An Embarrassment of ‘Riches’ — My Quest for a Namesake

“My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”

“The patron saint provides a model of charity;
we are assured of his intercession
(CCC 2156).

Last Sunday, June 9, was the memorial of an obscure St. Richard – this one, a 12th-century English bishop of the Italian diocese of Andria. Never heard of him? Me neither, but his name caught my eye and I looked him up: Appointed to his post by fellow Englishman, Pope Hadrian IV (the only English pope); present at the Third Lateran Council in 1179; dedicated service to his flock for 40 years. Hmmm… Richard of Andria might’ve been holy, but I wasn’t feeling a connection there.

Oh well – next?

You see, I’m always on the lookout for St. Richards in hopes of settling on a special namesake and patron. I didn’t grow up Catholic, so when I was baptized as an infant in the Presbyterian Church, I might’ve received the transformative grace of the sacrament (the main event after all – thanks, Mom and Dad!), but no godparents – and no patron saint! Instead, I was named after, well… Richard M. Nixon. There – I said it. It’s out there now. My parents were Goldwater Republicans, and I made my appearance when Nixon was a rising star, so here I am.

Really, I don’t mind the Watergate and “I’m not a crook!” cracks as much as I used to, and there’s much to be said of the fact that my folks spared me the middle name of Milhous. (I got Philip instead, my dad’s first name.) On the other hand, it continues to smart a bit, even after all these years, that my Richard-ness is so decisively unattached saint-wise.

True, when I joined the Church and received the sacraments, I obtained a new name at confirmation, and thus a confirmation patron. I got a good one – St. Thomas More, husband, father and martyr. His courage and firm fidelity to the Church inspired me as a young convert, and his commitment to the welfare of his family continue to inspire me in my married vocation today.

Even so, I confess to no little sulkiness over the years about missing out on a baptismal patron – especially when we were baptizing our own seven kids. I knew they’d get confirmation saints/names just like me someday, but they were starting off with two additional namesakes to intercede for them their first 13 years or so – and beyond! Heck, I could’ve used that kind of spiritual firepower. I still could.

Hence my hunt. Long ago, I settled on St. Philip Neri as my middle name benefactor. That was simple: He’s the patron saint of jokesters, and what dad could resist an excuse for calling on him as a special intercessor? It was all the more fitting since my middle name was originally linked with my own dad, himself an incorrigible clown. (Rest in peace, Dad.)

But how about a first name patron? You’d be surprised how many St. Richards there are out there, and coming across Richard of Andria is as good an occasion as any to take account of my quest so far. I’ve narrowed down my options to three. Here they are:

  1. “King” St. Richard of Wessex (eighth century): Since the name Richard can be traced to Germanic words meaning “strong ruler,” it’s no surprise that many royals have adopted it, especially in England. However, this saint, as the quotation marks indicate, was probably not a real English king, and there’s some question about the reliability of anything in his story. Nonetheless, he’s always been a lead contender in my patron saint shuffle because he is remembered in the legends as the father of a trio of saints, including St. Walburga, the eighth-century abbess of a double monastery in Eichstätt, Germany. St. Walburga is also the patroness of a Benedictine abbey in Colorado that played an important role in my early spiritual formation as a new Catholic, and the sisters there also helped my dad make his way into the Church before he died. This St. Richard’s feast has traditionally been observed Feb. 7.
  2. St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253): Ever seen Godspell? Remember “Day by Day”? Maybe you sang it at church camps when you were growing up like I did. Anyway, it’s supposedly based on a prayer that St. Richard recited on his deathbed, but he should be remembered for much more than that. While still a lad, for instance, Richard took over his family’s failing properties and turned things around, and then he renounced his inheritance to follow a religious calling. After studies at home and abroad, Richard took up duties as chancellor of Oxford in 1235, and then chancellor of the diocese of Canterbury in 1237. Then, in 1244, the able Richard was appointed bishop of Chichester, Sussex, despite the opposition of King Henry III. The king, in retaliation, disrupted Richard’s sources of income for two years, but the good bishop simply lived off the charity of one of his parish priests and carried on in generous service to his flock. Alban Butler writes that when Richard’s “steward complained that his alms exceeded his income: ‘then,’ said he, ‘sell my plate and my horse.’” St. Richard’s feast is April 3, although in Sussex he is remembered today (June 16), the anniversary of the translation of his relics to the Chichester shrine built in his honor.
  3. St. Richard Reynolds (1492-1535): After a king/dad and a couple bishops, we now have a religious – and a martyr to boot. Richard Reynolds was Cambridge educated and a monk of Syon, a Bridgettine Abbey built by Henry V and distinguished for its piety and learning. Reynolds himself excelled in both areas, and he served as spiritual counselor to such notables as Ss. John Fisher and Thomas More (my confirmation saint!). Indeed, when Henry VIII was looking for prominent, respected figures to lend credence to his self-appointment as supreme head of the English church, Reynolds was included on the roster with Fisher and More, along with three Carthusian priors. Despite inducements and the threat of death, Reynolds and the others remained loyal to the papacy and refused to sign the specious Oath of Supremacy. He and the Carthusians were drawn and quartered at Tyburn on May 4, 1535, and were canonized by Pope St. Paul VI in 1970.

So, these are my three namesake contenders, and I have affinities with each of them. Perhaps I should hedge and claim all three – have all three pray for me, that is, and try to emulate all their respective virtues. Actually, there’s a biblical precedent for a plural Richard patronage. As if prophetically anticipating my peculiar case, St. Paul declared that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4.19).

Get it? Richs? C’mon, it’s Father’s Day – and St. Philip Neri is my spiritual pal. You didn’t think I’d get through this reflection without at least one dad joke, did you? (Ba-bum, crash!)