Bishop Richard Charles Hanifen was born June 15, 1931, in Denver, the youngest son and third of four children for Edward and Dorothy Hanifen.
Bishop Hanifen attended St. Philomena School for grade school before moving to Regis High School in Denver, from which he’d graduate in 1949. He still has vivid memories of riding the streetcar to school each day. To earn spending money on weekends during his high school years, Bishop Hanifen worked as a delivery boy for a grocery store.
He continued to stay close to home, attending Regis College in Denver in part because his father graduated from there. Bishop Hanifen earned a bachelor of science degree in accounting in 1953.
In addition to his parents, one major influence on Bishop Hanifen’s decision to become a priest was Msgr. William Higgins. Msgr. Higgins was a longtime friend of the family and pastor at St. Philomena for more than 40 years.
“Msgr. Higgins was the one who brought my mom into the church and married my parents,” Bishop Hanifen said. “He buried my brother (who died of leukemia at age 10) and married everyone in the family.”
He was also influenced in high school by a priest who challenged him to join the Forensic League and develop his orating skills. While participating, he met a teacher named Bill Olson whose outgoing nature helped Bishop Hanifen develop what is now a well-known trait of his to be at ease with people.
“All of that learning we did on how to be extemporaneous speakers was invaluable (to my future priesthood),” he said.
He entered St. Thomas Seminary in 1953 and, while participating in an experimental pairing of the seminary and Catholic University in Washington, D.C., earned a bachelor’s degree in Sacred Theology from the latter.
“(St. Thomas) had affiliated with Catholic University and (now-retired Wichita (Kan.) Bishop) Gene Gerber and myself were chosen from our class to do an extra study there during our deacon year,” he said.
Bishop Hanifen was ordained to the priesthood at Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Denver on June 6, 1959.
He left for Rome to earn a canon law degree in 1966 and was vice-chancellor, chancellor and secretary to Archbishop James V. Casey for the Archdiocese of Denver from 1968-1974. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Denver on Sept. 20, 1974, and was named vicar for the southern area of the archdiocese (which became the Diocese of Colorado Springs) in 1976.
While he never met Pope Paul VI, Bishop Hanifen was in Rome for a one-month study sabbatical when Pope John Paul I was elected in August 1978. He participated in the installation Mass and by the time Bishop Hanifen was ready to leave, Pope John Paul I had suddenly died. Although John Paul I’s reign as pope was brief, Bishop Hanifen did attend one of two audiences of bishops the Holy Father granted in that time.
“I was so impressed with the humanity of that man and the way he reached the people,” Bishop Hanifen said. “He was much loved and it’s just a shame he only lived one month.”
When Bishop Hanifen was installed as the first ordinary of the newly created Diocese of Colorado Springs in January 1984, he was welcomed by trumpets and a 200-member choir at a celebration at Pikes Peak Center in downtown Colorado Springs. More than 20 visiting bishops, three abbots and the Vatican’s U.S. nuncio traveled to Colorado Springs for the celebration.
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Casey called Bishop Hanifen a man who exemplified “unselfish love, friendship and mutual respect.” While Bishop Hanifen was already well known to many members of the fledgling diocese, he immediately made a mark at the installation Mass with a joke when the papal nuncio could not find the papal bull to read the Vatican’s declaration of the creation of the diocese.
“Archbishop, this is cattle country, but it’s first time we’ve ever lost a papal bull,” he cracked, turning awkward silence into great laughter.
During his homily, Bishop Hanifen expressed excitement at being chosen to lead the new diocese.
“Why hide it? I don’t intend to,” he said. “This is thrilling for me and I know for you, too, and I’m deeply grateful, too.”
The diocese became known for ecumenism (collaboration and dialogue with other Christian faiths), and for interfaith dialogue, including the co-founding of the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue.
He inherited a rapidly growing area and the building boom that came with it – particularly north and northeast of the city. When the diocese was created by Pope John Paul II, it served 65,000 Catholics through 25 parishes and 10 missions. In his nearly two decades as bishop, the number of Catholics and parishes nearly doubled.
In his retirement, Bishop Hanifen remains active, giving spiritual direction and retreats, helping Bishop Sheridan with confirmations and concelebrating with him at other major Masses. He also is an avid golfer.