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Gabriel Richard

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Gabriel Richard

Portrait of Father Gabriel Richard

Father Gabriel Richard (October 15, 1767 – September 13, 1832) was a French Roman Catholic priest and founder of the University of Michigan who became a Delegate from Michigan Territory to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Early life

He was born in La Ville de Saintes, France and entered the seminary in Angers in 1784 and was ordained on October 15, 1790. In 1792, he emigrated to Baltimore, Maryland. He taught mathematics at St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, until being assigned by Bishop Carroll to do missionary work to the Indians in the Northwest Territory. He was first stationed in what is now Kaskaskia, Illinois, and later in Detroit, Michigan. Fr. Richard was a priest of the Society of Saint-Sulpice.[1]

Work in Detroit

State of Michigan Historical Marker summarizing the life of Fr. Gabriel Richard. Located outside Ste. Anne de Detroit Church.

Richard arrived in [4]

In 1807, he was invited by a Protestant congregation to act as their clergyman. He did so successfully by concentrating on the elements of Christianity where they agreed. He had the first printing press in Detroit and published a periodical in the French language entitled Essais du Michigan, as well as The Michigan Essay, or Impartial Observer, in 1809. He was strongly in favor of the War of 1812 and trading with China.

Father Richard ministered among the Indians of the region and was generally admired by them. During the War of 1812, Richard was imprisoned by the British for refusing to swear an oath of allegiance after their capture of Detroit, saying, "I have taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and I cannot take another. Do with me as you please." He was released when the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, in spite of his hatred for the Americans, refused to fight for the British while Richard was imprisoned.[5]

Together with Chief Justice Board of Trustees and served until his death.

Political career

Father Richard was elected as a nonvoting delegate of the Michigan Territory to the U.S. House of Representatives for the 18th Congress, and was the first Catholic priest to be elected to that body, serving a single term, 1823-1825. He secured the first federal appropriation for a road across Michigan's lower peninsula; it was developed as Michigan Avenue, connecting Detroit with Chicago.[6] Richard was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1824, being succeeded by Austin Eli Wing, a member of the Whig Party.

In 1832, after assisting cholera victims night and day during an epidemic, Gabriel Richard died of cholera in Detroit. By some accounts, he was said to die of exhaustion. He was buried in a crypt in St. Anne's.


Bronze bust at the tomb of Fr. Gabriel Richard inside Ste. Anne de Detroit Church.
  • A bronze bust of Richard marks his tomb within Ste. Anne Church.
  • A State of Michigan Historical Marker commemorates Fr. Richard outside Ste. Anne Church in Detroit.

There are at least four schools near Detroit named after Fr. Gabriel Richard:

The motto that he first penned, Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus, continues to be the official motto of the City of Detroit.


See also

  • Robert Drinan, the first priest to serve as a voting member of Congress


  • Gabriel Richard at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • The Political Graveyard
  • Pargellis, Stanley McCrory. Father Gabriel Richard. (Cass Lectureship Series, 1948). Detroit: Wayne University Press, 1950.
  • The Detroit Almanac: 300 Years of Life in the Motor City. Ed. Peter Gavrilovich and Bill McGraw. Detroit: Detroit Free Press, 2000.

External links

  • Find-A-Grave
  • Father Gabriel Richard, First Catholic Priest in Congress
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Solomon Sibley
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan Territory

Succeeded by
Austin Eli Wing
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