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The subject of the following biography was not a man of world-wide, nor even, in any complete sense, of national reputation. The history of his life is, therefore, not put forth in response to any imperious demand or general desire on the part of the public.
Nevertheless, it is hoped that such a work will not be without a certain measure of interest to more than one class of readers in the United States, and possibly beyond the limits of our country. Mr. Richards filled a place in the public eye at a critical period in the religious history of America. He was a factor, even if not one of the most important, in that great movement of return to the Catholic Church, which formed so notable a feature of the nineteenth century.
While this current attained its greatest volume in England under the guidance of John Henry Newman and his associates, it did not fail to make its presence felt simultaneously in many parts of the world. Wherever the English language was read and spoken, the printed utterances of the Oxford Tractarians could
not fail to arouse intense interest and vehement discussion. In the Protestant Episcopal Church of America, every step of the Catholicizing party in England was followed closely by disciples as ardent as any to be found in the ancient university of the Mother Country.
Moreover the movement in America was not merely an imitation and a following in the footsteps of foreign guides. It had features of its own; and its leaders worked out their own salvation in ways, which, though in many cases similar to the methods of thought and argument employed by their brethren in England, were yet often strongly marked with their own individual and national characteristics. Their paths, though in the main parallel and leading to the same goal, were by no means identical, nor even in all cases similar. Hence a close study of the soul-history of a single one of the protagonists in this great religious struggle can scarcely fail to arouse interest and furnish instruction.
Moreover, the scene of Mr. Richards' career prior to his conversion lay in a region of peculiar interest. Ohio was then still the West. It had been in his youth the Far West. All the energy and rude vigor characteristic of the region and the time were fully shared by the Protestant Episcopal body, tempered in the latter by traditional refinement and the education received by its Divines in the East or abroad. Of the early Catholic movement in this environment no adequate account, so far as the writer knows, has hitherto been given. The Rev. Clarence A. Walworth, late Pastor of St. Mary's Church, Albany, published in 1895 a most important and admirable history of the “Oxford Movement in America'; but as indicated in the sub-title, “Glimpses of Life in An Anglican Seminary," the scope of the work is to some extent restricted, and it deals almost exclusively with New York and the Eastern States. In the same year was printed under the title “The Road to Rome, and How Two Brothers Got There,” the substance of two lectures delivered by Mr. William Richards of Washington, D. C., the younger brother of the subject of this memoir. This document is also extremely valuable, especially as illustrating the divergency of the various paths leading dissimilar minds to the unchangeable Unity and Truth of the Catholic Church. But it is necessarily brief and is even more strictly personal in its reminiscences than Father Walworth's book.
After Mr. Henry L. Richards' conversion and removal to the East, his earnest activity in all Church affairs brought him into frequent contact with the leaders of religious thought and work. While his extraordinary humility
and spirit of lowly self-depreciation impelled him always to keep in the background and to consider himself unable and unworthy to assume any leading part, yet this inclination was frequently counteracted to some extent by his natural ardor of character, his burning zeal, and his love of God and the Church, for all of which he was no less remarkable than for his humility. A very large proportion of the converts from Protestantism were reckoned among his personal friends, some were brought into the Church by his efforts, many more were at least cheered and encouraged in their trials by his warm friendship or sympathetic letters. All this makes his life, during the exceptionally long period over which it extended, a compendium, so to speak, of Catholic Church history in the United States.
Finally, it is an added element of interest, impelling to the publication of this biography, that Mr. Richards, always remaining, by the necessity of his position, a layman, gave from the time of his conversion a notable example of enthusiastic fulfilment of the duties of an educated layman in the Church, not only by his intense personal piety and devotion, but also in active labors for the good of souls and the extension of the true religion. In the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and in every form of organized charity, in the teaching and superin
tending of Sunday schools, in public lectures and in regular editorial contributions to the Catholic press, his zeal was actively employed.
More remarkable than all these perhaps was his personal influence in private life, both by word and example, which, joined to his indefatigable zeal, enabled him to dissipate many prejudices and attract earnest souls like himself from darkness to the light of the true Faith. Such laymen are as important to the Church in modern times (perhaps at all times) as good priests.
A word remains to be said as to the materials drawn upon in preparing this life. The most important document is a manuscript autobiographical sketch. This was begun by Mr. Richards in 1874 in consequence of the repeated and urgent solicitations of the present writer, seconded by other members of the family. It is of a very intimate personal character, intended chiefly to give to his children the interior history of his conversion and to illustrate the goodness of God to one who, in his lowliness of self-appreciation, considered himself one of the greatest of sinners. To print in full for public perusal a paper of this kind would be manifestly a proceeding of at least doubtful propriety. It has been judged best to make numerous extracts from this document and to incorporate the substance of the remainder in