Father David Richards, administrator of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish in Lancaster, received recognition for channeling his abundant energy into advocacy for youth.
On Nov. 16, the Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministry awarded Father Richards the 2018 Venerable Nelson Baker Award, which honors a priest who has demonstrated consistent commitment to youth ministry in the manner of the founder of the Our Lady of Victory institutions.
Father Richards is no stranger to meeting teens and young adults where they're at. He appeared in the diocesan-produced "In a Word" video series, sharing truths of the faith in fun, easily understandable ways. His presence is shown even more in the way he attends school programs and sporting events, not to mention having great conversations with college students around a campfire. He has been known to travel with teens to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., Life Teen Camp in Georgia, and World Youth Day in Madrid. Father Richards' presence helps him to build relationships and creates opportunities for him to invite the youth and young adults of our diocese into a relationship with Jesus.
When he accepted his award, Father Richards started a call and response with the crowd that included sports cheers, commercials and the prayer, Praise be to Jesus Christ now and forever, Amen.
"As a young boy, I remember vividly, my mom would bring my siblings and I over to the Carmelite monastery on Carmel Road right off of Hertel," he recalled. "Any time we walked in there, the first response out of one of the nun's mouths was, 'Praise be Jesus Christ.' And our response was, 'Now and forever, Amen.' I think about that when I think about Venerable Nelson Baker. His response to that great phrase, he showed it in his life in so many different ways."
He highlighted Father Baker's care of troubled boys, his aid to the poor, and his prayer life.
"For me to get this award, I thought about how important that is for me to use that model," he said. "Obviously, our youth, it's so important to meet them where they're at and try and figure out what's going on and how to communicate with them and bring them along in the faith journey. I think Father Nelson Baker did that in a beautiful way. I strive to do that in my own little ministry as a priest. I've only been a priest eight years. I'm humbled that I would be chosen to get this award. I think that is a key element for all of us, to recognize that Praise be to Jesus Christ now and forever, is really about reaching out to the youth."
The annual banquet sponsored by the diocesan Department of Youth & Young Adult Ministry, recognizes both teens and adults who strive to affirm the gifts of the young Church. The Discipleship Award honors young people who genuinely live as followers of Christ and remain active in their parish. The Companions on the Journey Award is presented to adults who are active with and support their parish's ministry with youth. Bishop Richard J. Malone was on hand to present the awards.
Anna Puchalski, a teen from Blessed Sacrament in Tonawanda, spoke about how she came to realize that God was protecting her and that she should pay that kindness forward.
She recalled how in her younger days, she was quick to return any hurtful comment that came her way. God and his teaching took a back seat in her life as she focused on getting perfect grades.
"Then one day I started to realize that certain events kept happening over and over in my life at the oddest times. For instance, if I needed a correction by God, all of the sudden I would find an exact quote that pertained to my situation, not just once, but multiple times in different places. At first I thought of these life events as coincidences, but eventually I knew them to be God-incidences. For an example, for about the first month at Kenmore West (High School), I kept seeing the quote from 1 Timothy 4:12 which says, 'Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.' I saw it online, in books, pretty much anywhere and everywhere, but I didn't think about it too much at first. Later on, I realized that this quote was just what I needed. God needed me to be at a public school, so I could be an example to those who don't have as close of a relationship with Him."
She befriended a girl in class with autism who was bullied regularly. "She questioned my motives for being friendly at first, and insisted I didn't really like her, but eventually she let me into her world," Puchalski said. "One day she asked me how I could always be so joyful. I began to tell her that it was Jesus who gave me my joy, and that she could begin a relationship with Him too. I don't know if she started praying to Him or not, but I do know that she started to ask more and more questions about Christianity. After a year of knowing her, she finally called me her friend. ... I learned to become less affected by other's comments, and grew in compassion for people who were angry or upset with me. I started to treat my friend with kindness rather than fight back, and I deeply regretted the pain I had once caused her.
"My life became more balanced, and I began to use the extra time I once spent on studying on volunteering to help others and praying."
The girl who used to keep her defenses up all the time, now feels a calling to become a religious sister.
Other award recipients include:
Companions on the Journey
Stephanie Caruso, St. Christopher, Tonawanda
Sue Choboy, St. Gabriel, Elma
Kay Clabeaux, St. Andrew, Sloan
Valerie and Crystal Collado, St. Anthony, Lackawanna
Brad Gollwitzer, St. Mary of the Lake, Hamburg
Karen Kummer, Immaculate Conception, Ransomville
Dan and Linda McCartan, Queen of Heaven, West Seneca
Susan Mongiovi, Our Lady Help of Christians, Cheektowaga
Sally Olow, Blessed Mary Angela, Dunkirk
Jordan Clark, St. James, Jamestown (pictured in Dan's photo)
Sophia Giannicchi, St. Mary of the Lake, Hamburg
Don Gula, Blessed Mary Angela, Dunkirk
Nora Hewson, St. Joseph University, Buffalo
Adam LaNasa, Immaculate Conception, Ransomville
Rachel O'Neal, St. Aloysius, Springville
Nathaniel Ploetz, St. John the Baptist, West Valley
Anna Puchalski, Blessed Sacrament, Tonawanda
Lucas Robertson, St. Christopher, Tonawanda
Alexandria Vecchio, Our Lady of Pompeii, Lancaster
Mikayla Walters, St. Anthony Lackawanna
Abigail Winiatowski, Queen of Heaven, West Seneca
Hugh Wolf, St. Mark, Buffalo