By ERIKA ANDERSON REDDING, Special to the Bulletin | Published July 7, 2016
CUMMING—Cars lined the street, filled every available parking space, and took over the Church of the Good Shepherd’s lawn, as thousands filled the church to thank Father Frank Richardson for his years of service.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated the Mass that honored Good Shepherd’s pastor, who is retiring after more than 20 years as a priest in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Several priests joined the archbishop for the Mass, which featured liturgical themes and music from Father Richardson’s native Ireland.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory spoke of the significance of the parish’s name.
“Good Shepherd! It’s a fine name for a parish. But it’s an even better name for a pastor,” he said. “It’s a name that ultimately refers to Christ himself but is also a reminder of the task that the Lord imposes on those who share his sacred priesthood—to become, or at least try to be, a good shepherd.”
It’s a “lifelong challenge” for priests to become good shepherds, the archbishop said.
“Most of us struggle to fulfill that task, and usually with some successes and some failures,” he said. “But all of us priests and bishops must try to never tire of attempting to be a good shepherd for our people.”
Archbishop Gregory spoke of the disciples, most of whom had trades before Jesus called them to follow him.
“It was thus also for Father Frank Richardson in his beloved Ireland. He was employed with the insurance industry before he decided to become the Lord’s priest. He also dabbled in racehorses before heading to the seminary,” the archbishop said, as the crowd laughed. “You might wish to ask him if he enjoyed any great success with those racehorses, because he has been truly successful in becoming a good shepherd to the people of God here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.”
The archbishop specifically pointed out Father Ignacio Morales, affectionately known as Father “Nacho,” who served as a parochial vicar at Good Shepherd for five years. Father Richardson and Father Morales were known for their tight—and humorous—bond.
“From a selfish point of view, I thank (Father Richardson) for his wise and good example for the young priests assigned to this parish. Nacho, be quiet,” Archbishop Gregory said, as attendees cheered.
“The seminary can only teach a candidate so much about being a priest. The examples of other priests, the example of mentors, colleagues, pastors and friends must complete the work of preparing young priests to become good shepherds.”
Entered seminary at 46
Following Mass, which concluded with the echoing sounds of bagpipes, well-wishers made their way to the Parish Life Center. Tables were decorated with golf tees and printed Irish blessings. A slideshow led by parishioner Steve Pankow depicted the life of Father Richardson and included special guest speakers, many of whom poked fun at Father Richardson’s golf game and great love of Irish beer.
“You are a wonderful disciple of Christ and we thank you for being the best thing Ireland ever exported, including Guinness,” Pankow said, as the crowd raised champagne glasses to toast the priest.
Father Richardson grew up in Ireland, the third youngest of 15 children. When he was just 15 years old, Father Richardson began working in the insurance industry, where he stayed with great success for more than 30 years. But in 1974, Father Richardson was in his Dublin office when a car bomb exploded outside. It was one of three bombs that blasted Dublin and nearby cities that day, killing 33 people. It was a day that changed his life forever. After struggling with the aftermath of the trauma that he’d experienced, Father Richardson turned to God in his desperation. He promised that if God would help him, he would consider the priesthood. It took nearly 15 more years, but Father Richardson made good on his promise. He entered the seminary at the age of 46 after seeing an ad that recruited priests for the Atlanta Archdiocese. He was ordained in 1993.
He served as a parochial vicar at Holy Family Church in Marietta. His first pastorate was at Our Lady of the Mount in Lookout Mountain, where he first discovered his love for the mountains. In 1999, he began serving as pastor of St. Thomas More Church in Decatur, where he stayed for four years. He then served as pastor of St. Andrew Church in Roswell, followed by Our Lady of the Mountains in Jasper. Since 2009, he has served as pastor of Good Shepherd.
Special concern for the sick, dying
Parishioners from several parishes where Father Richardson had served spoke at the reception.
Jim Girard, a parishioner of St. Thomas More, spoke of the influential friendship he’d developed with Father Richardson when he was their pastor.
“When I first met Father Frank, I didn’t drink Guinness, but now I do. When I first met Father Frank, I didn’t golf, and now that’s all I do,” he said. “When I first met Father Frank, I wasn’t sure there was a Holy Spirit, but now I know there is.”
Nick Dalba, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Mountains, spoke about the tremendous growth the parish underwent while Father Richardson was pastor. Under his leadership, the church went from a mission to a parish.
“Today we have 600 registered parishioners. Under Father Frank’s leadership, we paid off a $283,000 expansion loan in three years,” Dalba said. “Father Frank gave us a great start as a stand-alone parish.”
Though respected for his abilities as a leader, Father Richardson is most loved for his pastoral gifts. Good Shepherd parishioner Mike Luscre was tearful when speaking of his pastor.
“There’s very little not to like about him. I wrote him a short note,” he said. “I believe our friendship will continue.”
Luscre, who also worked in the same insurance firm as Father Richardson, said that he has a signature sendoff when concluding Mass.
“He always says, ‘Bless you and your families,’” Luscre said. “I think that sort of captures the spirit of who he is.”
Bob Frey led the planning committee for Father Richardson’s retirement Mass. He said the priest’s greatest gift is in caring for people when they’re most in need.
“Oftentimes when he gets a call that someone is in the hospital he’ll beat the family to the emergency room,” Frey said. “My son-in-law was diagnosed with cancer at 42. … Father Frank visited him in the hospital every day.”
And Father Richardson also believes that caring for the sick is of the utmost importance in his ministry.
“The sacraments are great, and the Mass is great, but I get more pleasure out of visiting the sick and giving last rites than anything else,” he said. “When someone is dying, you can see the change in them and know that they’re ready. Being there is a great privilege.”
Father Richardson will retire to his home in the mountains, but he will remain active as a priest part-time, serving where he is needed in the archdiocese. He said he was extremely moved by the retirement festivities and the love his parishioners showed him.
“It was beyond what I expected. I thought there’d be a decent crowd, but it was just amazing,” he said. “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. But I came close.”