Father Richard E. Raney largely influenced what is known now as St. Edward Parish.
Raney died Oct. 11 in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., at the age of 100, just eight days shy of his 101st birthday.
He had 75 years of service as a priest and had the most seniority in the Diocese of Peoria.
He pastored not only in Chillicothe’s, but also Ottawa, Chatsworth and Moline. He last served as the chaplain for the Poor Clare Nuns at the Monastery of St. Clare in Fort
Myers Beach after he received senior status in 1980. He said daily Mass for them until shortly before his death.
During his 18-year tenure, he saw a school, church, rectory and convent built at St. Ed’s.
When Raney came to Chillicothe near the end of 1957, he knew what he was getting into, according to friend and parishioner Marj McAllister.
“The bishop said, ‘Do you want to stay in Chatsworth or do you want to go to work?’” McAllister said as the story was told to her. “Coming here was work.”
The plans were already in the works as the Rev. Martin J. Spalding, who spent more than 34 years at St. Edward, helped secure the land for a school and convent next to the church. He gave a substantial bequest to see the plans come to fruition.
The Sisters of Christian Charity came in June 1958, and the convent was finished in 1961.
A Catholic education was also important to Raney.
“He was very adamant about religious education for children,” McAllister said.
The school opened in September 1960 with four grades, and by 1963, the school offered education through eighth grade, according to church history. Kindergarten was added in 1971.
Along with education, Raney was also sports-minded, not only for children but also himself.
He loved to golf, friends and family say, and at Arrowhead Country Club, he and Mel Dierdorff were rivals on the green. At age 92, Raney hit a hole in one.
At St. Edward, the rectory was finished in 1966 and in October 1967, the church
Chillicotheans know as St. Edward Catholic Church was dedicated.
Helping Raney was assistant priest Harold Mooney during the process.
While residents of Chillicothe had a special spot in Raney’s heart, his niece said she respected her Uncle Dick, who made up part of a small family by blood.
“We always said he was the patriarch of the family,” Mary Ann Muller said.
She finds herself saying one of the things her uncle used to say most: “People are more important than things.”
That was something evident to more than just his family members.
“He made his people a most important part of his life. I was so close to him. He was just always there when I needed him. If something ever happened, he was the first one I went to,” McAllister said of his dedication to his flock.
Page 2 of 2 - “It was easy to be such a good friend with Father Raney ... He was so easy to love. He is one of those priests that is so holy,” parishioner Alba Goebel said. She and her family members visited Raney in May.
While he was devout, Goebel said he had a way of making parishioners feel like they weren’t the worst sinner in the church.
“He had patience and made time for you,” Goebel said.
He also was not afraid to give a little teasing with a hint of seriousness, too.
Goebel would say that she was not “that good” of an artist. He told her that was “false modesty.”
Raney encouraged her to use her talent for painting for the glory of God.
He asked her to do a painting of a bishop years ago and when she said she thought someone else was a better artist and should do it, he asked her if she was good. She told him she was and ended up doing the portrait.
She also painted two portraits of Raney, with one in Chillicothe at St. Edward and one in Fort Myers Beach.
Both were painted based upon photos, which Goebel said she learned to do after she opened a studio in Florence, Italy. Her art school did not allow painting from photos. She also has painted other Catholic officials using the same process.
With Raney’s love for life and Irish heritage, he also served as the grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2008 in Fort Myers Beach.
“He was a typical Irishman but a very serious and compassionate person, too,” said McAllister. “He was just dedicated to Chillicothe. He loved being a priest and he was until he died.”
Most every summer he would return to Peoria and Chillicothe to catch up with family and friends.
A memorial Mass will be officiated by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, at 9 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.
A memorial Mass will be at 1 p.m. Nov. 3 at St. Edward.