Janna Reynolds, The Catholic Virginian

The term “odyssey” was once used to describe the eventful 40 years of priesthood that Father Richard Mooney will celebrate this May, a vocation that has been filled with both expected and unexpected graces.

“When you set out on any grand adventure, you don’t really know how it’s going to end up. I’ve been extremely fortunate in my work and in my life as a priest,” Father Mooney said, adding that his vocation has given him many blessed memories on which to think back.

Father Mooney grew up in Arlington where he was primarily a member of St. Agnes Parish. Conversations with Monsignor Harold Nott, pastor of St. Agnes when Father Mooney was in grade school and high school, “set the tone” for his discernment. Father Joseph Slattery, parochial vicar during that same timeframe, gave Father Mooney “great, practical advice.”

Maryknoll Father Stan Banacsek was a part-time campus minister at Virginia Tech while Father Mooney was a student there in the early 1970s. Father Banacsek gave students the freedom to “shape the Catholic ministry” by planning and leading liturgy, the jubilarian said.

“He allowed us to experience Church as an adventure in community and mission. I consider that time to be among the most formative experiences of my own priesthood,” Father Mooney recalled. 

Father Mooney has served the Diocese of Richmond in various capacities.

He is parochial vicar at a cluster of three small parishes in southwest Virginia: St. Catherine of Siena, Clarksville; Good Shepherd, South Hill; and St. Paschal Baylon, South Boston. 

Serving as chaplain at state correctional facilities from 2014 until January 2019, Father Mooney visited prisons in Waverly, Jarratt and Lawrenceville each week. He still keeps in touch with some inmates and people who have reentered society.

Father Mooney was campus minister for the Newman Community at Virginia Tech for nearly a decade in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and again from 2002-2005. In 1984, Chris Barrett, who was later ordained a permanent deacon, and his wife, Anne Gibbons, came to Blacksburg as the first lay campus ministers at the school. 

“Working as a team with them was one of the highlights of my life as a priest of the diocese since they brought their marriage as well as their many skills into the ministry,” Father Mooney recalled.

The priest likened campus ministry at VT during his service there to a student-run parish. Undergraduate and graduate students organized everything that a regular parish would with the exception of K-12 CCD classes. 

“The most valuable part of my time at Newman was spent helping students to embrace their Catholic Christianity as adults,” said Father Mooney. “I saw many young people come to know Jesus in a new, more mature way and to appreciate their call to mission and ministry in the world.”

Between tenures at Virginia Tech, Father Mooney was pastor at Church of the Holy Family, Virginia Beach, a large and constantly changing community that served nearly 2,000 households. 

“It was teamwork at its finest,” he said of the professional and ministerial staff with whom he worked.

Fellow clergy and lay people who live their lives for Christ have paved the road of Father Mooney’s priesthood.

“The marvelous people I have been privileged to work with over the years. Other priests, wonderful lay people who are walking in the faith and are really excited by the mission. Those are the folks who brought me the memories,” he said. “I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many accomplished, dedicated and holy women and men in my 40 years.”

Father Mooney said that “empowering other people to be ministers of the Gospel, giving it all away” brings him great joy in his ministry.

“If we’re not sharing this (mission) generously, then I just don’t understand the point,” he explained.

Father Mooney will celebrate his anniversary at 4 p.m., Sunday, May 19, with evening prayer and a pot luck supper in the parish hall at Good Shepherd Parish, South Hill.

“The actual date of my anniversary is the 12th, but this year that’s Mother’s Day, so there’s no way in the world we’re going to try to compete with that,” he said with a chuckle.