A modern man with an old message
By Fr. PETER de ROSA
FR. HUBERT J. RICH ARDS, recently appointed by Cardinal Heenan to be Principal of the new College of Catechetics at Chepstow Villas in London, is a man of many parts. He is about as far from the parsonic type of the 'Punch cartoon tradition as it is possible to be.
Quiet, modest, pipe-puffing. ever relaxed, he likes fast and dangerous things—such as fast (but careful) driving, skiing and mountaineering. His private study contains a huge shelf packed tight with records from Beethoven to the Beatles and on his wall hangs a guitar which he strums in his Jeisure moments with more than an amateur's touch. He has even given private performances of "sacred pops" to religious, including enclosed Carmelite nuns—"Pere Sourire" as one nun named him.
Besides the guitar, the wall is adorned with modern paintings commissioned by himself, pieces of pottery and other brit-i-brae culled in his travels, an Arah water bottle to help him in his journeys through the desert. and a sturdy grappling rope for rockclimbing.
Fr. Richards was born in Germany at Weilderstadt, birthplace of the famous astronomer Kepler, in 1921—nearer 1922, he insists with a touch of customary humour. In fact, he was born on Christmas Day.
When his parents came to England and sent him to FinchIcy Grammar School he would spend his Saturdays clad in a white apron serving in his father's butcher's shop in Portobello Road.
With his brother, a boy from the Jesuit College at Stamford Hill, he used to deliver orders to houses in the Bayswater area and to the numerous surrounding convents with which his father did business. When, therefore, he takes up residence in Chepstow Villas in September he will he returning to the scenes of many a childhood escapade and to streets of many memories.
Having studied at the Venerable English College (1940-1946), at that time billeted at St. Mary's Hall, Stonyhurst, and gained his licentiate in theology,' Fr. Richards was ordained priest in the parish church of the Sacred Heart at Ruislip. Afterwards he was sent to the Biblical Institute in Rome where after three years he gained his teaching degree in Scriptures. "Leatherpants" was what one of his teachers, a pungent little Jesuit, Fr. Dyson. used to call him, an illusion to his unflagging devotion to his studies.
Since 1949 Fr. Richards has been Professor of Sacred Scripture at St. Edmund's College, Old Hall. He has had a wide experience of lecturing at the Catechetical Centre (Lumen. Vitae) in Brussels and elsewhere, and this summer term he is due to he visiting lecturer at Christ's College, Liverpool, a new and forward looking institute for the training of teachers.
One of his favourite stories about himself is of a talk given at a joint meeting of Christians and Jews. Someone recorded the lecture on tape and played them over to an elderly nun who was too feeble to attend the meeting. She listened most intently and afterwards, referring to Fr. Richards' talk, said, "That young Rabbi is not far from the Church."
Although he has a fine grasp of German, French and Italian, and though he has taught Greek and Hebrew to the students of the Seminary, Fr. Richards is modest about his academic attainments. He looks on himself more as a propagandist of the Word of God than as an original researcher.
In his capacity as populariser he has written God Speaks To UN. an introduction to the Bible, which put the Where We Slam' students' series on its feet. He has also collaborated on the Grail version of the Psalter and written a couple of Pastoral Pub heat ions for the use of ins fellow clergy. He rgyhas besides contributed to many journals such as The Furrow, The Clergy Review, of which he is assistant editor, and Scripture, in which he wrote a biographical account of one of his trips to Palestine by jeep. As his numerous publications show, he was ahead of most of his contemporaries in his understanding of liturgy and in his efforts to demonstrate and develop the relationship between Scripture and liturgy.
In 1956 Fr. Richards began a lecture series to the Sion nuns. This venture has blossomed so that at present he lectures regularly to a group of five hundred people in the hall of the French Church at Leicester Square. This is why. apart from priests and lay teachers, there are to be seen on Tuesday evenings clusters of nuns looking like well-trained platoons of penguins striding purposefully through the brightly-lit streets of London.
His audiences all over the country, but especially at St. Edmund's, will testify to Fr. Richards' sympathy and charm. Always an essentially practical and pastoral priest he possesses what David Hume called a "gross earthly mixture".
He has striven for, and attained, a great simplicity in teaching methods. He has gathered together, for example, a small library of coloured slides to illustrate his talks wherever possible.
He has ruthlessly eliminated from his vocabulary all scholastic and bureaucratic jargon and shows a marked preference for plain Anglo-Saxon words and for image-thinking, which he claims is truly Semitic. When Christ was asked "Who is my neighbour?", he likes to say, he did not give a definition but told a story. Such is his own method.
All in all Fr. Hubert Richards would seem to he an admirable choice as Principal of the new Catechetical Centre—even allowing for a possible, faint romanticising of a friend and colleague. He has looked upon his whole academic career simply as a priestly tusk, as a means and an opportunity of communicating the truth about God.
With his varied teaching experience and his long-standing desire to express divine truths in intelligible English he is wellqualified to teach teachers how to communicate the Gospel message of salvation.
Such teachers from the ranks of clergy, religious and laity will he needed in ever-growing numbers if those thousands of children who will find no places in Catholic schools in future years are to be well educated in the faith.
Fr. Richards has the enthusiasm, the skill and the learning necessary for this new venture. May God grant him the health and the grace to commence in good heart this monumental task which has been entrusted to him.