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June 12, 2024 – When Fr. Richard J. Stanley, SJ, was on the staff of the Eastern Point Retreat Center in Gloucester, Mass., retreatants sometimes wrote ahead asking for a gentle and compassionate retreat guide “like Fr. Stanley.” Fr. Stanley’s reputation for being sensitively attuned to retreatants was remarkable, for he was known by fellow Jesuits for his intense interest in monastic life, requiring detachment and solitude.

So strong in fact was his attraction to the contemplative life of a monk that, with the permission of Jesuit superiors, he spent 1970-72 as a novice monk in the Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Mass. After two years of living the monastic regimen, however, Abbot Thomas Keating discerned with Fr. Stanley that his vocation was to remain a Jesuit. So Fr. Stanley returned to his fellow Jesuits as a contemplative in action. His close friend and fellow retreat director, Fr. Joseph McHugh, SJ, summed up his many-sided friend: “Dick was an amazing blend of reverence, silliness, and sanctity. His passing is a great loss to us all.” Colleagues at Eastern Point Retreat Center added their own comments: Fr. Stanley was “a marvelous mystic, poet, and musician whose death took place on the anniversary of the death of another great Jesuit mystic and poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. His poem, Pied-beauty captures beautifully Dick’s spirit.”

Fr. Stanley was born in Holyoke, Mass., on July 8, 1941, to Clifford and Marian (Carduff) Stanley, the oldest of their two sons. He was baptized in Blessed Sacrament Church in Holyoke, and graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Holyoke in 1959. After his first year at Fairfield University, he entered the Jesuits in 1960.

In most ways, however, Fr. Stanley’s career was typically Jesuit. He spent his novitiate at Shadowbrook in Lenox, Mass., (1960-63) and did his collegiate and philosophical studies at Weston College (1963-66). As is usual in Jesuit formation, he interrupted formal study with high school teaching in Baghdad College in Iraq, and Xavier High School in Concord, Mass., (1966-69). He completed his theology studies (M.Div.) at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, which had relocated in Cambridge (1969-74). Cardinal Humberto Madeiros ordained Fr. Stanley in St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, Mass., on June 8, 1974.

His first priestly assignment was Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, (1974-80), teaching Classics and English, as well as educational counseling. His interest in spirituality and counseling made him a natural for the Eastern Point Retreat Center in Gloucester, Mass., which thrived both because of its skilled retreat directors and the beauty of its seaside location. Fr. Stanley served there from 1980-89, three of those years as superior of the community. When the New England Jesuit Province at the request of local bishops began to administer diocesan parishes, Fr. Stanley embarked on that ministry, serving as assistant pastor at St. Peter and Paul Parish in Norwich, Conn., from 1989-1992.

In 1992, Fr. Stanley enjoyed a sabbatical semester at Fairfield University and took the opportunity to enroll in the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University to which he brought his considerable skill as a pianist. (Even when presiding at the Eucharist in Gloucester, he supplied the music, racing in his vestments from the piano to the altar and back again to the piano, reminding some retreatants of the phrase “busy as a one-armed paperhanger.”) He remained at Fairfield doing campus ministry from 1993-99. In 1999, he moved to the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston’s South End, accompanying people making the Spiritual Exercises. In 2006, he returned to the retreat house at Eastern Point continuing to guide others with his customary light touch and good humor. For the next eight years, he split his time between retreats and spiritual direction at Eastern Point and Boston.

By September 2017, his health had declined, forcing him to withdraw from active ministry for a new and quiet ministry of prayer for the church and the work of his Jesuit brothers. The next eight years were spent at Campion Retirement Health Center. His fellow Jesuits at Campion found him to be a delight even as they noted his slow decline from walking free, then with a cane, then with a walker, and finally in a wheel chair. On Saturday, June 8, 2024, he lunched with an old friend who had wheeled him to the table; he then retired to his room in the afternoon when he quietly passed away reading a biography of Abraham Lincoln.