Guild forms to examine Father Gabriel Richard for sainthood

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published October 2, 2020

 Father Gabriel Richard, well known for his impact on Michigan history, will now be considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church.

Father Gabriel Richard, well known for his impact on Michigan history, will now be considered for sainthood by the Roman Catholic Church.

Image provided by Kristen Andree

 The Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit will lead the charge in examining the life and impact of Father Gabriel Richard to determine whether the 19th century priest might qualify for sainthood.

The Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit will lead the charge in examining the life and impact of Father Gabriel Richard to determine whether the 19th century priest might qualify for sainthood.

Photo provided by Kristen Andree

DETROIT — Roman Catholic Church officials have begun the process of examining the life of Father Gabriel Richard to see if he qualifies for sainthood.

Richard was a late 18th and early 19th century Catholic priest known for authoring Detroit’s motto, founding educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, and ministering to the sick during a cholera epidemic while he was pastor at the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit.

Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron has granted the Ste. Anne parish permission to establish a guild that will study the life and materials of Richard. This study will determine if there is sufficient evidence to recommend to Vigneron that an official cause for the canonization of Richard be opened.

“This year we are having our third annual exhibit on the life and service of Father Gabriel Richard,” said Ste. Anne’s pastor Monsignor Charles Kosanke. “In preparing for the exhibit, we had kids’ letters in French translated into English. One letter was dated six weeks after his death and how he was ministering to the cholera epidemic and his other great works. This letter struck me as yet another piece of evidence from a contemporary. I went to Archbishop Vigneron to ask if he gave me permission to begin stage one of the canonization process, and he gave the green light after reviewing the information.”

The guild will be formed by members of the Ste. Anne community, experts in the life of Richard, and other historians to examine the life of Richard and the example he set.

“Everyone here at Ste. Anne’s is very excited about this guild,” remarked Kristen Andree, Ste. Anne’s director of the Apostolic Center. “I’ve been familiarizing myself with the process. It is a fairly uncommon thing. I think it’s such a worthy cause to examine the life of a great man who spent his life doing the right thing even when it landed him in jail. I hope, if nothing else, people learn more about his life.”

The process toward sainthood in the Catholic Church is a lengthy one, and the forming of this guild is merely the first step.

“There’s six stages for canonization, but this is the first,” Kosanke said. “I don’t know if Richard will ever be a saint, but this begins that process. Father Solanus Casey’s process began the year after his death in 1958 and it took until last year for it to happen. This first stage is about gathering information from Detroit and Baltimore, which is the U.S. headquarters of the Sulpician (Order), and Paris, which is the world headquarters, as well as Rome. We also will be looking at the University of Michigan because it also has a lot of information on Father Richard.”

A significant aspect of the study is not merely what Richard did in life, but also the potential for miracles related to Richard following his death.

“I like showing a perspective of his life. It’s easy to look back at someone and rattle off a list of things he did, but Father Richard didn’t look at things like that,” said Andree. “I like to impress upon people God’s perspective on people and how we look at people.”

The cause for sainthood can start and stop over the course of several decades, and in some cases centuries.

“After research is completed and we think we have everything that exists on Father Richard, we move on to stage two,” explained Kosanke. “We turn it over to Archbishop Vigneron and he consults with the bishops of Michigan and then send the request to Rome to give them the green light to proceed. A team of experts that are theologians and church lawyers look at it all to see if there is good cause for the cause for sainthood to move forward. If there’s not, the process stops. If there is, then it moves into stage three and that is when Father Richard is called a ‘Servant of God,’ the first of four titles in the process.”

The existence of at least one miracle related to Richard that occurred after his death would be required for him to be declared a saint.

“Stage four is when a petition to Rome is made and they review it,” Kosanke continued. “If they think there’s sufficient evidence, they recommend the pope declare him venerable. Some people only reach this stage and it stops. Father Solanus Casey was venerable for several decades. The fifth stage is when a miracle is confirmed, and this is something which is very strictly declared. They want to make sure there was no other explanation. We don’t know of any miracles attributed to Father Richard as of yet, but the miracles have to occur after his death because that attests he has achieved entry into heaven. Part of the guild will be asking people to consider prayers for healing by praying to Father Richard to intercede on their behalf to God.”

The guild plans on meeting for the first time before Christmas.

“This guild will promote the life, ministry and example of Father Richard and will raise money to pay people to do research and so forth. The contributions from those parts of this guild are pretty modest, and the expenses add up,” Kosanke said. “We have a new tab on our website about the guild. ... We have an online membership form they can submit. It’s at www.ste-anne.org.”

Richard has long been a local hero for many in the Detroit area, but Andree said most people don’t know much about him. She and Kosanke hope they can change that.

“If people are from further afield, they don’t know much about him. I am from Bloomfield and I didn’t know much except some schools were named after him,” she said. “I like teaching people how much of a tireless worker he was. He was a proponent of education, he served in Congress, he had a fish farm — he was a renaissance man.”