By GRETCHEN KEISER, Staff Writer | Published September 22, 2005
Father Richard Kieran celebrated his 40th anniversary as a priest in June, and he was honored at a Mass and reception at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, the parish where he was first assigned when he arrived from Ireland in 1965.
The church was filled with people who have known him for many years, including about 10 priest concelebrants, deacons, sisters, and laymen and women.
His brother, Father John Kieran, pastor of St. Pius X Church in Conyers, was the principal celebrant of the Mass on June 19. His brother and sister-in-law, Eugene and Rosemarie Kieran, and a cousin, Desmond, attended.
The church itself was significant, Father John said. “The first night he slept in the United States was here at IHM. Richard has a deep, deep love for this place.”
Assisting at the Mass were Deacon Jerry Connell and Deacon Jim Stewart, both longtime close friends of Father Richard, and the lectors were Phyllis Wigton and Raul Trujillo, who read in Spanish.
Among priest concelebrants were Father John Adamski, Father Paul Berny, Father Tony Curran, Father Jack Druding, Father Dan Fleming, Father Joe Peek, Father Jim Schillinger, Father Daniel Toof, Father Fred Wendel and Father Steve Yander.
Ordained June 20, 1965, at St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland, Father Richard, 65, has served as pastor of various archdiocesan parishes, including IHM, St. Joseph in Athens, St. Anna in Monroe, St. Michael in Gainesville and Holy Family in Marietta.
He has also been the rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta, a high school teacher and principal, and Secretary for Catholic Education from 1974-82. He became the first spiritual director of the Cursillo movement in the archdiocese in1966, after taking part in a weekend as a newly ordained parochial vicar at IHM. His entire priesthood has been intertwined with the lay renewal movement as he remained the spiritual director for 17 years and then continued to be a teacher and leader. To facilitate the Spanish-language Cursillo to begin here, he taught himself Spanish. He celebrated the first Spanish Masses in the archdiocese and served as the head of the Hispanic Apostolate in its formative years.
In 1999, while pastor in Gainesville, he suffered a major brain hemorrhage and, following surgery, has had to retire from active ministry and experience ongoing therapy and rehabilitation. Yet his lively friendships and role as a spiritual father to Cursillistas, many permanent deacons, and others keep him a constant part of life in the archdiocese.
At the Mass he was able to stand at the altar as a concelebrant and join in the eucharistic prayers. The full church applauded warmly as Father John spoke of his jubilarian brother.
After Mass, before a buffet reception, Father Richard thanked those who came and blessed them.
“It is a great blessing to be back at IHM,” he said. “All of you are good friends and I ask God to bless each and every one of you.”
In his homily, which focused upon “do not be afraid of those who kill the body” (Mt 10: 26-33), Father John spoke of missionary Sister Dorothy Stang, who was killed in Brazil, where she had worked for decades, because she defended indigenous people against loggers and others who were taking the land where the poor live. A witness to her killing said she took out her Bible as armed men approached her and read to them, saying she was armed only with the word of God.
“Her killers listened for a moment, took a few steps back, and fired,” Father John said. “There is no doubt that Sister Dorothy followed Jesus’ command to fear no one . . . I am impressed that Sister Dorothy was carrying a Bible as she walked along that dirt road in the Amazon wilderness. In a moment of great danger she took out her Bible and read the word of God.”
Scripture teaches Christians not to fear, but to trust, he continued, as Jeremiah, the prophet read in the first reading of the Mass, trusted God.
Turning to the jubilee event, Father John said that priests ordained 40 years ago were in the seminary during the Second Vatican Council. “We listened and watched with great enthusiasm the unfolding of the ‘aggiornamento’ initiated by Pope John. Now 40 years later we look back and assess the progress of updating the church and the part we played.”
He said, “There is a consensus throughout the archdiocese that Father Richard, by his teaching and example, played a major role in implementing the spirit and message of Vatican II in our diocese. And all of us would like to thank you for that.”
One strong message from the council was that Catholics needed to study more deeply and know more intimately the word of God, he added. Father Richard for years had a sign on his desk, his brother said, that proclaimed a verse: “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel!”
“That verse embodied the task that you set for yourself: to preach the Gospel in season or out; when convenient or inconvenient,” Father John said. “Your model was St. Paul and your conviction lay in the ‘power’ of God’s word.”
His brother’s Bible is “a mess” of underlining, highlighted sections in various colors, words written on the side, and every page is adorned with this graffiti, Father John added.
“This was his way of getting into the word …Always trying to better understand, always trying to connect with everyday life, always trying to let the ‘power’ of God’s word ‘penetrate’ and reveal God’s message for the ‘now.’”
As a result of his own faithfulness to Scripture, Father Richard has “led hundreds into a new appreciation of God’s word resulting in parish renewals, a diaconate formation program, discipleship formation and Bible study,” Father John said. “Thanks to your work, Richard, our Bibles are no longer bookshelf ornaments. Rather we proclaim the Bible as the powerhouse of God’s love and inspiration.”
“As we honor Richard may each of us resolve to better appreciate the power of God’s holy word, living and active within us,” he concluded.
Afterward the celebration continued at a reception planned by Leslie Stewart Carney.