Remembering Richard Osicki (1946 – 2012)



Lives Lived: Richard Jan Osicki, 66

PATSY PEHLEMAN, The Globe and Mail, Published Wednesday, Apr. 10 2013

Philosopher, journalist, teacher, original thinker. Born Sept. 4, 1946, in Nottingham, England, died Oct. 29, 2012, in Winnipeg of cancer, aged 66.

Richard’s parents, Jan and Maria, were veterans of the Polish Army. During the Second World War, Maria was interned, and for both of them life was insufferable.

For Richard, this heritage would infuse his life. He felt that ethnicity influenced everything and everyone.

When peace came, the Osickis settled in England. They would eventually move to Montreal, where Richard graduated in philosophy and political science from the University of Montreal. Years later, when he had embraced Catholicism, the religion of his childhood, he added a masters of theology from Dayton University in Ohio.

Richard had three passions: communications, religion and teaching. He started his career as a radio documentary maker in Montreal and became, at 28, executive producer of the CBC program Identities. It was the early 1970s, the heyday of “multiculturalism.” The show was about the struggles, triumphs and politics of being a Canadian from somewhere else.

No Easter eggs or folk dancing for Richard. Stories were diverse: a Hungarian woman’s Montreal hair salon, an exploration of Swedish sexuality as it translated to Canadian life, an international accordion festival, and conversations with Josef Skvorecky and Henry Morgentaler.

Richard challenged everybody and everything. He loved to argue. He would encourage this quality in his journalism and religion students, suggesting they “try very hard to break through what is considered by those around you to be true or valuable.”

One uncompleted project was a TV documentary about residential schools from the perspective of those whose lives were enriched by them and the teaching nuns who were broken-hearted by the vilification of their life’s work.

Richard loved beautiful women, and married three. During the Identitiesera he wed Bernadette, an elegant and artistic Montrealer. Later he married Basia, the daughter of Polish friends of his parents. With Basia he adopted Tobi (Tobiasz) and they moved to Winnipeg in the mid-1990s. There, his spirituality turned to religion and he became spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg and taught at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba, as well as universities and colleges across North America.

The earlier marriages ended. But just four years before he died, he fell in love and married Dionisia, an ex-nun from the Philippines. They planned a future filled with ideas and projects based on Catholic faith.

Richard’s faith was hard-won. He was filled with questions until the moment of his death. He had become obsessed with the communication of faith and didn’t think churches and media did it well. He was inspired by Marshall McLuhan, who grew up in Winnipeg and was a devout Catholic, and felt there were lessons to be learned from McLuhan about how intellect and faith nurture each other.

He started the Marshall McLuhan Initiative five years ago. Working with St. Paul’s College, he hoped to establish a formal process for the study of how and why people communicate faith. The Marshall McLuhan Initiative lives on.

Patsy Pehleman was Richard’s friend and colleague.

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