Democrat Photo by Jeanne Sager
FATHERS GUS RICHARDSON, left, and Ignatius Smith first met at St. Joseph's Seminary in Callicoon 50 years ago and wound up with parishes in the county.
50 Years Later, Priests
Are Still Together
By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY September 12, 2006 The very word defining their faith means universal, and indeed Fathers Ignatius Smith and Gus Richardson have traversed the universe together.
And theyve come full circle.
It was 50 years ago that the priest from Holy Cross parish in Callicoon and St. Marys parish in Obernburg were ordained together.
But before that the boy from Washington, D.C. and the boy from Elmira met at St. Josephs, a small Franciscan seminary overlooking Callicoon.
They spent their first years at college learning the ways of St. Francis of Assisi, adopting the habits of the friars.
From there, Smith and Richardson were sent together to study at their novitiate in Patterson, NJ for a year and a day, then on to Croghan for a year of philosophy.
The class spent a year in Butler, NJ studying theology before heading to Holy Name College in Washington, D.C. for three more years of theology.
It was there that Smith and Richardson were ordained together on the mount in the Franciscan Monastery on June 12, 1956.
But Pope Pius XII added a fifth year of theology studies to the friars schooling, sending Richardson and Smith on to Boston, Mass. for one more year before the church sent them out to spread the Franciscans simple message of peace and love.
The priests in brown robes with a rope tied around their waist, live out the Gospel of the Roman Catholic church in the model of St. Francis.
Catholics in Western Sullivan County have long identified with those brown robes even as the Franciscans have been forced to cut ties with parishes in Sullivan because of a lack of vocations. The seminary itself was closed in the 1970s, the imposing bluestone building on the hill overlooking Callicoon sold to the U.S. Department of Labor.
But Smith and Richardson returned to the area Father Iggy 11 years ago when he took the post as priest to Holy Cross in Callicoon and St. Patricks in Long Eddy, Father Gus 10 years ago when he took over the historic St. Marys in Obernburg, the first Roman Catholic parish ever opened in Sullivan County.
Saturday, a surprise party in Smiths honor culminated a summer of celebrations for the two priests that began in June with a ceremony in Butler.
The party was the second at the Rockland House in Roscoe (the first, held in Richardsons honor, went off in August), and it drew guests from Texas, Virginia and beyond to congratulate a priest who has touched thousands with his sardonic wit and belief that we are all Gods children.
Few people in the world change the lives of people they come in contact with, said Marie Graby of the Holy Cross Parish Council, her voice cracking as tears formed. Some rare people change a few.
You, Father, have touched the lives of thousands.
Margaret and Paul Murphy drove from the Boston area for Saturdays dinner.
Paul attended St. Joes (as the seminary is fondly remembered) for two years with Richardson and Smith before opting out of the priesthood and marrying Margaret.
Theyve retained close ties with Joe (Smiths name before he took on the identity of Saint Ignatius) and Gus.
Margaret relayed a tale that she said explains Smith to a T.
She made him a sandwich when he was visiting their Massachusetts home, then sent him on his way.
It was only after Smith left that Margaret realized there was mold on the bread.
He never told her. He never complained.
Hes just such a gentle man, she said. You cant help but be attracted to him.
Joe isnt like St. Francis he is St. Francis, she continued. If St. Francis walked among us, its in people like Joe.
And he has that wonderful dry sense of humor that makes it all seem so easy.
Smith and Richardson work off of each other well, Margaret continued. Smith is funny, and Richardson is funny in a way because he isnt quite as funny, you know what I mean?
Lets face it, Margaret said. Its a rarity these days that a man makes it 50 years and hasnt chased women or abused children or cheated . . . and these two men havent.
Father Ignatius Smith O.F.M.
Smith, raised behind the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C., had just graduated from high school when he left home for Callicoon.
He became a priest, he said, because God made me decide.
He spent almost 11 years preaching the Word of Christ in Brazil before returning to the states and joining the United States Navy as a chaplain.
He spent 231&Mac218;2 years in the military, traveling first on a hospital ship, the U.S.S. Sanctuary and later on an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Nimitz.
After his retirement, Smith spent short stints in a number of churches in the states before the Franciscans sent him back to Callicoon to take over Holy Cross and St. Patricks.
His stories of his travels and travails from the altar over the past 11 years have marked him as the peoples priest.
After 23 years working with young men and women in the military, Smith revived the focus on the families of Holy Cross.
He brought back the Catholic Youth Organization for the teens and began throwing parties at every possible occasion (summer picnics and Halloween costume contests).
Sermons are less like lectures and more like story-time the Childrens Mass on Christmas Eve is a favorite because Iggy brings out his grandmothers quilt for the youth of the church to gather round.
And a screaming baby is no match for Iggys time on the altar he picks them up and carries them off, jiggling baby in his arms as he spins his tales.
Smith said he loves the area, the people and the work.
Its been wonderful ever since I got here, he said.
Father John Gus Richardson
Raised in Elmira, Richardson was familiar with the brown robed-friars of St. Josephs Seminary.
The priests often traveled to his parish on weekends to help, and when Richardson heard a call to the priesthood, he decided to follow them back to Callicoon.
It was climbing the steep hill that led to St. Joes that Richardson earned his nickname.
A band of brothers welcomed the newbie, and decided he looked like a Gus!
The name stuck. Today Gus is as synonymous with St. Marys as Smile, God Loves You, the phrase that ends every Mass atop the hill in Obernburg.
Like Smith, Richardson left his fifth year of theology studies ready to see the world.
He was sent to Brazil, where he spent eight years traveling the state of Goyaz preaching the Gospel.
His parish was the size of the state of Connecticut and some towns had Mass just once a month, but Richardson found a faithful people in Brazil.
A lot of our parish could not read or write, but they had this great Amen . . . you could feel like they were taking off the roof of the church.
They really yelled it, which they dont here they mumble it.
Returning to the states, Richardson was assigned to a large parish in the business district of Boston where they held 54 Masses on a typical Sunday.
Four years later, he too followed the military ordinaria and became chaplain at the VA Hospital in West Haven, Conn. where he stayed for 22 years.
Richardson became one of the first Catholic chaplains on the Yale Medical School staff and started a work program for the psychiatric patients at the hospital.
Upon his retirement, Richardson was offered a chance to become chief of the VA chaplain service for the entire country, but he turned it down.
I didnt want to just do office work as a priest, he said.
Instead the church sent him out into the field, first to Boston, then Providence, RI and then on to New York City.
Ten years ago, Father Fabian Flynn in Obernburg fell ill and Richardson offered to fill in temporarily.
I came and I was here about four days when [the vice provincial] called and said, How are you doing, do you like it? Richardson recalled.
I said very much, and he asked if I wanted to stay.
That week Richardson also became the proud owner of a new dog. Muffin, and later Katie, have become the unofficial mascots of St. Marys and Smith fills in as baby-sitter when Richardson vacations.
Richardson is content in Obernburg.
I like the parish very much the people are terrific, and I like working with the kids, he said. When youre working with kids, it keeps you young!
And maybe thats the secret Smith and Richardson, who came to Sullivan County as teenagers in the 1940s, have the youth in mind.
Even as they celebrate 50 years in the priesthood, they are looking to the future of the church.
And as Richardson would say to them all, smile, because God loves you very much.