Fr. Richard was also a “strong promoter of education” and helped to found a school in 1808 to “educate native American and white children together to break down racial barriers,” according to the Ste. Anne biography of the priest.
In August of 1817, together with Rev. John Monteith, Fr. Richard founded the University of Michigan.
In 1823, Fr. Richard was elected as a territorial delegate to the 18th U.S. Congress, the first Roman Catholic priest to hold Congressional office. According to Catlin, some other candidates for the position “laughed” at the idea of the priest as a representative, as he was not an American citizen and spoke in broken English.
But his run could not be considered a joke. Though a non-voting member, he presented 16 petitions to Congress within the first two months of holding the office. In April 1824, he proposed his now-famous idea to build a long road linking Detroit and Chicago, today known as Michigan Avenue.
Fr. Richard lost re-election and resumed his pastoral activities, and was “always on hand in crises,” Catlin wrote. When cholera struck the city, now with some 4,000 inhabitants, in the summer of 1832, Fr. Richard “nursed the sick, comforted the dying, and performed the burial rites over many.”
In September 1832, the priest “was himself stricken with the disease and in a few hours he was dead at the age of 65,” according to Catlin.
His death was “mourned as a calamity” among both Catholics and Protestants, who had admired the priest so much that they had asked him to serve as their clergyman before they had their own minister in the city.
“It is particularly poignant now, amid the difficulties of the pandemic, to be starting on this journey studying the life of a beloved pastor who died while caring for the sick,” Msgr. Kosanke, the basilica rector, told The Detroit News.
Kosanke explained to The Detroit Catholic that the guild to examine the life and works of Fr. Richard is just an “exploratory phase” and does not guarantee that an official canonization cause for the priest will be opened.
“It’s just establishing the guild to do the research. Once the research has been done and we believe his life does reflect heroic virtue or holiness worth promoting, the archbishop has to consult the other bishops in the province - in our case, Michigan. If the archbishop believes, along with the other bishops of Michigan, that this is worth going forward, that’s when the cause is formally opened,” he said.
If his cause were to be opened, he would join four other men from Michigan whose causes for sainthood are officially opened, including Blessed Solanus Casey, Venerable Bishop Frederic Baraga, Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ, and Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ.
(Story continues below)
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