The Council and staff of The Catholic Institute of Aotearoa New Zealand – Te Pūtahi Katorika ki Aotearoa acknowledge with aroha and deep sorrow the passing of Dr Mark Richards – academic, teacher, governor and passionate advocate for Catholic tertiary education.
Mark’s vision and passion for effective and credible tertiary education for those in teaching, ministry and leadership roles within the New Zealand church infused the design and foundations of The Catholic Institute (TCI). Mark became a founding member of the governing Council for TCI in 2011 and remained energetic in that role until shortly before his death. His contributions to the Council were always considered and wise, and often challenging. He wanted to see TCI grow in its outreach and impact, and be seen and heard as a source of robust, intelligent contributions to both church and public thinking and formation, in the Catholic intellectual tradition. Mark was also attentive to the needs and potential of TCI staff, expressed through his participation on the Council’s HR committee.
Mark was influential in shaping the strategy and priorities for TCI. He could see the potential for a contemporary expression of church and ministry in Aotearoa New Zealand, with well-formed lay leaders and ministers working in collaboration with bishops, clergy and religious women and men. For Mark, TCI represented a potent point of integration between ministry within and ministry beyond – forming Catholic laity with the deep roots of theology, scripture and spirituality needed to sustain a wide reach of witness, advocacy and care.
Mark was always one to practise what he preached. He was a notable teacher for TCI, conducting a range of courses covering scripture, sacraments, Christian morality, liturgy, theology and the Catholic faith, both face-to-face and by distance. His student evaluations were invariably positive, often focusing on his depth of knowledge, engaging style and genuine care for each student’s learning and wider life. There was something about the performance of teaching that appealed to the extravert in Mark – with arms talking as much as his voice, and no detour safe from the taking, his classes were entertainment as well as education.
Mark spent part of his final year in Rome, completing his doctorate in sacred theology at the Pontifical Lateran University. It was the capstone on his academic achievements and a fitting measure of his theological credentials. True to form, Mark was nothing if not ambitious in his topic and his findings. He wanted to hold a mirror to a church which has failed to live up to its prophetic insights and inspirations from the Second Vatican Council, not least in its liturgy, and to propose a radical re-imagining and refreshed experience of eucharist in particular as the place and pattern of integration between theology, scripture, spirituality, pastoral care and community action. All who heard him present his findings experienced his enthusiasm and caught a spark of the possibilities that profoundly eucharistic faith communities could bring to life.
Key to Mark’s impact in his various roles as teacher, governor, academic and pastoral leader was his integrity as a man of faith. Mark was faithful to the Christ he loved, the Gospel he proclaimed and the mission he served for the whole of his life. He shared that fidelity in his marriage to Kate, also a teacher for TCI, and as father to their three sons. Mark knew that nothing speaks more loudly and endures more permanently than the witness of love. He spoke of that, with eloquence and courage, in his final act of service to the mission of TCI – a beautiful reflection on life, love, family, community and faith captured several months before his death. Many have commented on how deeply his reflections moved them, and reminded them of the things that matter most in life.
This, in Mark’s own words and inimitable style, is his final gift to us and a lasting tribute to his own life.
Haere, haere, haere e hoa – go to the merciful embrace of God, and rest there in peace.
Mark's reflection on life, love, family, community and faith: