The following was recently published in New Liturgy:
The following spoken by Fr Jones at the introduction to the Funeral Mass recalls Richard’s life-long contribution to church art and architecture.
"Richard’s strong, Christian faith found a marvellous expression in his chosen profession. Church architecture and Richard have been a wonderful story since the 1950s. As a young architect he was a member of the Church Exhibitions Committee of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland. That would lead to membership of the newly established panel on church art and architecture of the Bishops’ Commission for Liturgy, formed during the Second Vatican Council and then becoming in 1965 the Advisory Committee on Sacred Art and Architecture. Richard was a member of that commission for over forty years, serving as its chairperson for nine years, after the death of his great friend, Mgr Seán Swayne. Both, around the same age, were mentors to one another, but not simply Seán offering the liturgical perspective and Richard expressing that in architectural terms. Both were persons of liturgy and architecture, for worship has to be expressed in the human condition, by the human spirit and body.
Richard has also served for many years as a member of our Dublin Diocesan Art and Architecture Commission.
For over a half a century, with passion, Richard engaged in the work of design and colour. He worked to high standards, sometimes disappointed by our failure to work to a vision captured in the Second Vatican Council, not just in the 1960s and times past, but also today when so many want to revert to a past long gone.
Richard often quoted Rudolf Schwarz, allowing me to note the influence on him of German Church Architecture of the 1920s onwards: ‘For the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, a moderately large well-proportioned room is needed, in its centre a table, and on the table a bowl of bread and a cup of wine. The table may be decorated with candles and surrounded by seats for the congregation. That is all. Table, space and walls make up the simplest church.’ Richard spent a life, with great passion, designing that simplest church, from the Arts Council awarded, single cell prayer room of the Bettystown Oratory of the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1963 to the work on which he was engaged on the day he died, St Mel’s Cathedral in Longford. In between were many projects, cathedrals in Cork and Eldoret, churches, old and new in Dublin, Galway, Belfast and elsewhere in Ireland and England, special places like the Mercy International Centre, the Honan Chapel and Glencairn Abbey, the two places where I have been privileged to worship, almost daily, for almost twenty five years: the Liturgy Room in Carlow and St Mary’s Oratory at Maynooth.
The iconic Liturgy Room, a large well-proportioned room, ‘the great room of the house,’ ‘the layout … orientated towards an informal antiphonal gathering surrounding a central area focused on the altar,’ ‘a development of the idea of the family gathering around the table.’ Still using Richard’s own words, ‘ Everything in the room … a shade of white –wall, floor, ceiling, light fittings and carpet. The only colour added … the sap green of the fig tree in the corner ... the oak furnishings and a terracotta Madonna and Child by Benedict Tutty.’ All of this, with ‘the limitations of the materials,’ providing ‘fertile soil for the growth of spiritual freedom.’
And St Mary’s Oratory in Maynooth College. Again in Richard’s favourite and preferred antiphonal layout. For those of us who worship there on weekdays, it provides the space for prayer and reflection. Richard’s re-ordering –in the ‘noble simplicity’ of the Second Vatican Council- complemented by the art of its time –he had a great respect for our heritage- and our time –the stained glass and the earlier work of Benedict Tutty and the newer work of Patrick Pye, Imogen Stuart, Ken Thompson and Kim En Joong, gives us each day our place to encounter God and celebrate the sacred mysteries.
If I mention the names of certain artists, it is to highlight the importance of their place in worship –a place that Richard never forgot. There are many other names because Richard knew the beauty that the artist could contribute. All of this ensuring that the Church is here, in the words of his great friend, Austin Flannery, ‘to serve humankind in a spirit of poverty, humility and love.’
Some said ‘stark,’ ‘minimalist’ and Richard might have said, speaking from experience, ‘it works.’ Richard gave his opinion, his preference, with a certainty. And so often he was perfectly right. Honoured by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Pontifical University of St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Today by many colleagues, architects and artists.
Richard brought us on a journey. He used that word in explaining his designs. With masterly use of light, with simple design, with every shade of white, with the beauty of art, we were on a journey. We were led always and further within the space. We were led to prayer and worship. Ultimately we were led to God.