Richard, Gabriel

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Missionary; b. Saintes, France, Oct. 15, 1767; d. Detroit, Sept. 13, 1832. He entered the Society of Saint-Sulpice and was ordained in October 1791 at Issy, near Paris. For a very brief period, he taught at the Sulpician seminary there, but the anticlerical policies of the French Revolutionary government forced him and three of his confreres, Ambrose Maréchal, François Ciquard, and François Matignon, to leave France. On June 24, 1792, the group arrived in Baltimore, where the Sulpicians staffed the newly established St. Mary's Seminary. Because he was not needed in Baltimore, Richard was given missionary assignments at Prairie du Rocher and Kaskaskia, Illinois, where he labored for six years. After his transfer to Detroit in 1798, he was responsible also for the missions of Wisconsin and Michigan. So successful were his efforts that in 1801 more than 500 persons were ready for Confirmation when Bishop Pierre Denaut of Quebec visited Detroit.

In 1804 Richard established an academy for girls and a seminary at Detroit, but a fire the following year destroyed both institutions, as well as Richard's church and rectory. Within three years the church was rebuilt and six primary schools and two girls' academies were erected. Always interested in education, Richard was instrumental in the founding of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1817 and served there as vice president and professor. He is remembered also for a series of lectures on religious subjects given in 1807 at the request of the governor and other officials of the Michigan Territory.

In 1808 Richard visited Baltimore, where he secured a printing press and type. The next year, he published the Michigan Essay or Impartial Observer, the first paper in Michigan. During the next three years, he published seven books dealing with education and religion. After the British victory at Detroit in the War of 1812, Richard was taken to Canada and imprisoned at Sandwich, although he was given many liberties. When released, he returned to Detroit and rebuilt his missions. In 1823 he was elected as a representative to the U.S. Congress, the only Catholic priest ever to hold a seat in the House of Representatives. He was befriended by Henry Clay, who often translated the Sulpician's faulty English for the benefit of the House. Richard lost his bid for reelection in 1826 mainly because of the opposition of several of his parish trustees. A year later, when the Holy See issued a brief erecting the Diocese of Detroit, Richard was named first bishop. But his nomination was suppressed, and Detroit remained without a bishop until 1833, six months after Richard's death during a cholera epidemic.

Bibliography: g. parÉ, The Catholic Church in Detroit, 17011888 (Detroit 1951). p. guerin, Le Martyr de la Charité ou Notice sur Mr. G. Richard, Missionaire (Paris 1850), with excerpts from R.'s letters. f. woodford and a. hyma, Gabriel Richard: Frontier Ambassador (Detroit 1958). d. mast, Always a Priest: The Life of Gabriel Richard, S.S. (Baltimore 1965). l. coombs and f. blouin, jr., Intellectual Life on the Michigan Frontier: The Libraries of Gabriel Richard and John Monteith (Ann Arbor 1985). l. tentler, Seasons of Grace: A History of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit (Detroit 1992).

[j. q. feller]