Father Richard W. Sinner, age 78, of Fargo, ND, died Wednesday, January 28, 2004, at MeritCare Hospital, Fargo. He was known as a man who relied on God?s love in a life of work for peace and justice.
Richard W. Sinner was born October 12, 1925, in Cass County, ND, the son of Albert F. and Katherine A. (Wild) Sinner. He grew up on a farm in Casselton, ND, where he attended high school. After ?getting the call? to enter the priesthood, he left home in 1941 to study at St. John?s University in Collegeville, MN, where he finished high school and the first two years of college. He received his bachelor?s degree and master?s degree, both in theology, from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
He was ordained at St. Mary?s Cathedral in Fargo in 1952. He served as pastor of St. Thomas Acquinas Newman Center at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. During this time he served as chaplain at Grand Forks St. Michael?s Hospital. He served as associate pastor at St. Mary?s in Fargo from 1954-59, and was also chaplain for area hospitals during that time. He was active in the Christian Family Movement and Young Christian Workers groups in Fargo.
Father Sinner then served congregations in Marion, ND, and Montpelier, ND, from 1959-69. During this time he was active in civil rights issues, and also participated in the 1967 March on Washington protesting the Vietnam War. He later served congregations in Argusville, Orrin, and Fulda, all ND, and Duluth, White Earth Reservation, Ogema, and Ponsford, all MN.
He was Pastor in Kent, MN, from 1975-79. In 1976, he was named as a delegate to Call to Action, a group of clergy and laymen addressing the role of the church in society, and possible changes in church law. At the meeting, he initiated three resolutions to allow women and married men to be ordained, and married priests to remain in the priesthood, all of which were adopted by majority vote at the meeting.
From 1979-82, he served as parish priest in Phoenix, AZ, and then Tucson, AZ. He was chaplain at the maximum security Arizona State Prison from 1982-83. It was there he became familiar with the plight of imprisoned illegal immigrants many of whom were political refugees from Central America. He participated in protest marches, and is reported to have bailed some 2000 of these refugees out of prison. He helped convince Mexicana and Western Airlines to stop transporting deportees back to Central America. As part of the so-called Gang of Four – including another priest and two Protestant ministers – he helped the refugees escape to Canada or safer parts of the United States.
In 1983, he returned to North Dakota to help with his brother George?s campaign for governor. He also served as a substitute priest in North Dakota and Minnesota parishes.
In 1986, Father Sinner was recognized with the Prairie Peacemakers Award from the North Dakota Peace Coalition, representing 19 organizations working for peace and social justice. He was the subject of a 1992 book, ?Striving for Justice: Father Sinner and the Sanctuary Movement,? by Tom Domek.
In 1998, Father Sinner officially retired. He was the founding member of a small singing group that performed Negro spirituals and ?60s folk songs at area nursing homes. He was still active in political protests, including recent demonstrations against the war in Iraq.
He was preceded in death by his mother, father, and one brother, William F. Sinner.
He is survived by one sister, Jeanne (Ellery) Bresnahan, Casselton, ND; one brother, George A. (E. Jane) Sinner, Fargo; and many nieces and nephews.
Funeral Mass for Father Sinner will be Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Church of the Nativity, Fargo. Visitation will be Friday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Church of the Nativity, with a prayer service at 3:30 p.m. Burial will be in Casselton Cemetery, Casselton, ND.
Memorials are preferred to Churches United for the Homeless, 203 6th Street South, Moorhead, MN, 56560 or Peace and Justice Center at Presentation Ministries, 1101 32nd Avenue South, Fargo, 58103.
Arrangements entrusted to the care of Boulger Funeral Home, Fargo. Online guestbook at www.boulgerfuneralhome.com