Since he was a young priest at St. Cecilia Parish in Beaverton, Father Richard Thompson has walked into classrooms and told the parish children to greet him if they see him outside of church.

“And if you don’t know what to say, ask what color my socks are,” the jovial priest would say. To further encourage the children, Father Thompson offered five dollars to anyone who caught him not wearing burgundy socks.

“I’ve had to pay out a few times,” said Father Thompson, a native of Bend. “But the children aren’t scared of me.”

“I get even adults now asking me what color my socks are,” he laughed.

Father Thompson, a convert to Catholicism, worked in retail management for 11 years, earning a strong salary. Still, he was stressed out and looking to do something else with his life. He considered becoming a teacher or a social worker. A priest asked him if he’d ever thought about a vocation to priesthood.

Young Richard thought he’d led too wicked a life to enter the clergy. But the priest insisted that God uses all sorts of people to bring others to Christ. He thought more about the idea and talked to other people leading religious lives — lots of people leading religious lives, every priest and sister he encountered. Eventually he decided he wasn’t the most wicked person, nor the best person, but that he would give the seminary a shot.

And so, at 38, he entered Mount Angel Seminary, the oldest seminarian on campus.

“It felt right,” said Father Thompson. “I stuck it out and here I am.”

Father Thompson was ordained in 1995 at St. John the Apostle Parish in Oregon City by then-Archbishop William Levada. He has served St. Henry in Gresham; St. Cecilia in Beaverton; St. Mary, Star of the Sea in Astoria; All Saints in Portland and now St. John Fisher in Portland, where he has been pastor for eight years.

Parishioners say they appreciate having Father Thompson at St. John Fisher. One woman even says the priest — who, she added, has such a big heart — is like part of her family.

The joys Father Thompson has witnessed in his time wearing a Roman collar have been many. He’s loved working with the Catholic schools; every church he’s served since he was ordained has had a parish school. Attendees at his school Masses are likely to witness Father Thompson wandering around the church during his homily, asking questions.

The priest has cherished the opportunity to bring encouragement to those who are lost or ill, giving them some perspective.

“As a priest it is humbling to be an alter Christi — speaking the words of Christ during the consecration of the Eucharist,” wrote Father Thompson in a note to his parishioners. “The priest says, ‘This is my body…this is my blood’ knowing that it is the body and blood of Jesus I am referring to. I have offered those prayers most every day for 25 years.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org