive “ to serve people everywhere, by all the ways and means which the love of Christ inspires”, really did bear fruit in Richard’s life.

How moving it was at the final commendation to see his Salvatorian brothers carry Richard from the church, and then at the cemetery take him to his final resting place alongside other Salvatorians who have gone before him.

As Mike Whitty concluded in his eulogy at Wealdstone, “Richard was a Salvatorian priest and his brothers in Christ here, and in other communities around the world are also feeling his loss. Let us remember them in our own prayers, thanking God and ask Him to send them more priests to carry on their work of service and evangelisation as Richard has done”

Louise Madden.

Mass of Thanksgiving (Chew Magna) - Eulogy by Stephen McNulty

My Lord Bishop, Fr. Peter, Reverend Fathers, Reverend Sisters, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Father Richard’s dear and wonderful friend, Helen, tells me that Richard asked for me to deliver a Eulogy at his funeral. That is a bit odd really, because I always told Richard that I didn’t approve of eulogies. The main reason for my reluctance is that, at a funeral, whilst we might want to thank Almighty God for the blessing of a relative or a good and kind friend, the main focus should be to pray for the soul of the deceased, and to look back at someone’s life can seem to have more to do with this world than with the next.

But, as I thought about the challenge, I realised that, as we have not had an ordinary man in our midst, a eulogy may be appropriate. Richard used the experiences of his life as pointers to his spiritual message, much as Our Lord did through his parables, and so if a Eulogy is what he wanted, it must be the right thing to do. In any case, as anyone who ever dared to attempt to refuse him soon found out, it was always asking for trouble not to do as he asked. So a Eulogy is what he will have. We must not overlook Richard in our prayers, but because of the way he touched the lives of all he met, it must be right that praise and thanks to God for his life are very appropriate.

The theme of the uniqueness of this very special man will recur several times in this address.

Why did Richard single me out? Well, probably because he always had a healthy respect for his fellow-Liverpudlians. And my father, (who died last year,) went to the same Jesuit school as Richard, St. Francis Xavier’s, in Liverpool (or SFX as it is known,) and he felt a special bond with someone such as my father ,who had learnt well from the “good” Jesuits, but had been a fellow-sufferer at the hands of the “bad” ones.

Now, in a traditional eulogy, it is common to set out details of a person’s life for those who are not so familiar with it. But Richard’s wonderful autobiography, (called “Bless and Tell”,) which he finished while here at Chew Magna, has said so much about his life in his own unique way that there is little I can add: he has such good timing in telling stories against himself, and uses wit and pathos and humour, as well as showing flashes of true revelation which reveal a deep spirituality that is grounded in his love for Our Saviour. It is well beyond me to summarise or to improve upon it all.

In his life, Religious Order abounded: the Jesuits, for good or ill, were a cornerstone of his thought. From those early days of what he termed his failure at SFX, to the kathartic moment when he took what he calls a “Great Leap” off a boat in the South China Sea to visit the grave of St Francis Xavier himself, he had a reverence and a respect for the religious life that never left him

But Richard’s great talent was to be able to pile all his experiences one on top of the other to make him the uniquely sensitive, kind, caring, and spiritual man that he was. His amazing newsletters were just brimming with jokes, cartoons, life experiences and, often as not, good Catholic teaching. He was always very clear that the failures in his life had given him strength, and the ability to see humour in the bleakest of moments.

He always said he was no academic. I remember when I told him that I was reading a book of Cardinal Newman’s sermons about Our Lady, he said he would prefer a Crime Thriller anyday! But I think his BSc in Biology, his M.Ed, and especially the Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy awarded to him by the Open University show that, as always, his low opinion of his own abilities was not shared by others, even in the academic world. But in all of this he was being genuinely humble. What he saw as his own failures made him ever ready to listen to others with their problems, and to offer just the right level of comfort and advice. He had an especial fondness for the young, and his years at Christleton and then at Mary Ward College, where he met his lifelong friend Helen, and on to the University of Aston, Birmingham Polytechnic and then Keele University, gave him a unique insight into the problems of young people and their anxieties and needs

I often felt that Richard’s favourite part of the Mass was when he gathered the little ones around the altar to say the Our Father.

He never censured anyone; he always listened, and always forgave. In fact, he was very Christlike in all he did. He had that great gift of making everyone he came into contact with, young or old, feel special, loved and wanted.

As in all his experiences of life, his heart bypass made a deep and lasting impact on him, and he remained very grateful to God for the gift of extra years after he had seemed to die on the operating table. Amazingly, after that , he went on to be elected as the Provincial of the Salvatorians, a post that he filled for two terms.

It is typical of the man that he retained his humility despite having held a position of some eminence; a Provincial has the rank of bishop, but Richard emerged with his characteristic good humour intact, although I strongly suspect he could be firm and purposeful when the occasion demanded it.

And then he came to Chew Magna. Despite Fr. Peter’s kind words about our little world here, from all Richard has said and written, the experience of coming to what seemed a rural backwater with precious few students, no bohemian parties where he could serve up his stews of leftovers, and a parish boundary that looked more like a small diocese, was a shock to him.

The message was that he had come to retire here. Or so we thought!!

But Richard was always brimming with ideas. I cannot think of a time when he was not working on a grand plan of some sort. Even in his last days he was working on a book of spiritual exercises, which seems to hark back to the Jesuits again, although this work was to be subtitled a book of “Prayerobics”, so I’m not sure how close to St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises he intended it to be.

In his eight years at Chew Magna he did so much, that it’s difficult to do justice to all he achieved. A number of things come to mind, though:

Firstly the two great parish parties at which the Sacred Liturgy was a powerful and solemn centrepiece; the first one was to celebrate his 75th birthday; and the second was held to celebrate the bicentenary of the parish.

Then there were his cheese and wine parties, which in the last year he promoted on local radio as having the express aim of welcoming lapsed Catholics, and perhaps others, to the Church; And we should not forget his wonderful parish manual, which is a masterpiece of organisation and efficiency. In it we see evidence of the extraordinary and inclusive way Richard involved almost everyone in the parish in his various ministries; a true example and beacon to other parishes. He was a man thoroughly imbued with the true spirit of the Second Vatican Council; he condemned excesses, but gloried in its achievements.

Richard did not want to die. He felt that he had so much more he had to contribute to the Church and to whatever community he was asked to serve. He gave of himself in a way which would have been impressive in a man half his age. But to run the parish the way he did right up till the operation he had in June was truly remarkable. There are thousands of people whose lives will never be the same after having had the privilege to meet and to know Richard.

His internet address book is longer than that of most popular students. But Richard’s closest friends, Mike and Helen Whitty, are people to whom our parish owes a special debt of gratitude. Richard’s own siblings are either dead or very elderly, and Helen and Mike have been his adoptive family for years. They have sustained and supported him throughout his time at Chew Magna, and without them he could not have achieved all that he has.

He talks in his book about the “Long Jump” off a boat in the South China Sea, when he had to put his faith and trust in one of the guides to catch him. Well he has made his last “Long Jump” out of this life into the arms of our Divine Saviour, who will, I have no doubt, be there to catch him. He had a very real sense of Our Lord in his life, as his book makes clear. In his own words, he tells of a revelation of Christ “as a person with whom I could have a personal relationship”, and this was followed soon after by a wonderful glimpse of eternal bliss at St. Mary’s, Highfield Street, when “I happened to look down at the altar and suddenly the world stood still. It was though a curtain, like on a stage, suddenly flashed open and I was encased in light.”

Well, unlike in his vision of 1951, the curtains will not now clash to, and he will soon be standing face to face with Our Blessed Lord.

In the meantime, we must not omit Richard in our prayers, that God will pardon his sins and give him the reward he so richly deserves. Today is, though, also one where we should thank Our Lord for the great gift of this uniquely talented, kind and loyal priest and friend.

The world is poorer without him

May he Rest in Peace.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Mass of Thanksgiving (Wealdstone) - Eulogy by Mike Whitty

Reverend fathers, ladies and gentlemen.

It might be appropriate to begin with the first praise Richard ever received.

Richard’s Soldier’s Release Book, stamped with the date of 9th February 1948 when Richard was just 21 and had done his bit in restoring democracy to Western Europe, gives an insight into Richard the Soldier. In it, the officer commanding his unit had written:

“The above named NCO has been employed as Chief Clerk. His work has at all times been excellent. He is quick, accurate, painstaking and very willing. I have every confidence in recommending him for any position requiring initiative, loyalty trustworthiness and honesty. In all respects an excellent man”.

