As Louisiana's ambassador for community involvement, Fr. Louis Richard recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the 2013 Jefferson Award for Public Service in recognition of his efforts to help found Hospice of Acadiana.
The Jefferson Awards are a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public service in America. The Jefferson Awards are presented on two levels: national and local. They began in 1972 to create a Nobel Prize for public service. Today, their primary purpose is to serve as a "Call to Action for Volunteers" in local communities.
For Fr. Louis Richard's, it all began with the death of a beloved grandmother. On the day of his graduation from college in 1977, Fr. Richard's grandmother was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Seven months later, she succumbed to this illness, while he was away in Belgium, having begun his graduate theological studies for the priesthood.
The following month in Belgium, Fr. Richard attended a symposium on "Death and Dying" by a British physician named Dr. Ciceley Saunders, who is the founder of the modern day Hospice movement and a contemporary of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Dr. Saunders invited Fr. Richard to come spend his next summer working at St. Christopher's Hospice in Sydenham, a London suburb. Dr. Saunders said that so often when people are diagnosed with a terminal disease, they are "given up on" since there is nothing to cure them. She says that is when "care must truly take over."
Working at St. Christopher's was the experience that galvanized Fr. Richard's commitment to care for the dying. He resolved to return to the States and after ordination work with others to establish a similar program in the Lafayette community. Meeting with other community volunteers, Fr. Richard helped to found Hospice of Acadiana in 1983.
Its philosophy and mission have not wavered in these past thirty years: all dying people and those close to them should have access to appropriate and highly professional care and support, when they need it, wherever they need it and whoever they are. While there are many other for-profit programs in the country today, Hospice of Acadiana remains the oldest program in Louisiana and one of only two non-profit programs that accept all patients, regardless of ability to pay.
Fr. Louis Richard, a Roman Catholic priest, is currently pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Broussard, La. He also serves as Chancellor of St. Thomas More Catholic High School and St. Cecilia School. Among his other volunteer activities, he has been the chaplain for Acadian Ambulance Service for 30 years.