Richard Louis Kinlen (known to his confreres as “Dick”) was born in South Shields, Co. Durham, U.K. on 25th July 1948. He was the eldest of three sons born to Marie and Martin Kinlen. Dick knew from a very early age when he first met the White Fathers at a Vocations’ Exhibition in Newcastle that his future could be with them. He regularly received their newsletters for young people, and so it was that he entered the White Fathers Junior Seminary, St. Columba’s College, St. Boswells, on the Scottish borders. His secondary studies took place at the Junior Seminary, The Priory, Bishops Waltham in England.
From there, Dick was accepted into the Philosophy House, St. Augustine’s, Blacklion, County Cavan, Ireland where he studied from 1967 to 1969. His Novitiate or Spiritual Year was then spent at Dorking, England. Like many of that time he found the transition from a traditional philosophy course to a new style spiritual year coming into vogue somewhat difficult and challenging. However, he persevered and went on to a four year course in Theology in Ottawa, attending St Paul’s University. Here, he was known for his rather wry and typically British sense of humour. He took his Missionary Oath at Eastview on the 6th May 1973. On completion of his studies he returned to his native South Shields to be ordained priest on 25th May 1974. The event was well marked in the local church and press as the family were well known.
In Ottawa, with his skill in picking up languages, Dick had mastered French well and so when he and another confrere were told to choose between themselves, Zaire or Malawi, Dick naturally opted for Zaire (DR Congo). After a three-month language course, he began work in one of the several parishes he was to serve in over the next few years. His curriculum vitae lists a stay in the language school, Kirungo, S.E. Zaire; Lusaka, a bush mission closed down in1975; parish work at Kirungu Mission; a stint at teaching English and Religion in various Secondary Schools; parish ministry in Kifungo Parish, Kalemie.
Conditions were not easy at that time. Travel was arduous, with long journeys to the outstations, yet Dick was very happy in this ministry, and his letters home were full of his interesting stories, with description of the people he met, their lives and the country.
In July 1979, Dick returned home on home leave, during which he studied for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education at St. Mary’s College, Fenham, Newcastle. Strangely enough he never taught again after obtaining this certificate! He then returned to Zaire only to be recalled for a period of service in the British Province in 1984. Dick was appointed to the White Fathers student residence at Ratho, Scotland, for promoting vocations and mission awareness. He served well in this kind of work, and also as Superior of his community and as a Provincial Council member. The Provincial at that time described him as “very generous in his service…a community man and believes in sharing openly with people, and people like to open up to him”.
In 1989, Dick returned to Zaire and was appointed to Kala parish. In a letter home he describes the situation: “We are actually looking after two parishes, Kala and Lusaka with a total of forty-five outstations. Because of the state of the roads, we are trying to get round the villages as often as possible during the dry season. We have one vehicle between us (three confreres), so we usually do our safaris two of us together, one dropping off the other and picking him up after a couple of days”. In 1991, Dick reported on the political situation in his area: “We are all safe and well here in Kala. Fortunately we have no troops stationed here so we escaped any of the recent troubles… Inflation is currently running at ten thousand per cent. Everything goes up from day to day except the church collection”. In 1991, we see that Dick moved to Pweto to form part of the pastoral team there.
Dick eventually came home in 1995 on leave mentally and physically exhausted and because of this and the political situation in Zaire, his Provincial in Great Britain recommended that he should stay in the Province and rest. The following year he was officially appointed to the Province and started a period of home service which began with several appointments in Preston and London as a community Bursar. In 1997 he was appointed as Provincial Secretary, a post he held for the next four years. With his knowledge of computers he was well suited to this task and performed his duties well and rendered service to those less knowledgeable in the technical fields.
In 2003 feeling a change was called for in his life Dick opted for a time of parish ministry, and was accepted by the Bishop of Lancaster. In the Diocese he served in the cathedral parish of Lancaster and later in parishes in Preston and Fleetwood. The Bishop, who was then the spokesperson for the hierarchy on overseas development, appreciated very much Dick’s help with his research and in preparing his talks and conferences. In the parishes he was appreciated for the new enthusiasm and ideas he brought to the liturgy and for his African experiences in his homilies.
In 2012, the European Province needed a full-time secretary in Brussels and Dick, with his great gift of languages and his computer skills was asked to take this appointment. He was ready to return to community life and readily accepted this appointment and a new challenge.
For the next three years he accompanied the Provincial and the Provincial Treasurer to all the meetings of the European Province and faithfully presented the minutes. While the work was demanding he enjoyed the opportunities to meet confrères in different places and was always a good story teller. In Belgium he felt very much at home with so many confrères with whom he had shared experiences of mission in Zaire.
In the summer of 2015, Dick began to sense there was something wrong and it was noticeable to a confrère on holiday with him in Italy that he was not his usual self-confident and jovial self. After many months of tests, pancreatic cancer was finally diagnosed and while accepting the treatment he slowly came to realise that there was to be no cure. He chose to remain in Brussels where he was cared for by the hospital close to our community of Rue Linthout. For the next few months Dick was in and out of hospital being cared for with great kindness by the local White Fathers community. He spent the final weeks in the hospital where his brothers, Robert and Martin were able to visit him. Robert, a Diocesan priest in England, could only make occasional visits but Martin was able to be with him full time during the final weeks, thanks to the hospitality of the Linthout community. Two days before his death he concelebrated from his bed, his final Eucharist with a lifelong friend and confrere from whom he received his final anointing He died on the morning of 16th November 2016 with his brother, Martin, at his bedside.
His funeral Mass was held at the Chapelle St Michel in Brussels where he had served the African community for the last two years of his life. The Provincial, Fr Andre Simonart, celebrated the Eucharist and the Congolese choir of the Chapelle added a fitting memory of his days in Zaire to the ceremony. He was buried in the Missionaries of Africa cemetery at Varsenare.
His brother, Martin, wrote on his memorial card: “God gave, Richard, a wonderful gift: from early childhood he knew exactly what he was going to do with his life. And he did it. He never complained, never said he didn’t want to, always ready to accept his assignment and always going cheerfully. He loved us in life; let us not forget him in death.”
& Chris Wallbank