Father Robert E. French, a retired priest of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, died August 22 on a cruise ship while in route to Norway. He was 79.

Father French was born to Robert Edward French and Mary Veronica O’Brien December 20, 1936 in Long Beach, California. He was educated at Holy Trinity Elementary School and Norfolk Catholic High School in Norfolk.

He graduated from St. Charles College in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1957 and attended St. Mary in Baltimore from which he graduated in 1963.

Father French was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop John J. Russell on May 1, 1963, at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Richmond.

A faithful priest of the Diocese of Richmond for 52 years, Father French served in the following parishes: Saint Bede, Williamsburg (1963-1967); St. Luke, McLean (1967-1969); Church of the Ascension, Virginia Beach (1972-1982); Church of St. Therese, Chesapeake (1983-1992); and Immaculate Conception, Hampton (1992-2006).

Father French served as Assistant Director and Director of the Office of Religious Education at the Chancery from 1969-1972.

In recalling some of the highlights of his priesthood, Father French said, “I am inspired by the continuous expression of faith by the laity.”

Describing the atmosphere at the Easter Vigils as electrifying when adults, who have been through the RCIA program, come forward to receive the sacraments, he explained that he was equally charged by couples who prayerfully prepare to celebrate marriage and by the plain raw faith of people at funerals.

“Words can’t describe the charged presence of faith that explodes into ministry by so many as they gather on Sunday to celebrate Eucharist,” he said.

During his years as a priest for the Diocese of Richmond, Father French’s efforts led to many firsts.

He was the first director of the Diocesan Office of Christian Formation, first to build a worship center that incorporated a commons off the worship space, first priest to go on a study sabbatical, first to construct a columbarium in a diocesan parish, first to introduce the RCIA to a parish and a member of the first graduating class to earn a doctoral degree in ministry.