Questions for… Fr. Richard Ounsworth OP
“God is there and I talk to Him a lot!” Fr. Richard Ounsworth OP confessed to me. For a while, therefore, I interrupted this mystical dialogue, in order to interview Fr. Richard and garner an account of his vocation and his life in the Dominican Order. For that interruption, I should make confession later! But in a sense, this mystical dialogue with God has been going on, as step by step during the conversation, God’s presence in his life has been made manifest.
This presence manifested firstly when, aged 15 or 16, Richard had a sense that he could be a priest. Although he never went to a Catholic school, he was brought up in the Catholic faith in the usual way in his parish home, in Wendover, Buckinghamshire. He had very good parish priests and, perhaps strange enough for a child, he always enjoyed listening to the sermons. When he went to the priest to talk about a possible vocation, though not for the secular clergy, the latter suggested him to read a directory of religious men in the Church. Richard thereafter contacted several congregations, and, of course, the Dominicans were the last to reply. But he went through with it and visited the Edinburgh community.
“I had a great sense of relief and I knew that I was going to apply and to spend my life in this congregation!” Richard thought when he visited the Edinburgh priory. Nevertheless, waited at the door for ages before one of the novices at that time opened the door and welcomed him. The first dinner was absolutely disgusting. But again, Richard went through with it and could experience at last the sense of coming home.
He always found support in his family. His mother, although not interested in religion at all, conceded that the Dominicans was a good choice, because they wore a smart habit. “You could not have been a Carmelite or a Franciscan, because you don’t look good in brown!” she said.
And Richard joined the novitiate in Edinburgh in 1995 and went to Oxford after for the study. The formation was a happy time. He enjoyed the study straight away. He had some Greek learnt at school, and found reading the New Testament in Greek quite easy. The tutorial system of the study in Oxford fitted him very well and, whenever some tutorials were optional, he always chose Biblical study. He was fascinated by the history of the interpretation of the New Testament. The study opened his eyes to a Catholicism more intellectually satisfying than “a wishy-washy liberal hotchpotch of apologetic half Catholicism” that he used to be familiar with.
In 2002, a year after his priestly ordination, Fr. Richard went to Leicester to work at the university chaplaincy during three years. This is where he learnt how to be a priest. He enjoyed the ministry and the social aspect of it. But he conceded that he made some mistakes. “Before actually being a priest, you just don’t know what it is like”. And, as there is four years before solemn vows to learn what the religious life is, there is a time needed to learn what the priesthood is.
Now, Fr. Richard has come back to Oxford. He spent his time teaching Greek and Biblical study, and makes him available for retreats, talk and lectures. But a great part of his job is being Bursar of the English Province. “Nobody comes to the religious life to be an accountant, but somebody has to do it”. This is also part of the religious life.
But Fr. Richard feels most Dominican when he is talking face to face to people, helping them to understand and live their faith. Again, “God is there and I have never doubted of that presence. The challenge is to communicate it”. A Saint? “Somebody that believes with deep confidence that Jesus loves him and sees how much this love is at the centre of his being. If I keep saying it, maybe I will believe it!”. True, a preacher always preaches first to himself. But I hope I can join him in his mystical dialogue with God!