After being told in his Jesuit school that “No good will ever come of him…” it is not hard to see why Richard liked the army so much and after his subsequent ordination to the priesthood thirteen years later, served for many years as an army chaplain eventually gaining a Territorial Decoration. And being a Salvatorian for nearly half a century in a variety of ministries he has certainly needed initiative, loyalty trustworthiness and honesty.

I first met Richard in 1979 about the time I was engaged to Helen who had met Richard when he was Chaplain and senior lecturer at Mary Ward College, a teacher training college in Nottingham, in 1970.

It is very difficult to talk about a man who was first and foremost a great and gifted communicator. One of his parishioners recently told me what an amazing experience it was for the congregation to hear sermons that actually contained jokes – and jokes that genuinely made them laugh. Richard had that rare gift of touching people’s lives and making a difference for the good. The vast number of cards, emails, letters and phonecalls from all over the world over the last two months testify to this. Those professionals who supported him in the last weeks – from the Palliative Care Team, Bristol Royal Infirmary, the District Nurses and others – all expressed a sense of the privilege they felt it to be to support such a rare person. A number of the letters and emails recounted personal experiences of how Richard had brought them to Christ. In fact, Richard’s newsletter when he was Chaplain at Keele from 1985 to 1993 was called The Matchmaker. This title didn’t refer to his role as a one-man marriage agency – though there are married couples around the globe who met through Richard and many of them were married by him. The Matchmaker referred to Richard’s role as he saw it: matchmaking between his students and Christ. And in this he was outstandingly successful.

Superficially his method was very straightforward. His chaplaincy or his presbytery was a home from home rather than a theological debating society for all his students and parishioners. Feed them. Make them comfortable and at ease and they will want to come back. Care for them, and they will learn how to care for others.

I remember on one visit, I think to Ystradgynlais in South Wales, Richard asked my three year old son what he thought a priest was. Matthew thought about this and then came up with a definition that really pleased Richard. He said a priest was a man who prays and cooks. Richard really liked the idea of a priest ministering to the spiritual and material needs of his people – though I’m not quite sure that was what Matthew might have said at the time. Those who attended Richard’s amazing Sunday Masses and lunches at the cottage in Keele will know all about the praying and cooking!

But of course there was a powerful driving force beneath the praying and cooking: Richard made people feel, made them know, they were important to him, and also important to God.

However, Richard was not perfect. (He was, after all, an Everton supporter).

Also, he could be very stressfully precise. On one occasion last month when he was back in Chew Magna from the hospital he asked my wife Helen for a glass of water.

Certainly, she said and brought it.

Could I have it in that other glass – you know, my favourite one?

Certainly, she said and brought it.

Could I have some ice in it?

Certainly, she said and brought it.

I think there’s a bit too much in that glass, could you pour some out?

Certainly, she said and brought it.

Actually, you could put a bit more in it.

At this point Helen said: “Richard would you like to drink this water - or wear it?”

With a pained and non-comprehending expression Richard said I thought you were supposed to be caring for me? And then he really did laugh.

Fr Peter has quoted already one of Richard’s characteristic sayings “You’ve gorra laugh”. Another that I guess we’ve all heard was the phrase “fair do’s” – an untranslatable term really, that summed up Richard’s acceptance of whatever life had thrown at him. We all know that life threw a very considerable challenge at him in 1991 when he was very ill in hospital in Stoke having had two operations in quick succession to deal with an infection in a heart valve, and then to stop the bleeding. Richard always saw the time after this as a special gift from God. In the remaining 16 years of his life he finished his stint as Chaplain at Keele University, served his Society as Provincial for six years and was Parish Priest in Chew Magna, Somerset for the last eight years.

The concept of retirement was totally alien to him: he was, after all, still

working as a parish priest at the age of 81. However, just before his cancer was diagnosed, he had told his parishioners that he intended to leave Chew Magna this summer. Following the publication of the famous “Bless and Tell”, his plan was to write another book called, with Richard’s characteristic wit, “Prayerobics – the Spiritual Exercises of Fr Richard”. Some chapters had already been written and the flavour of these might be deduced from the titles; Chapter 1, for example, is entitled “Spiritual Fruit or Religious Nut”. I hope that in time at least some of this draft work can be published on the internet.

Another example of the way in which Richard kept on keeping on was his time in Bristol Royal Infirmary following the surgery. He was very poorly indeed, with five days on a High Dependency Ward where he learned that his invasive surgery to remove a tumour had not been successful and where for nearly two weeks his system shut down and surgeons were not optimistic that he would recover post-operatively. Yet, he showed great determination to recover because he honestly felt he had another chapter of life to offer to us all. He began to respond to treatment and even during this very difficult time, he counselled two people; dealt with several enquiries about Catholicism; and heard one confession. Six days before he died, although he was by then very weak, he was motivated to attend the annual parish lunch for a short while in the village of Ubley, to meet for one last time with his faithful and devoted parishioners. It took a great effort of will on his part to manage this as he was by this time wheelchair-bound and was in the final stages of the disease.

So there were good moments even in those last weeks such as the chats with a few sips of his favourite gin and tonic, (with just the right amount of lemon, of course!) He celebrated half a dozen or so Masses in his living room, seated on a chair or the bed. After one of these, Helen said I think that’s taken a lot out of you, Richard. No, he replied, it’s put something into me.

We saw him grow in acceptance of what was happening and he came to associate what he was suffering with the sufferings of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Richard’s illness and death, like his long, vigorous and creative life was an eloquent homily on faith, hope and love. He showed great faith, and eventually said that he was ready to go as he knew his work was over and so he gave himself up to prayer and preparation, but still with good humour and great concern for those he knew would be left behind.

All of us here know bits of Richard, different parts of his life and different moments of contact with him. All these encounters are like the pieces of a mosaic and none of us has the complete picture. But there are some qualities of our great friend stamped on all those pieces: his dedication in supporting those who came to him needy or distressed, his commitment as a Salvatorian to our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and his belief that the love of God was there for all of us.

The prayer of St Richard of Chichester sums up Richard’s striving thought his whole life: to know Jesus more clearly, to love Him more dearly and to follow Him more nearly.

Richard’s life as a priest has touched all of us and he has friends all over the world who feel his loss terribly and we are joined with them today in prayer and celebration for his amazing and wonderful life. But we must not forget in our own grieving that Richard was a Salvatorian priest and his brothers in Christ here, and in other communities around the world are also feeling his loss. Let us remember them in our own prayers, thanking God and ask Him to send them more priests to carry on their work of service and evangelisation as Richard has done.

In all respects this excellent man, our friend, guide, mentor, Richard Sullivan, has fought the good fight and run the race to the finish; he has kept the faith and we pray for him to receive the crown of righteousness reserved for him.

Many thanks to Mike Whitty for allowing us to include his eulogy in the blog.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Mass of Thanksgiving - Homily by Fr Peter Preston SDS

Everyone here today will have experienced Richard’s love in a variety of ways. Each one will have memories of him and the way he has touched our lives. It falls to me to have the privilege of trying to put my own memories of him into the parts of the jigsaw that lie before us. It would take up a lot of time if I try to share with you his life and all that he accomplished. I do not feel that this is necessary because, not only will his very good friend Stephen McNulty speak at Chew Magna, and Mike Whitty speak at Wealdstone, but I would remind you that Richard has already done it for us. I recommend that if you have not already done so, you buy a copy of “Bless and Tell” by Richard Sullivan and read it for yourself ;-) Copies available at a special discount price or as Richard might say, “Buy one and get one free”.

Seriously, though, it is to his book that I have turned, along with my own memories, to remind us all of the unique person that we know and love. Each one should take just a moment to remember Richard and give thanks to God for the fact that he entered our life, touched us and helped us on our way. Memories speak louder than words.

It was said of him “that no good will ever come of him” but fortunately, this did not prove to be the case. From the humble beginnings in Liverpool, to the joy of being a Parish Priest in Chew Magna, he was to prove this saying to be without foundation. He was born into a family of five children, three girls and two boys, in a city where “we speak with an accent exceedingly rare; meet under a statue exceedingly bare; if you want a Cathedral, we’ve got one to spare; in my Liverpool home”. Our thoughts, sympathy and prayers are with Richard’s family. His two sisters who are still living, Winnie and Lily, who are unable to be present with us today, with his nieces and nephews who have recently buried their mother and Richard’s sister, Flo. We support them with our prayerful and loving support.

He rejoiced in his priesthood and he was proud to be a Salvatorian. He entered the community in 1952 and was attracted to it because he had such a broad remit: Serve people everywhere, by all the ways and means which the love of Christ inspires. There were no constraints here, just the opportunity to undertake any type of work that enabled people to appreciate and experience the goodness of kindness of Christ the Saviour.

