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  Kind Words, Support for Pelham Priest

By Anne Lundregan
Nashua (NH) Telegraph
April 28, 2002

Pelham — Members of St. Patrick Church rallied Saturday around their longtime pastor, the Rev. Edward Richard, who is being investigated by police for alleged sexual misconduct with a minor.

Richard was placed on administrative leave Monday after church officials were informed police were investigating an allegation of misconduct that occurred while he was serving in Merrimack in the 1980s.

The diocese announced Friday that Richard and the Rev. George Robichaud, pastor of St. Cecilia's in Wolfeboro and St. Joan of Arc in Alton, had been placed on administrative leave. Robichaud was arrested Friday on charges of aggravated felonious sexual assault.

No charges have been filed against Richard.

"I'm just devastated," said Madeline Cinquegrana, fighting back tears.

"He's such a big part of the community," she said. "He does so much, not just for the church but for the town."

Bishop John McCormack spoke to parishioners at the Saturday afternoon Mass about Richard being placed on leave; he is expected to speak at three Masses at St. Patrick today.

Retired priest the Rev. Wilfred Demeres will be acting pastor while the investigation is occurring, McCormack told the church.

Several hundred people attended Saturday's service, many of them wearing a "blue ribbon of care" to show support for their priest, whom they call Father Ed.

Richard was transferred to the Pelham church in 1988 after serving for 15 years in Merrimack, where he first was an assistant pastor at Our Lady of Mercy Church, and in 1982 became the founding pastor of St. John Neumann Church.

Richard also served as chaplain to the Merrimack Police and Fire departments and Merrimack Ambulance Rescue Service, taught an eighth-grade religion class at Nashua Catholic Regional Junior High School and ran a youth group at St. John Neumann.

"He's such a wonderful man, a giving person," Cinquegrana said.

When the senior citizens' bus was in an accident last month, Richard picked up the stranded passengers, Cinquegrana said.

"They called Father Ed. He left whatever he was doing (and) picked us all up," she said.

He also offered the senior citizens use of the church's bus during the two weeks that the seniors' bus was being repaired, Cinquegrana said.

Parishioner Joyce McDevitt passed out slips of paper encouraging people to write a personal note for Richard and leave it at the parish office and to wear a blue ribbon to show their support for Richard.

"He has given us 14 years of his life," the note states. "We need to re-kindle his belief in himself. He has called us his family � now is the time to rally to his side and let him know we truly are family for him."

The note echoed McCormack's statement to the church during which he urged members to write to Richard "to let him know how much you care because he needs your support."

The news of the allegation is "hard to take, hard to accept, hard to believe," McCormack said.

He reminded parishioners that Richard is presumed innocent and said after Mass that if Richard is cleared in the police investigation and a separate church investigation, he could resume his work in the parish.

"I know that this news is hard for you . . . (you) so love Father Ed," McCormack said, adding later "to bear his absence isn't easy."

While making no specific reference to the alleged victim, McCormack asked the church to pray for him, members of the parish and "for all those involved in this matter."

Several parishioners said after Mass that the news was hard to take. Some fought back tears as they left church.

"He's innocent until proven guilty," said one church member walking quickly out of Mass.

"I was surprised and shocked. I couldn't believe it," said Sam Grasso, who has attended St. Patrick for more than 30 years. "I still don't believe it."

Richard worked closely with the town, acting as chaplain to the Pelham Police and Fire departments, worked with the parish school, and with parishioners, McDevitt said.

"He's gone without a paycheck when the church was in debt," she said.

A member of the church for 31 years, McDevitt said, Richard is "the best thing that happened to Pelham."

She hopes to hold an interfaith prayer service for Richard sometime next week.

"The church has pulled together because people care . . . people are totally devastated," McDevitt said, adding later "The whole town is grieving."

When Sharon Rousseau needed strength, Richard was by her side.

Her son drowned four years ago, and this weekend was his anniversary Mass.

When the police dive team was looking for her son's body in a pond, Richard stayed with the family.

When the body was found, he performed last rites and later personalized the funeral Mass, Rousseau said.

"He talked me through it," Rousseau said.

"I hope this all blows over," she said.

 
 

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