The Catholic Christian community in Phuket has lost a great pastor and friend. Father Richard Woodarek passed away on Friday. He was 82 years old and had spent more than half of his life in Thailand, most of it in Phuket.
Father Richard was born on December 3, 1928 in Salamanca, New York. His parents, both deceased, were Walther and Christine (née Slater) Woodarek. He had one brother, William, also now deceased.
Fr Richard is survived by his sister-in-law and many nieces and nephews scattered across the US.
After fulfilling his military duty in the US Army, Fr Richard entered the Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers in 1948 in Waltham, Massachusetts. He was sent to Rome to complete his philosophical and theological studies at the Angelicum and was ordained in Rome on May 5, 1957.
He was first assigned to serve at the All Saints Church in Manassas, Virginia, while attending Catholic University, where he earned a Master of Arts in social sciences.
In 1959, Fr Richard was assigned to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but when he reached Rome he found that the assignment was changed to Thailand. He arrived in Bangkok in April, 1959.
He first studied Thai at Assumption College and soon became fluent, including reading and writing the language. Soon after, he was assigned to develop a language-studies curriculum at Dowroong Wittaya School in Phuket.
When he arrived in Phuket, tin mining was driving the economy, but his work at Dowroong helped the school become known as the first “English” school on the island. Graduates of Dowroong populated the early hotels and tourism companies on Phuket.
Fr Richard would tell stories of travelling on poor roads to Patong when it was just a beach with some huts serving backpackers. Soon enough, however, more tourists arrived and his flock expanded to include tourists and expats as well as Thais.
Fr Richard had many different assignments in his 52 years in Thailand. He had been the Superior of the Stigmatine Mission in Thailand, the Superior of the Stigmatine community in Phuket, pastor of Our Lady of Assumption Church in Phuket Town, prefect of aspirants, master of novices, Superior of the Stigmatine House of Studies in Samphran, and pastor of St Francis Xavier in Trang.
Most important to his congregation in Phuket, he was assigned to provide Mass and the Sacraments. He served the community well, welcoming tourists year after year to Mass at Le Meridien Phuket Beach Resort in Patong and at the Laguna resort complex every weekend.
Many a Saturday or Sunday he would share a meal with a returning tourist delighted to come “home” to Phuket for the high season and have his pastor waiting for him.
The Cherng Talay community in particular was dear to his heart. He worked closely with the local Filipino choir, which has impressed visitors year after year with their joyful singing at the services. He had a wonderful sense of humor and would often delight his congregation with a joke or two.
He had recently been working with the local community to support their efforts to build a church in Cherng Talay.
When Phuket became a “wedding destination”, it was Fr Richard who worked with couple after couple to ensure that their dream wedding would be sacramental.
He joyfully provided this and other sacraments to his flock which included people from all over the world. Be it for only a week or two, or full-time expats, he was glad to serve.
The Catholic community in Phuket joined together to celebrate Father’s golden jubilee in 2007. Several hundred people gathered at The Metropole hotel in Phuket Town to honor his service to Thailand.
Father Richard’s death was sudden and unexpected. He had returned from visiting relatives in the US last Wednesday and returned to Phuket on Thursday.
He was looking forward to marrying a young couple on Saturday.
Father Richard’s funeral will be held on Wednesday (August 10) at 10am at Our Lady of Assumption Church in Phuket Town.
Bishop Joseph Pratan, bishop of the Diocese of Surat Thani, will officiate.
Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers from all over Thailand, as well as parishioners from Assumption Church and other Catholic churches throughout Southern Thailand, will join the Mass to celebrate this wonderful priest’s life.
As he wished, Father Richard will be buried at the Catholic cemetery at Darasamuth.
Father Richard loved Thailand, and especially Phuket. He was a humble man who with missionary spirit humbly served the Thais and tourists of Phuket for over four decades.
He will be greatly missed by the Catholic community in Phuket.