Richard took the invitation literally! Son, Brother, Uncle, Teacher, Soldier, Lecturer, Customs Officer, Author, Friend and Counsellor, Scholar, Student Chaplain, Army Chaplain in the Territorial Army – holding the rank of Major, Religious and Priest, Superior of the local Salvatorian Community and for six years, in a leadership role as Provincial, Parish Priest and Friend to many students who have experienced his cooking, his open house, and Sunday evening get-togethers; public speaker and evangeliser of many – he took literally the invitation: “by all ways and means”. He was faithful to this over the years and the presence of so many here today is an eloquent tribute to his success.

He maintained his friendship with many who had been students of his. Often he travelled to distant parts of the world as he accepted an invitation to visit them, to marry them, or to have a holiday. But it was also the same here in this country – and he often delighted in entertaining them – remember he was an excellent cook – when they visited him, wherever he was living.

Although Richard spent many years of his priestly life working in the student world, at Christleton Hall (1961-1970): as an Army Chaplain (1962-1976): giver of retreats (1962-2004): at Mary Ward (1970-1975): Aston University (1975-1981): it must not be forgotten that he also served as Parish Priest in two Salvatorian parishes. His first appointment was in 1981-1983, when he took care of the Parish of the Precious Blood, The Borough, London. He stayed for two years and then went to the Parish of the Sacred Heart, Ystradgynlais, South Wales (1983-1985). However, in the middle of 1985 he moved back to the student world when he was appointed as Chaplain to Keele University, Staffs, where he remained until 1993 when the community recognised his abilities by electing him to serve in a leadership role as Provincial for the next six years (1993-1999).

He has a great love of, and commitment, to his religious family, the Salvatorians, where he was affectionately known as “Scouse”. Not only did he share his many gifts with his brethren, but he enjoyed their company and was at home with them and a gin and tonic! He was an excellent story teller with a fund of jokes, for as he often said: “You’ve gorra laugh”. Like all of us, he had his faults but these were few, and were far outweighed by the many gifts and the good common sense that were very much a part of his character. He was never a person who might be described as a sportsman – I can remember that he did join in when we played football in our student days – but I would not describe him as being enthusiastic! Did he know the difference between Everton and Liverpool? I hope so.

It was following his time as Provincial, and still feeling that he was young enough to open another chapter of his life, that he went to Chew Magna as Parish Priest in September 1999. He quickly settled down and felt at home. It was to prove to be a good experience for him. They know far better than any the effect he had on them and how important collaborative ministry was to be in the parish. The experience of this will surely stand them in good stead in the immediate future.

Having reached the ripe old age of 81, Richard had notified Bishop Declan of his intention to retire. He had another book to finish and many other things to do – retirement would be to a flat in Reading- generously provided for him (by friends) and he had already spent some days of each week there – getting used to it. But it was not to be – everyone knows of the sudden onset of his cancer and his subsequent operation, hospitalisation and return to home, as he referred to Chew Magna.

Here he prepared for the last stage of his earthly journey, supported by Helen and Mike, as well as parishioners and friends. Many of the latter kept in touch with him through “Richard’s blog” and many would have read it, as I did, with interest and amazement. He was determined to keep in touch and the support that he received from knowing that people were praying for him was a source of encouragement at a very difficult time. I was fortunate enough to visit him a couple of times during this period and I have no doubt that when he made the decision to let nature take its course, he did so because was ready to say “good-bye” to use and “hello” to his maker. He had missed out meeting him some sixteen years ago (1991) but this time the Lord could well have said to him “I have been waiting 81 years for you – what has kept you?” He died peacefully on Saturday, 28 July 2007, in his own bed, in his own home.

Richard lived out his vocation as a Salvatorian and served the Community and Church with great love and dedication.

I would like to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of the Salvatorian Community, Richard’s parishioners and friends, deep thanks to Helen and Mike Whitty for their loving commitment to Richard throughout his life but especially during these past two months. They have been a source of strength to him and to us. They were there for Richard when he needed them most and I am sure that in the future they will also draw strength from their memories of him.

It seems appropriate to me to allow Richard to have the final words and I take from his book the following:

“These pages tell the story of my vision and how, against all odds, it came to pass. They tell of the wonderful life I have had as a Priest, as one dream gave way to another. And all because:

Somebody said it couldn’t be done
but he, with a chuckle, replied
that maybe it couldn’t but he would be one
who wouldn’t say so ‘til he tried.
So he buckled right in with a bit of a grin
on his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
that couldn’t be done, and he did it.

