A memorial mass was held on April 27 at St. Vincent’s Church in Chicago for Fr. John Richardson, C.M., former president of DePaul University, who passed away March 29 at the age of 98. The following is the textt of the homily, delivered by Fr. Patrick McDevitt, C.M., Provincial Superior for the Congregation of the Mission Western Province. 

We gather for this memorial mass this evening to remember.

To remember—to hold in memory is a spiritual power we human beings are gifted with that helps us see and experience the deeper mysteries of life, love, death, and God. All the great spiritual traditions memorialize persons and events to hold up the good and learn from the mistakes of the past.

This evening, we remember the Lord Jesus Christ who lived among us and taught us the ways of God. Christ Jesus died for us and was raised from the dead and destroyed the power of sin and death. As we come together in love, we believe that Christ is present and alive with us now and forever.

Whenever one of our brothers or sisters dies, we come together to remember and contemplate the deeper and more profound realities of our lives.

We know for certain that we too will follow our dear Fr. John Richardson and return to God. As John did so well throughout his life and ministry, he is once again showing us the way—the way to live, the way to serve, the way to lead, and the way to die.

John Richardson came to DePaul University in 1954 and served for 24 years in many different capacities: Dean of Graduate Studies, Executive Vice President, Dean of Faculties, President, and Chancellor. John was a DePaulian, through and through. John loved this university. He loved the people of this university. He was passionate about this university’s Catholic and Vincentian mission.

As an adopted son of the City of Chicago, John cared deeply for this city. He believed in the best for Chicago. John worked diligently throughout his career to advocate for justice, equity, and progress within the university and in the city of Chicago.

John Richardson was a man before his time. He opened the doors of change and opportunity at the university to diverse people and empowered them and supported them in doing their jobs.

John Richardson was a man before his time. Long before partnership was fashionable in higher education, John was forging partnerships in the city of Chicago., within the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, the Chicago Public Schools, and with business, government, nonprofits, and inter-religious groups. John would partner in mission with anyone who would move the mission forward.

Born in 1923, John witnessed much change and progress throughout his life. John Richardson was a man before his time. Even toward the end of his life, John strived to stay informed about current events. He was an avid reader of newspapers and other publications. John loved to discus, debate, and at times to argue about difficult and complex issues of contemporary life, politics, and religion. John had a keen ability to make his positions firmly known. And you pitied the fool who attempted to join John in discussion uninformed and ill prepared.

Fr. John Richardson leaves behind a very long list of achievements. I would not be able to do justice to these achievements with the time allotted for this homily. I did not work directly with John at DePaul. I came to know, appreciate, and love John while living with him in his later and declining years. John presented himself with strength, clarity of thought, and purpose, and we cannot forget that loud and commanding voice. However, I discovered the softer, tender, and caring side of John that was evident in his later years. John devoted himself in his later years to prayer and life in the Vincentian community. Even in his aging and physical decline, John would do whatever he could to help and support DePaul or anyone in need.

At his very core, John Richardson was a humanitarian, a progressive, a Christian, and a Vincentian Catholic priest. Later in his career, John became a missionary in Kenya after a full life at the age of 73; he went to serve in Nyeri, Kenya. We all remember the wonderful letters he wrote from Kenya. Those beautiful letters showed us the depth of the man, his values, and what was important to him.

John was the youngest of a very large and deeply religious Catholic family from the Vincentian parish Holy Trinity in Dallas, Texas. John’s older brother, Fr. James Richardson, was also a Vincentian priest and the former Superior General of the worldwide Vincentians and Daughters of Charity. John’s older sister was a Daughter of Charity, and another older sister was an Ursalian nun.

John was a committed and devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. He lived the spiritual way as described in Matthew 5: 1-12 that was read moments ago. John lived the life of a blessed one by his devotion to simplicity, meekness, mercy, justice, peacemaking, service, and sacrifice.

I believe John would tell us today—at this moment—that one of the great blessings in his life was having many good friends. He would also tell us, “Get on with it, be bold, be courageous, and make this world better for all people. John would tell us to “keep it together,” “stay united,” and “do not let unimportant matters distract you from doing what is right and good.”

John, thank you for all the good you have done. Thank you for your example and your friendship. Pray for us, John, so we can emulate your commitment and passion for the Vincentian mission.