July 22, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
When the Rev. Dick Hudson, priest at Christ the King Catholic Church in Belton, retired from his engineering career at IBM in 1990, he thought he and his wife, Vera, would live out a fairy tale's 'happily ever after.'
'We were ready to walk into the sunset. That was our plan,' Hudson said, referring to the leisurely strolls cowboys usually take at the end of western movies once the good guys have won.
But it didn't happened.
'The love of my life died,' Hudson said with his usually cheery eyes twinged in a moment of bittersweet memory. 'I stood there, powerless, and watched her diminish.'
Vera Hudson, her husband's 'most precious person,' died of breast cancer in June of 1994.
That life experience marked a turning point in Hudson's life. He said he found his soul empty and his life without purpose.
'I didn't know what to do. What do you do after 42 years of a God-filled, loving marriage?' Hudson said. 'Before the cancer, I had taken up pottery and she had taken up painting. With her gone, so was my inspiration.'
He decided to contemplate the sole, remaining constant in his life: God.
Starting in childhood as a Catholic school student and continuing through adulthood as a deacon, Hudson has always been an active member of the Catholic Church, however contradictory that may sound for the typical personality of a mechanical engineer.
Science and religion have butted heads since before the dawn of the printed word, but for Hudson, a scientist and poet, the two aren't so combatant.
'Computers and religion, I guess you could say, have been the two parallels in my life,' he said. 'In my career, I worked products that increased the common man's computational ability, making him able to do more quicker and easier.'
As a spiritual leader, Hudson's job is not that different.
'I call people to a deeper spiritual life, minister to the sick and perform counseling services for engaged couples or troubled married partners,' Hudson said. 'All these things help the common man achieve a higher quality of life, reducing needless headaches.'
Hudson's two engineering degrees from Oklahoma A&M University, now called Oklahoma State, provided him with the skills he needed to succeed to mid-level management at IBM. But what gave him the skills that helps him succeed at the church is the very thing that makes him the oddball priest: his marriage.
'I'm a father of two children, I was a husband, and I had a career. I have been through the problems that can arise from those areas in life,' he said, emphasizing that his life experience makes him a more sympathetic, knowledgeable confidant and spiritual guide.
'Miscarriages. Death. Birth. Change. I've experienced many of the joys and pains that everyone does.'
A young man who initiates his adulthood as a celibate priest will not have the same sort of life experience, nor the same kind of advice to offer, Hudson continued.
Becoming a priest was an option for him before he started his IBM career.
'I was supposed to meet with my priest to talk about attending a seminary one day when I was about to graduate high school,' he said. 'But it wasn't until a week later when I realized I had missed the meeting. I was so in love with Vera. My life was in a different direction.'
When Hudson found himself widowed, the option to become a priest again presented itself. As a widowed deacon, he could continue his responsibilities as deacon, he could remarry and renounce those responsibilities or he could remain unmarried and become a priest.
In the Catholic Church, a deacon is an ordained minister who falls in rank after bishop and priest. Deacons may marry whereas priests must remain celibate. A deacon may not consecrate bread and wine for Communion, and they may not absolve sin. Those duties belong to the priest.
His mentors helped him choose the latter life path. Bishop John McCarthy of Austin was a strong advocate for Hudson's priesthood. The bishop encouraged Hudson to attend Sacred Heart School of Theology at the Second Vocation Seminary in Wisconsin.
As a young, married man looking at the idea of priesthood with the eyes of a young husband, Hudson said he thought more men would become priests if the demand of celibacy was lifted. But as a 75-year-old priest remembering the days of life ruled by his wife and children, Hudson said he has reversed that opinion.
'As a husband, you are fully committed to God through your family, and as a priest, you are fully committed to God through your parish,' he said. 'There is no room in either circumstance to sacrifice one for the other.'
Hudson's life as priest started after his ordination on Dec. 7, 1996. Once his life regained purpose, his old interests, namely, pottery and poetry, regained power to steal away bits of his attention.
Handcrafted pottery pieces, not to mention a couple of computers, decorate his home, office and rectory. And he has written more than 150 poems, including 'Ode to a Used Paper Napkin' and 'Autumn Leaves.'
Hudson remains close with his family.
'Vera and I are still bonded, only separated by a great and extremely long distance,' he said, never having removed the wedding ring from his finger.
His adopted daughter Christine, 40, is a practicing neuropsychologist in Houston. He had the privilege to hold a dual role during her marriage. As her father, he gave his daughter away in marriage and walked her down the aisle to her husband. And as spiritual leader, he officiated the ceremony and acted as witness.
His biological son Michael, 54, inherited his father's love for computers and is in his 35th year at IBM. Michael and his wife Doris have given Hudson two grandchildren, Michael, 31, and Timothy, 24.
His congregation in Belton affectionately refers to him as 'Father Dick.' The term of endearment has been so long standing that he now introduces himself as such. He became pastor at Christ the King Catholic Church in November of 2000, finally settling after serving at various parishes in Austin, including San Jose, St. Louis and St. Catherine of Sienna.
The priest is a linguist as well, able to cater to the Hispanic and Mexican communities in Belton. He is fluent in Spanish, capable of preaching, speaking and writing poetry in the language with ease.
'I cannot imagine doing anything more fruitful in a place other than where I am,' he said, quite content to be in his church in Belton.