“It couldn’t be done” by Edgar A. Guest.

When the Open University awarded him his Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University, Richard wrote: “I don’t know if I get to write D.Univ. after my name, but I could not ask for greater recognition of all that I have tried to say in this book. I have one final vision, one final ambition, and that is to gain an St. And you write that in front of your name.

You’re gorra laugh!

Good-bye and thank you for spending some time with me".

Good-bye Richard and thank your for spending 81 years with us. Rest in peace and rise in glory.

Fr Peter Preston SDS
Provincial Superior

Many thanks to Fr. Peter for allowing us to include his homily in the blog.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Reception into the Church of St Joseph, Harrow Weald.

Father Richard was welcomed home by 10 of his fellow Salvatorian priests this evening, as family and friends gathered to pray for him. We thought you may like to reflect on some of the scripture texts that were used during the vigil service.

1 John 1 - 2.
Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God's children; and that is what we are. Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us. My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed: all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.

Psalm 102.
The Lord is compassion and love.

The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.
He does not treat us according to our sins nor repay us according to our faults.

As a father has compassion on his sons, the Lord has pity on those who fear him;
for he knows of what we are made, he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass; he flowers like the flower of the field;
the wind blows and he is gone and his place never sees him again.

But the love of the Lord is everlasting upon those who hold him in fear:
his justice reaches out to children's children when they keep his covenant in truth.

The Lord is compassion and love.

Gospel of John 14: 1 -4, 6 - 7.
'Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God still, and trust in me. There are many rooms in my Father's house; if it were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you, and after I have gone and prepared you a place, I shall return to take you with me; so that where I am you may be too. You know the way to the place where I am going.'

Jesus said:
'I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you know my Father too. From this moment you know him and have seen him.'

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.

[Scripture texts taken from the Jerusalem Bible popular edition published by Darton, Longman and Todd].

Louise Madden

A Keele Goodbye?

Is anybody interested in meeting at Keele on Tuesday to say goodbye to Richard?

Please email me asap at

Ann Marie Cheadle

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Eucharistic Service at the Sacred Heart Church Chew Magna 7th Aug 2007

Just to let everyone know:We will be having a Eucharistic Service at the Sacred Heart Church Chew Magna on Tuesday at Twelve Noon, to coincide with the time of the funeral at Wealdstone.

We will be thinking of him, his family, and all of his friends across the world.

It will be followed by a cup of tea and cake since it would not be a 'do for Richard' without some form of social gathering!


Friday, 3 August 2007

Chew Magna parish Mass of Thanksgiving for Richard 2nd Aug 2007

As warm sunshine flooded into Sacred Heart Parish Chew Magna yesterday evening Richard was brought into his parish for the last time as all seats were taken by those wishing to offer thanks, say farewell and, as Bishop Arthur Roche commented, pray for “a truly great man”.

A lovely smiling photo of Richard from Helen and Mike decorated the lectern, beneath a stunningly beautiful floral bouquet. A seemingly endless procession of fellow priests from Clifton Diocese and other Salvatorian parishes processed past us as “Lord of all kindness, Lord of all joy”... greeted Richard's arrival as he was placed under the Easter Candle. Symbols of his faith and priesthood were arranged on the coffin: his breviary, a crucifix, chalice, paten and his priestly stole, reminding us of the joy Richard felt in his call to the priesthood.

Favourite hymns and specially composed prayers brought Richard especially close as we knew he had prepared all we were celebrating. The hymns particularly evoked other Masses and celebrations with Richard down the years: “Yahweh I know you are near..”, “Here I am Lord..”, “This is my Body..”, Be Though My Vision..” all perfect choices.

There was laughter and tears amongst the solemnities. Bishop Arthur himself a former pupil of Richard's told us that Richard had taught three future bishops at Christleton College, Thomas Williams and Kevin Dunnn being the other two, and on their ordination as bishops he had commented that he couldn't vouch for their knowledge of theology, but he was sure that they knew how to dissect a frog!

Deacon Mark proclaimed Richard's chosen Gospel of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, including Mary's great Magnificat which Richard would have known from his Daily Office “ My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my soul exults in God”. Richard's prayers encouraged us to look forward to new possibilities, to be thankful, to have faith and pray for clarity in how we can contribute towards service of others. All those virtues which he tried to mirror in his own priestly life.

