Fr. Richard Thell made the trip from the monastery to the school building almost every day for the past 44 years. Through rain or shine, and illness or good health, he climbed the steps to the main floor.
At the heart of this commitment was a deep understanding and appreciation for community. Fr. Richard was a constant presence on campus since he joined the Benedictine community on July 26, 1970.
One of the main reasons he gave for joining the Mount Michael community was the opportunity to influence students’ lives. He decided to become a monk in part because the abbey supported the school. Throughout the past few years he became well-known among students for his speech class, which all freshmen took.
Those in the monastic community noticed how connected Fr. Richard was with his students. Bro. Luke saw this in everyday conversation with him.
“I think he was most passionate about his students,” Bro. Luke said. “He talked constantly about the freshmen and what they talked about in his speech class.”
While Fr. Richard definitely cared about what his students did in the classroom, he also cared about what they did out of it. As a priest, it was his job to encourage others to follow their faith. One thing that concerned him was people falling away from their faith.
“Laziness is the main reason people turn away from their faith,” he said. “I’ve heard people say that ‘I don’t like Fr. so-and-so, so I won’t go to Mass.”
He believed that this laziness could be evaded if students “look at the good people around them,” to find inspiration in their faith lives again.
Fr. Richard also cared about what happens in the future of his students, as well as the path they choose to follow in the faith.
“At one point when I thought I might want to be a priest, I prayed against it,” he said. “Now I think that it’s a good life and a good example. I would encourage any young guy to be a part of it.”
The entirety of the Mount Michael community was something else he felt passionately about. During times of tragedy, he felt community through faith was specifically important.
“Faith becomes important at difficult times, [but] difficult times bring us together,” Fr. Richard said.
There are two occasions in where he saw the Mount Michael community unite in faith in response to tragedy.
The first was the deaths of his parents and sister. While these deaths occurred at separate times, he felt the warmth of community each time.
“We have people with strong faith around us,” Fr. Richard said. “I have parents and a sister who are deceased, and I note that people at Mount Michael, both monks and students, have gotten me through those tough times.”
The second occurrence was one of those times when prayer was needed for those in pain. This occurrence was the death of Nate LaFave, whose death was felt by a variety of people, including many who did not attend Mount Michael.
Fr. Richard first learned of LaFave’s death late on a Friday evening, when he received a phone call to come to the chapel. When he arrived, the entire chapel was overflowing with mourners who spilled out under the arches. The people there prayed and felt a sense of comfort from those around them. Fr. Richard shared this in his homily at LaFave’s funeral.
“The ways you have listened, helped one another, and been there for us adults as well as your peers is so very commendable–my words are not adequate here,” he said. “None of us would be able to handle this alone, and we will continue to need one another in the days, weeks and months ahead.”
Even though living in community was not always easy for Fr. Richard, it was an essential part of his life. That was why every day he made the trip from the monastery to the school building through rain or shine, illness or good health.
Article was first published in the Feb 2018 issue of the “The Mount.”
The Mount is produced by the students of Mount Michael Benedictine School.