I wrote the post on Father David Richter early Sunday morning, almost immediately upon hearing of his sudden and unexpected death, a death which came only three days after the passing of his own mother. After three phone calls, with vision blurred by tears that would not cease, I sat at the computer and wrote. I poured it all out as I usually do, knowing that I would come back to it later and clean it up, make sense of it, try to make it worthy of the man it represented. As I waited throughout the morning for an official, public social media announcement from our Bishop or Vicar General, I read and re-read what I had written. Surprisingly, I changed nothing. Once I was certain my writing would not be the initial notification of his death to anyone close to him, I published it. The outpouring of sympathy and prayers for Father’s family and even for us was overwhelming.
Father Dave’s family is now preparing for a double-funeral on Saturday, where we will mourn together as we commend to our Creator the exceptional souls of him and his mother. To be honest, I have always expected Father Dave to celebrate my funeral Mass. Attending his feels like taking a fastball to the cheekbone.
And so I write through the grief.
Sometimes, in the moving and re-assigning of priests within a diocese, we grow considerably attached to one in particular. The priest becomes a staple in our lives and at our gatherings. We claim him as our own. We invite him into our homes and into our families. We call him for everything. We ask him to baptize our children and visit our sick relatives. We give him the comfy recliner when he comes over to watch a football game. We weep a bit, and we keep in touch when he is reassigned to another parish. We make a point to meet up whenever he is in town. For the Mainiero family and a small portion of Ebarbs in Shreveport, Father Dave was ours.
As much as our family embraced Father Dave, his mother embraced us. She, too, became family. I recall her offering gentle advice before my wedding, when she said to me, “The wedding reception is just a celebration. Be sure you plan for the marriage. The life you two will have together – that’s the real party.”
From my perspective her own marriage seemed one to emulate. When Father Dave was pastor of St. Elizabeth and we would all gather for Sunday morning Mass, I would see Mr. & Mrs. Richter seated about four pews ahead, always together, always smiling. Even from my vantage point behind them I could see their bond, their faithfulness. And I could certainly see parental joy radiate from both of them every time their son celebrated Mass.
Mrs. Richter was proud of all her boys. No one who knew her, even on a limited basis, could ever doubt that she had immense reverence for who her sons are. She spoke so highly of them that I respected each of Father Dave’s brothers long before I met them. I assumed that my own mother-in-law’s duty to Father Dave as his secretary and the resulting care for all things that concerned him was the impetus that initially bonded Charolette and Mrs. Richter. I later came to understand it was likely the shared experience of mothering all boys, together with a fierce love and protection for their families, that solidified their friendship.
It feels natural to celebrate with gratitude the life of Mrs. Richter and the gift of her friendship to us. It is painful for me to think of Father Dave in past tense. My heart, along with thousands of others, is broken with his death. As I struggled to wrap my head around why this happened – a question I know I cannot answer – I imagined a scenario in which Mrs. Richter, upon entering Heaven, saw something that wasn’t quite right. Then, straightening to her full height and with a glint in her narrowed eyes she stated succinctly, “Well. My David can fix this!” And modeling his life after the Master whom he served, Father Dave simply would not deny his mother’s request.
We will each struggle in the days ahead to reconcile our gratitude for a life long-lived and our ache for a life cut short. I thank God that this faith which we share affords us the peace of knowing that we will see these two beautiful souls again.