Fr. Peter, Provincial of the Salvatorians, spoke warmly of Richard's life, he asked each of us take a few moments to reminisce about our own memory of Richard as he put it “memories speak louder than words” He shared his own memory of Richard's cooking and hospitality with his fellow Salvatorians at Christmases gone by. We laughed at his sales pitch for Richard's autobiography “Bless and tell”.

Prayers for Richard and those of us who mourn him were lead by Pauline, gifts were offered and then Bishop Arthur's solemn intonation of the Preface lead us to the climax of our celebration.

As our communion prayers for Richard came to an end, Stephen McNulty a Chew Magna parishioner, friend and fellow Liverpudlian delivered a eulogy in Richard's memory. We laughed at the irony as Stephen told us he had often told Richard that he didn't approve of funeral eulogies, typical of Richard to get the last laugh!

He reminded us of Richard's great enthusiasm for plans and projects to bring his community together even in “retirement”, even in the last weeks of his life. Of his desire to write a book of spiritual exercises called “Prayerobics”. He compared Richard's ability to use episodes from his own life, especially his set backs or failings, as Jesus himself used parables to reach out to others.

He recalled Richard's pilgrimage to China to visit the home of his inspiration St. Francis Xavier. How Richard drew the parallel of his leap of faith from a boat into what he hoped would be the arms of a crew member below, with the leap of faith God asks us to take. As Stephen put it Richard had taken his final leap of faith into the waiting arms of his Divine Saviour. Above all he encouraged us to pray for our friend.

Bishop Arthur made his final prayer for Richard that “as he had died with Christ in Baptism he may rise with him in glory”. Richard's coffin was sprinkled with holy water and incensed for his final farewell.

As the stirring echoes of “Guide Me O thou Great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land” ended, Richard's body was taken out of his Church for the last time. As his fellow priests and Salvatorian sisters accompanied him outside, strains of the Salve Regina floated back into the church to be taken up by those of us still quietly waiting to see him depart. Richard would have been proud of all his parishioners for such a wonderful send off. And no doubt equally pleased that his final act was to literally stop the traffic on Chew Magna High Street!

Now time for the hospitality of the Chew Magna parishioners to be continued in the tradition Richard loved so well with refreshments and stories on the lawn outside his house.

As Richard's final hymn and a quote from St. Francis Xavier attest: “For to be good we have to be pilgrims in this life”, we pray that all the goodness Richard acquired in his earthly pilgrimage may come to fruition in heaven. We can be assured of his prayers for us as we continue on our pilgrimage.

Louise Madden

Thursday, 2 August 2007

This is not the end but a transistion

Mike and I have received a lot of thanks for the journey we have travelled with Richard in recent months and the during his final illness. All I can say is that it was a privilege and a labour of love for both of us. But we have not been alone in this and have been so strongly supported by Richard's wonderful parishioners who have baked, gardened, prayed, and supported us. In particular, we have been supported by Sue Stephens, a parishioner and nurse who has also held down a full time job as a midwife and unstintingly given of her time and good cheer and constant words of encouragement and kindness. She has lifted both of us with her modest and understated devotion to us and more particularly to Richard as often as she was able, and sometimes well into the night.

It is important that all of you across the world know that whilst Richard carried the cross in the last few weeks, he remained mostly cheerful and we have laughed with him more often than we have cried.

He continued right until the last few days seeking to improve himself and prepare for death in a fitting way and when his strength totally failed him, he was still able to pray and help us to come to terms with what our lives would be without him. He remained affectionate and loving to the end of his life and when he recognised that he was dying, he welcomed it and prayed to Our Lady.

His inspiration in his last few weeks was Cardinal Hume and Pope John Paul and St Francis Xavier and he believed with a passion that he would look after all of us still, and rejoice one day with us in heaven.

What an amazing man and a wonderful priest.

We asked Liam Madden to set up this Blog for us some weeks ago and he has done a great job. He has also suggested that we should try in some way to carry on Richard's work and we will be meeting with him shortly to discuss how best we can achieve this so please do keep adding your own comments and keep an eye on the Blog in months to come for any ideas we want to take forward.

We may try in some way to publicise his writings and articles on the blog or by creating another website.

For the moment, I am going to continue his email address as there are still many hundreds of people we have not yet had a chance to contact so you can continue to send messages to the Blog or via his address until further notice.

"Keep on, keeping on",