'I'm a happy priest'- Monsignor Kenneth Richards shares his experience as a man of the cloth

Published: Sunday | November 1, 2009

Athaliah Reynolds, Staff Reporter

Father Kenneth Richards

THE WEEKEND before he was scheduled to sit the entrance exam to join the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), Monsignor Kenneth Richards changed his mind and took up the invitation to attend a preparatory seminary for priests - an unlikely choice for a young man from a large St Catherine family, who enjoyed the movies and parties and wanted to have a family of his own one day.

"The grace of God", or divine intervention is how Monsignor Richards describes his conversion to Catholicism and his eventual journey into the priesthood.

"It's not something that I conceived for myself, so it is definitely the grace of God that has brought me to where I am," he recently told The Sunday Gleaner during an interview at his offices at the Holy Trinity Cathedral on George Headley Drive in Kingston.

was not interested

He admits that when he was first asked by one of his friends to attend an aspirancy meeting for the priesthood he jokingly told him, "I am not interested in this priest business because I want to get married and have 12 children."

Monsignor Richards, however, confessed that he later recognised that when God calls you and you understand what the call is about, you make the commitment.

With a sense of purpose and determination, he entered the seminary at the young age of 19, after spending two years in Montego Bay, St James, at a preparatory seminary.

He later went on to the St Michael's Seminary and the University of the West Indies where he completed his bachelor's degree in theology.

He was officially ordained at age 27 and after 24 years of service, he was recently conferred with the title monsignor.

challenging journey

Monsignor Richards admits that the journey has been long and sometimes challenging, but "I've not regretted it. I'm a happy priest", he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Over the years, he has spent much of his time serving in the inner cities and war-torn communities of Jamaica, including Waterhouse and Seaview Gardens in Kingston.

He says that his time spent in Waterhouse was some of his most challenging years, as this was during some of the community's most troubled years, in terms of gun violence and strife. "I must say it was frightening, because you heard the gunshots throughout the day," he said.

Monsignor Richards nevertheless admits that these were also some of his most rewarding years, as he worked along with the Ministers' Fraternal to mitigate the circumstances that caused the war in the community.

The Roman Catholic priest says he believes whole-heartedly in the ministry of presence, as it is hard to truly minister to and reach individuals from the confines of the church building.

"Ministry of presence is important," he purports. "Sometimes as ministers we can pontificate from inside the Church and tell people what they should do, but we need to engage people," he said.

" To immerse myself in the community, I used to go to the street dances to pray at nights. I would wake up at about 11 or midnight and then I'd put on my clerics, go out on the street corners and just mingle with the crowd. And then I'd ask for the mic and say a prayer for peace in the community," he said.

He said eventually, the residents became so accustomed to his presence and his willingness to pray with them that they would begin to invite him to their functions, often asking him to "come and bless the dance".

Monsignor Richards said he would also make an effort to attend the community football matches, sometimes even travelling with the team outside of the parish to their away games. He also made a habit of travelling to his pastoral visits on a bicycle instead of in a car so he could maintain a link with the members of the community.

Responding to whether he believed Jamaicans had grown disillusioned with the Church, Monsignor Richards said he believed most Jamaicans still respected the Church and pastors.

He, however, admits that the actions of some have tarnished the ministry, especially with what has happened internationally with a few Catholic priests. "But, of course, when you do an analysis, it's less than two per cent of the priests who have caused the kinds of scandals that have existed in the Catholic Church, and so those of us who are priests must recognise that we have a responsibility and an obligation to maintain the integrity of who we say we are," he said.

responsibility to lead

He says this is critical, especially in terms of the Church's responsibility to lead the moral transformation, which is required for Jamaica's further development.

"The current social conditions are frightening," he said. "You have to ask God what is happening."

He says the Church and school must play the primary roles in bringing about change, particularly as it concerns the nation's youth, who have fallen prey to crime and violence and moral deprivation.

"Families play an important part, too, but a lot of our families are dysfunctional, and I suppose if proper formation takes place through the Church and the school, then we can prepare persons to become better parents," he said.


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