Fr. Gabriel Richard, P.S.S.
Fr. Gabriel Richard was born on October 15, 1767, at Saintonge in southwestern France. He entered the Society of the Priests of St. Sulpice (P.S.S.) on April 10, 1790. He was ordained a priest on October 9, 1791.
Narrowly escaping persecution during the French Revolution, Fr. Richard came to the United States in 1792 and was assigned to the French settlements on the Illinois side of the Mississippi. Fr. Richard was next assigned to Detroit and arrived here on Sunday, June 3, 1798. He remained in Detroit until he died in 1832 while ministering to victims of the cholera epidemic. During his time in Detroit, he was a missionary, educator and civic leader.
Fr. Gabriel Richard became pastor of Ste. Anne Parish in 1802. During his 30 years as pastor he built the parish’s seventh church, a stone building with stained glass. He faithfully ministered to the spiritual needs of the people and was a strong proponent of perpetual adoration of the Eucharist.
Fr. Gabriel Richard was a strong promoter of education. His personal library contained books from a range of academic areas including philosophy, theology, science, law, history and literature. He established a school in 1808 at the Spring Hill farm to educate native American and white children together to break down racial barriers. Along with Rev. John Monteith, Fr. Richard founded the University of Michigan by the authority of the Act of Appropriation on August 26, 1817. The cornerstone was officially laid on September 24, 1817.
During Detroit’s Great Fire of 1805, he exclaimed: “We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes.” These words are still part of the seal of the City of Detroit today. He brought the first printing press to Detroit in 1809. He was elected as a territorial delegate to Congress on September 4, 1823, and took his seat on December 8. In his first two months, Fr. Richard presented 16 petitions to Congress. On April 26, 1824, he began his famous motion to build a long road between Detroit and Chicago, known as Michigan Avenue (U.S. 12).
More information about Fr. Richard can be found in the book Always the Priest: The Life of Gabriel Richard, S.S. by Sr. M. Dolorita Mast, SSND (1965). We also recommend this article in the Detroit Catholic about Fr. Richard’s life and this video explaining Fr. Richard’s escape from Revolutionary France.
To schedule a tour to learn more about Fr. Gabriel Richard, contact the parish office at 313-496-1701.