A father for the Saints
Father Tony Ricard has been all over the world delivering his unique testimony on the word of God and considers St. Catharines one of his favourite destinations.
Ricard, a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and Campus Minister at St. Augustine High School, New Orleans, is also the pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish and an Instructor of Church Doctrine/Youth Ministry for the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, Louisiana.
While he lists Tokyo as his favourite place in the world to visit, he has come to appreciate St. Catharines as his favourite Canadian city because it feels like home.
“What I love about the Diocese of St. Catharines is people are very welcoming, very loving,” Fr. Ricard said Wednesday after speaking to several Niagara Catholic District School Board high school students at St. Alfred Church in St. Catharines as part of the Board’s annual Culture of Life Conference, which focused this year on knowing your value as a child of God.
“When they know your spirit is good, they can feel that spirit, I think that makes a big difference.”
Ricard has an interesting side job of sorts as the Catholic Chaplain of the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League, a position he has held since 2000.
“I’ve been a Saints fan my entire life,” he said. “My family is New Orleans Saints to the core.”
His duties include mass with players and coaches the night before homes games as well as weddings, baptisms, and funerals. He also acts as a team counsellor.
“Sometimes people don’t realize just because you’re a multi-millionaire doesn’t mean you don’t have to deal with real life issues,” he said. “Just having a chance to walk that journey with them and having a chance to become really good friends with the owners of the team, that’s always been fun.
“It’s been a great journey.”
He has become close with several players and members of the Saints staff.
“You can see in them I’ve become a trusted friend, a trusted advisor,” he said. “I don’t have a dog in the fight, so I’m going to talk to you real. I never cross over from being the chaplain to being a fan or even somebody that’s going to ask them for stuff. So many people come to them for their money. They know I’m not here for your money, I’m here for you as an individual. They tend to listen even more because I don’t want anything more from them other than to see you develop.”
Fr. Ricard began visiting St. Catharines in 2009 after being seen at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress by then Director of Education John Crocco. He initially came to speak to Niagara Catholic faculty for a Faith Day before branching off to Faith Days for intermediate students and visiting high schools.
His visit this year coincides with Mental Health Week and Catholic Education week.
“I love the familiarity of coming back so many times,” he added. “When I’m driving around, I know where I am. I know restaurants I like and seeing familiar faces. It’s like visiting your relatives where you get to see them once or twice a year.
“It really is a family atmosphere.”
Ricard praised Niagara Catholic for its commitment to students physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
“The school system is an amazing system. They have so many things in place that make even the students feel like they belong, like they are family.
“I just like the whole structure.”
Ricard, who spoke to half of the Niagara Catholic high schools Tuesday and the other half Wednesday, also conducted a parent session at Denis Morris concentrating on a cultural approach to Catholic education.
His session Wednesday was impressive and upbeat, backed by a band of three students— Kennedy Turner, Elon Brunus, and Kameron Brown and teacher Devin Boucree, — known as the Knights of Praise.
He was asked a variety of questions by the students, everything from his views on transgender people to his favourite musical group (Gladys Knight).
His common theme was love.
“We have to focus on love first,” he said. “The problem in our world is we have too many people who want to stand in judgment of somebody, without loving.
“I will love first and then God (will) sort it out.”
Ricard has written several books which include “Don’t Be Stupid! Lessons You Should Already Know” and “Dreams I’ve Never Had! Justice Denied/Justice Supplied”. A popular speaker across the United States, he is a frequent presenter at RECongress.
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