The following obituary appears in the next issue of The Catholic Key:
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
ST. JOSEPH — The entire city of St. Joseph didn’t come to the funeral of Msgr. Richard M. Dierkes. It only seemed that way.
Thirty minutes before the Mass of Christian Burial on a sweltering Saturday morning Aug. 2, every pew in the Cathedral of St. Joseph was filled. Late comers were seated on folding metal chairs in the side aisles, and on plastic chairs in the back of the church.
There still wasn’t enough, so some stood for the two-hour liturgy as the co-Cathedral parish and the city said good-bye to their rector, their pastor, their priest and their friend.
“He was one of the best,” Bishop Emeritus Raymond J. Boland told his parents, Thomas and Dorothy Dierkes, and Msgr. Dierkes’ five brothers and three sisters.
“When people die young, we often talk about the potential we have lost,” he said. “But I think of the potential we have gained” recalling the promise of St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower” to “spend my heaven doing good works on earth.”
“He served in such a beautiful and exemplary way,” said Bishop Robert W. Finn, the principal celebrant, noting the years he served as priest through the blood disorder that would claim his life.
“Thank you for giving us your son and brother to be a great pastor of souls,” he said.
Msgr. Dierkes, 53, died July 27 at the University of Chicago Medical Center where he had received a bone marrow transplant. Though he had been ill and weakened for a decade, his death still came as a shock.
He frequently had to receive treatment, said his seminary classmate, Father Michael Roach, who was ordained on the same day — April 25, 1981.
“But he always came back to us,” he said.
In the gathering space outside the sanctuary, his family presented a collage of photographs from Msgr. Dierkes’ life — from toddler to man. At every phase of his life, including the pictures of the gaunt, ailing priest, the shock of red hair, the bright blue eyes, and the easy smile were obvious.
Also on display were condolences from a handful of the thousands of people Msgr. Dierkes had touched as an associate pastor at St. Therese Parish in Parkville, at St. John LaLande Parish in Blue Springs, at St. Peter Parish in Kansas City, and as pastor of St. Patrick Parish and the co-Cathedral in St. Joseph, where he served 17 of the 27 years of his priestly ministry.
Anne Kerner wrote of the time she was volunteering at St. Joseph’s Heartland Hospital and a dying man, not from St. Joseph, asked for a priest.
“I called Father Rick and in no time he was consoling the family,” she wrote. “He would drop everything if someone needed spiritual help.”
More than 50 priests, their schedules filled with summer weddings and weekend Masses, dropped what they were doing to concelebrate with the bishops.
That’s the kind of priest and friend Msgr. Dierkes — “Rick” to everyone who knew him — was, Father Roach said in his homily.
“Rick never feared death. He lived life to the fullest,” Father Roach said. “He looked to life, but not as we know it. That’s what gathers us together today. The most important role to him was serving people. One of his biggest fears in life was that people would be left behind.”
Msgr. Dierkes not only believed, but lived the Paschal Mystery, fully trusting in the promise of eternal life, but making every minute of his time on earth count.
“He knew he would not live a long life, so he never wasted a moment,” Father Roach said. “He never failed to ask people how they were, regardless of what his physical condition was. He knew what the priesthood was about, not standing on the sidelines but being in the middle of the pain and suffering. Wherever Rick served, he gave his life to the fullest.”
Even among his large circle of priest-friends, Msgr. Dierkes was the servant, more concerned with their well-being than his own.
“Rick would always challenge us to find the good in whatever challenged us. Then that smile would come upon his face, and we knew he was praying for us,” Father Roach said.
“Now he knows that eternal holy place God has for us,” he said.
The family suggests memorial gifts to the St. Joseph Cathedral Capital Campaign, the St. Joseph Cold Weather Shelter, the Cathedral food pantry or the St. Joseph School Endowment Fund.