If your idea of Catholic Mass involves a stern lecture and rock-hard pews, you’ll find neither at St. Gabriel the Archangel Church in Gentilly. The new pastor, Rev. R. Tony Ricard – he arrived there this summer – is more likely to crack wise than deliver a fire-and-brimstone sermon to the congregation. Whether he jokes about the collection plate or the length of the homily, this priest is blessed with a sense of humor. But that’s only his weekend job. Day-to-day, Ricard is also on the faculty at St. Augustine High School, his alma mater. As a student there, he played bell lyre in the school’s well-known Marching 100 while he dreamed of being a doctor. His vocation would come later, both to God and to the students he teaches every year. The best part of working at his old high school, he says, “is realizing I can help change the life of the school as well as individual students just by being me and bringing my gift back to my alma mater.”
Q: Is preaching really your hobby? That’s what I do for fun. I’ve traveled to 23 different countries because I preach.
Q: Were you always funny? My entire life I was funny, but in the early years I was very shy. So only my family knew how foolish I was.
Q: What led you to the priesthood? I transferred to Loyola [from Tulane] and went into elementary education. After being a public schoolteacher in New Orleans for three years, the priesthood looked good. So I entered the seminary. Back when I was in high school, if someone would have told me that I was going to be a priest I would have told them that they were crazy.
Q: What do you do for the Saints? Every year I write a new prayer for the newspaper, and folks all around the region will call and say that they’ve been saying the prayer. One lady said she holds it to her chest for at least the first quarter.
I do Mass with the players and coaches the night before every home game. I’ve also done almost all the sacraments: I’ve done weddings, I’ve done baptisms, I hear confessions. I get to do all the things that their pastor would do if they were at home.
Q: Does your family have special traditions around Christmas? We never open gifts until Christmas morning, as a family. As a child you woke up at 3 in the morning and you ran to see if Santa Claus had been there yet. We were in a shotgun house so you had to sneak through my mama and dad’s room to even get to the living room. And then you sneak back and then you wake up at 5 o’clock and you hope that somebody is breathing so you can get up. As children it was always super exciting. To this day, we still all gather together and we exchange gifts after Christmas morning Mass.
Q: What’s on your Christmas list this year? I really wouldn’t mind if someone were to give me a PlayStation 4.
Q: Are you already working on a special Christmas sermon? Now that I’m in a new parish, they have yet to experience a big holiday with me – my Christmas sermons always have something major. Like one year I wrapped myself in Christmas wrapping to talk about what kind of gifts we’re giving to God. Another year I had a young couple come down the aisle carrying their baby trying to find a seat in the church. This year I really haven’t thought much about where we’re going to go with it, but it’ll definitely involve something that will have the parishioners talking for decades.
Q: Favorite thing about New Orleans? The best thing about living in New Orleans is definitely the people. We see family no matter where you’re from. Wherever you go, you’ll find “babies” and “darlings” because that’s who we are.
Age: 52 Profession: Pastor, St. Gabriel the Archangel Church in Gentilly; campus minister and chair of theology, St. Augustine High School; chaplain, New Orleans Saints Resides: New Orleans Born/raised: Born on a U.S. Army base in Munich, Germany; raised in New Orleans. Family: Father, Rodney; sister, Deidra; brother, Kevin; English bulldog,
J.P. Deuce (after Pope John Paul II) Education: St. Augustine High School; (undergraduate) Loyola University; (master’s degree) Xavier University; (master’s degree) Notre Dame Seminary Favorite book: Bible Favorite movie: Oliver! Favorite TV show: “Empire” Favorite food: Red beans and rice Favorite restaurant: Dooky Chase Restaurant
Hobby: “I preach.”
I really love country music. My first real date to a concert was with my mama, to the Lee Greenwood, Sawyer Brown, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers concert in the Louisiana Superdome. When I want to punish my boys in class and really torture them, I turn on country music and walk around the classroom singing. They’re like,
“We hate you so much.”