Heart of Louisiana: Banjo Priest

Published: Nov. 13, 2013 at 12:40 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 20, 2013 at 2:49 AM CST
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SULPHER, La. - Although it has some gospel roots, bluegrass music is not a part of the traditions of the Catholic Church. But bluegrass is a big part of the life of one Southwest Louisiana priest. FOX 8's Dave McNamara takes us to Mass in the town of Sulphur to meet a banjo pickin' priest in tonight's Heart of Louisiana.

Music has been a part of Fr. Edward Richard's life since before he can remember. He grew up in the rice fields of Southwest Louisiana listening to his mother's recordings of old time country and bluegrass. As a teen, he played guitar and dobro, and then learned the banjo and played in a band. He went to college and law school. But after he became a lawyer, he struggled with what to do next.

"I kept saying, 'oh no it can't be, it can't be. There must be something wrong.' I missed understanding what God was saying," Richard said.

Richard made a life-changing decision.

"I could stay here and do this for the rest of my life, but I really think that I am called to the priesthood, so I got to go see," he said.

Richard gave up law and thought his banjo-playing days were over.

"So I went to the seminary and actually ended up in Missouri, which bluegrass is a pretty big pastime in some parts of Missouri, so I had an opportunity to play a little bit then," Richard said.

And he never stopped playing. Now, on a Saturday evening after Mass at Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church in Sulpher, his band buddies join him in the church rectory for a bluegrass jam session.

"We play at churches," he said. "The people I play with regularly play at nursing homes and so forth, so once or twice a week maybe we play. I try to practice too if I want to learn something new."

You can also spot Richard at area jam sessions, and he's recorded three CDs of his Holy Mountain music.

It's not unusual for priests to play music, but Richard probably sets the standard for banjo-pickin'.

"I never run across anyone, though, that was maybe doing is much as I have been," he said.

He also found that the gospel in old time country music doesn't always conform to Catholic traditions. So he writes some of his own songs.

"One of my biggest songs, most popular songs, was about the Blessed Mother," he said. "It's important to me, because I think it reveals something about me and it's part of the way that I communicate with the rest of the world."

"If a person is interested in bluegrass music, and they like my music, and it somehow corresponds with their faith and what they believe, then that to me is also something that I'm very happy about that I hope it does," Richard said.

He seems to have found the perfect blend of bluegrass and faith.

You can find a couple of Richard's bluegrass albums on itunes. They include "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy" and "Holy Mountain Banjo."