By Clare Richards
For 29 years Hubert Richards was an influential, much loved Roman Catholic priest, widely known in England and abroad as a scripture scholar, lecturer and author. From 1939, as a brilliant Roman College student, with a great sense of fun and endless energy, he started his diaries, recording seminary life in Rome and the 'exile' in Stoneyhurst due to the war. With a love of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he then studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. In 1943, Pope Pius XIII had asked Bishops to send suitable candidates to study there, in order to develop 'real skill in literary criticism' and to discover 'the literary mode adopted by the Sacred Writers'.
In June 1949, Fr Richards, aged 27, spoke with the Pope in a private audience, receiving his blessing to return to England as Professor of Scripture at the Westminister Seminary. His teaching and writing became an inspiration to many, at the seminary, at Corpus Christi College and in lectures and at home and abroad. Yet his scholarship and forward thinking was not welcomed by the English hierarchy, before and after the Vatican Council. When Cardinal Heenan forbade him to teach or preach to teachers and students, Bert Richards sadly resigned from the priesthood. It was a regrettable clash between a 'prophet' and a 'guardian' of the faith. Bert remained a Catholic and was readily accepted by other Christians. He married Clare, became a devoted husband and father to their adopted Andean twins, and continued writing and university teaching in Norwich.
Patiently and quietly he remained loyal to the church. Towards the end of his life, Cardinal Murphy O'Connor wrote 'He is a marvellous teacher and has a wonderful clarity and simplicity in his writings.' On his death in 2010, a bishop wrote to Clare: 'He was a great man and made a massive contribution which was not always recognised or welcomed.'
Clare wrote this book, mindful that Pope Benedict had, at the time, recently asked for a renewed study of the bible. Bert had wanted this all his life. Using his extraordinary diaries, with the letters and press cuttings he kept, she was able to give a unique insight into the history of the English Catholic Church from 1939 until the present day.
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