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Catholic church starts process to name Father Gabriel Richard a saint

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

The Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit has started the process toward sainthood for Father Gabriel Richard, a 19th century priest who wrote Detroit's official city motto. 

The Catholic church on St. Anne Street was granted permission from Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron to establish a guild that will study the life and materials of Richard. 

Archbishop Allen Vigneron talks about the importance of livestreaming services during the holy week despite having to preach to an empty cathedral during the coronavirus outbreak.

The study will be used to find sufficient evidence for Vigneron to open an official cause for Richard to be named a saint. 

"Fr. Richard was a zealous pastor whose missionary heart guided all that he did," Vigneron said. "At a time when we in the Archdiocese are coming to a renewed awareness of our missionary vocation, I am grateful that we are able to raise up Fr. Richard as a model and inspiration for our mission today."

The announcement of the study was made after Basilica of Ste. Anne de Detroit had a Mass of Thanksgiving to celebrate Pope Francis granting the church the title of minor  basilica, which means the church will be distinguished from other churches for ceremonial purposes. 

"It is particularly poignant now, amid the difficulties of the pandemic, to be starting on this journey studying the life of a beloved pastor who died while caring for the sick," said Monsignor Charles Kosanke, current rector of the Basilica of Ste. Anne. "Father Gabriel Richard left an indelible mark on all of Michigan, from the life-saving ministries of his parish to the immeasurable contributions of those who have attended and taught at the University of Michigan."

Richard, born in 1767, was a French priest who presided over Southeast Michigan from 1798 until his death in 1832. Fr. Richard died while ministering to the sick during a cholera epidemic

A hopeful detail from Sister Jane Mary Sorosiak’s 2016 ceramic mural “Legacy of Gabriel Richard in Detroit.”

Richard is attributed to creating Detroit's motto “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes” following Detroit's Great Fire of 1805. The motto is still used on the city's seal. 

In 1809, Richard printed Michigan's first newspaper, The Michigan Essay or Impartial Observer, after bringing a printing press to the area, according to the Detroit Historical Society. 

Richard, along with Reverend John Monteith and others, founded the University of Michigan, which was known as Catholepistemiad at that time on August 26, 1817.