In the fall of 1928, Catholic Central High School was founded in Detroit. The same year, four months earlier, Richard J. Elmer was born. On Thursday, November 4, 2021, Fr. Richard J. Elmer, CSB ‘46, dedicated Basilian priest and educational figurehead to countless generations of Catholic youth in the metro Detroit area, passed away at the age of 93.
Fr. Elmer was born on May 3, 1928, in Detroit to Frank and Loyola Elmer. He attended Epiphany parish and grade school and graduated from Detroit Catholic Central High School in 1946. He was an active student-athlete at CC. Smart, quick, and competitive, he was involved at school and on the playing fields, enjoying football, baseball, and handball. During his senior year (1945-46), he was Student Council and Class President, Co-Editor of the school yearbook, The Shamrock, member of the Science Club, and graduation Salutatorian. Following graduation from CC, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Toronto in 1952 and was ordained in 1957. He also received a Master of Arts Degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Detroit in 1963.
Fr. Elmer returned to Catholic Central as a teacher in 1952-54, 1960-61, and a guidance counselor from 1961-1967, 1975-1978. He served CC for six years as Principal from 1967-1973 and as Athletic Director from 1973-1975. In 1978, CC moved from Outer Drive to Breakfast Drive, and Fr. Elmer moved to Washington, D.C., to work for the National Catholic Education Association, where he served in a senior administrative role to help organize its largest event, the NCEA Convention. After finishing his term in D.C., he was appointed as Dean of Men at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
In 1990, Fr. Elmer came home to become Catholic Central’s Director of Development and Alumni Relations, and later, would become CC’s first President in 2000. As President, he would become the driving force in securing not only the land but also the donations to build a school at what would be CC’s fifth and final home on Wixom Road in Novi. In 2004, for his lifetime of service to Catholic Central and Catholic education, Fr. Elmer was recognized with the Fr. Canning F. Harrison, CSB Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2008, while serving as CC’s President Emeritus, he spearheaded a collaboration between loyal friends and CC alumni to open St. Catherine of Siena, an all-girls Catholic school in Wixom. There, he served as St. Catherine’s first Principal and Chaplain. Fr. Elmer remained fiercely dedicated to his roles as CC’s President Emeritus and St. Catherine’s Chaplain until the time of his passing.
Everyone who has been blessed to spend time with Fr. Elmer knows it is impossible to fully encapsulate his unfaltering spirituality, endearing character, and infectious smile in just a few words on paper. He was well-known for his warm, personable attitude and his ability to make you feel as if you were the only person in the room. The number of lives he positively impacted cannot be measured. His passion for Catholic education and his goal to assist as many souls to Heaven as possible in one lifetime will continue to inspire countless stories. His life serves as testament to the myriad of ways one human being can be of service to others, and his life's story will continue to serve as a beacon of faith, hope, and love for many generations still to come.
Fr. Elmer, learned, taught, shared, and lived Goodness, Discipline, and Knowledge. He would often say, “Jesus Christ is the Reason for Catholic Central;” that through Him and the intercession of our Blessed Mother, we get closer to God and Heaven.
In the words of Fr. Elmer, “The primary purpose for our existence is to get to Heaven. The richest nourishment for our journey is the Holy Eucharist. Our special spokesperson is Our Blessed Mother. Jesus and Mary, please be with us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Fr. Elmer was preceded in death by his father, Frank, and his mother, Loyola. He is survived by his brother, Lawrence ‘47, sister-in-law, Francesca, his neice, Nikki Woodward, and her husband, Ryan, and grand-niece, Maxine, his nephew, Marc, his wife, Amanda, and their two children, Ella and Maria, as well as many cousins (Margie Ashby) and extended family.
The Basilian Fathers are deeply grateful for the kind and loving care that Fr. Elmer received at Angela Hospice.
Please join us in remembering Fr. Richard Elmer, CSB by visiting the memorial website www.catholiccentral.net/fr-elmer-memorial to watch videos, read memories, and submit your own stories of this remarkable man.
Memorial donations in honor of Fr. Elmer may be made to Detroit Catholic Central. Please mail checks to 27225 Wixom Rd. Novi, MI 48374 or make a secure online gift by visiting www.catholiccentral.net/give.