Father Richard Eldredge, who served in Diocese of Fort Worth for 24 years, dies at 78

by Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

North Texas Catholic

December 30, 2019

Father Richard Eldredge (Photo courtesy Good Shepherd Church)Father Richard Eldredge (Photo courtesy Good Shepherd Church)
Father Richard Eldredge (Photo courtesy Good Shepherd Church)

COLLEYVILLE ­— “Father Richard [Eldredge] was a ‘giant’ presence at Good Shepherd Catholic Community. I’m sure this good man was greeted by many family and friends at heaven’s gate,” commented parishioner Vicki Heminger after learning of her pastor’s death. “We are all better for having known him.”

Many North Texas Catholics filled the Colleyville parish’s Facebook page with similar expressions of love, respect, and admiration for the Franciscan friar as news of his passing spread across the diocese.

Father Richard Eldredge, TOR, died December 28 at Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano after an extended illness. He was 78.

A 7 p.m. vigil service on Thursday, January 2 at Good Shepherd Church, 1000 Tinker Road, Colleyville, will follow visitation beginning at 5 p.m. Father Joseph Lehman, TOR, provincial, will preside. Bishop Michael Olson will serve as principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass of Christian Burial set for 2 p.m., Friday, January 3.

“He was a wonderful man,” remembered Marilyn McGough who met the soft-spoken priest when he came to serve rural Catholics living in Seymour, Texas in 1998. “I loved his homilies.”

As pastor of Sacred Heart Church for nine years, he designed and supervised construction of a pastoral center.

“It is a wonderful place compared to what we had,” added the longtime religious education volunteer who recalled having classes in a cold lumberyard. “It’s a lasting legacy to his time here.”

Born in New Jersey, Fr. Richard decided to become a Franciscan after teaching psychology for several years at Community College of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh, Pa. He entered the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in Loretto, Pa. as a postulant in 1973 and professed first vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience on July 1, 1975. A solemn profession of vows was made three years later.

True to his vocation as a Franciscan, Fr. Richard lived a remarkably simple life, said Father Ronald Mohnickey, TOR, parochial vicar at Good Shepherd.

“He gave most of his income away,” the priest said, explaining how the pastor sent money to retired friars in Loretto or channeled gifts and resources back into the parish. “As friars, we get a stipend but he never kept anything for himself.”

After earning a master’s degree in divinity from St. Francis Seminary in Loretto, Fr. Richard was ordained to the priesthood on November 25, 1978. He later completed doctoral studies in psychology at Duquesne University and taught at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio and St. Francis College in Loretto. From 1988 to 1992, the professionally trained spiritual director supervised the formation of friars who were preparing for solemn vows and the priesthood.

Fr. Richard’s 24-year tenure in the Diocese of Fort Worth began at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Arlington where he was appointed parochial vicar in 1995. Assigned to Seymour’s Sacred Heart Church in 1998, the friar served there until he was transferred to Good Shepherd in 2007 where he became the parish’s first resident pastor. During his 12 years as leader of the faith community, the congregation almost doubled in size, according to Fr. Mohnickey who worked alongside Fr. Richard for five years.

“He was absolutely dedicated to the parish and took enormous pride in it,” the parochial vicar observed. “Because the parish had grown and become so complex, he spent a great deal of time planning quietly in his office.”

Described as upbeat and sociable, the skilled counselor was very pastoral and generous with his time. In addition to his parish duties, Fr. Richard served on the College of Consultors and Priest Council for the Diocese of Fort Worth and the Franciscan’s Provincial Council from 2015 to 2019.

“He would advise the [diocesan] tribunal on some marriage issues,” Fr. Mohnickey explained. “Sometimes he looked stern, but on a pastoral level, he was enormously gentle.”

When Greg Dunn began discerning a vocation to religious life, he turned to Fr. Richard for guidance.

“After telling me about his own decision to become a Franciscan friar, he gave me a book off his shelf with the assurance of his continued support and prayers,” recounted Dunn, who was a high school junior at the time.

Sitting in the pews of Good Shepherd, he witnessed the priest’s pastoral sensitivity and appreciated his natural role as teacher that came from his years of classroom experience.

“Week after week, I saw his reverence for the Lord’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and in our community,” Dunn continued. “He was a consistent and gentle shepherd. He loved us.”

After learning of Fr. Richard’s death, the former parishioner, now a Dominican brother, found comfort in a homily the late pastor once gave based on John 13:3, “He had come from God and was returning to God.”

“I was struck by how profoundly Fr. Richard, himself, understood he had come from God and was returning to God — the rhythm of the Paschal Mystery and his life participating in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus,” Brother Dunn said. “This gave me great peace even in the sadness of Fr. Richard’s death.”

Fr. Richard is survived by his brother, Darwin, nephew Craig, niece Kim Alsobrook and husband Mark, as well as grandnieces, grandnephews, and members of his Franciscan community.

COLLEYVILLE ­— “Father Richard [Eldredge] was a ‘giant’ presence at Good Shepherd Catholic Community. I’m sure this good man was greeted by many family and friends at heaven’s gate,” commented parishioner Vicki Heminger after learning of her pastor’s death. “We are all better for having known him.”

Published (until 12/29/2039)
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