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New church’s benefactor shared riches beyond wealth

Father Bob Jones leads prayer before services St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church Saturday January 5 2013 Sugar Grove. | Jeff

Father Bob Jones leads a prayer before services at St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church on Saturday, January 5, 2013, in Sugar Grove. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 7, 2013 6:26AM

In both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, the number 12 has significant meaning.

It symbolizes completion, as in the 12 tribes of Israel; Jesus’ 12 apostles; the 12 nights of Christmas leading up to the Epiphany; the 12 broken breads at the Last Supper.

So it seemed only fitting that Anthony Rich would pass from this earthly world shortly after 12 noon on 12-12-12.

The Sugar Grove resident, who built a communication systems empire, had certainly attained tremendous success in the business world throughout his almost 96 years of life. But when he died on Dec. 12, Rich was no doubt at peace because his journey of faith had finally been completed.

Less than two weeks before his death, St. Katharine Drexel Catholic Church in Sugar Grove, named in memory of Rich’s wife, was dedicated by new Rockford Diocese Bishop David Malloy in a beautiful ceremony attended by more than 350 parishioners, along with Knights of Columbus honor guards from parishes in Aurora, Batavia, Geneva and St. Charles.

Rich, in the final stage of his long battle with colon cancer, was too ill to take part. So the bishop and the Rev. Bob Jones, pastor of the new church, visited him immediately after the festivities. Although he was bedridden at the time, for this joyous occasion Rich donned a sweater and was sitting at the desk in his home office — always the businessman — when the clergymen arrived.

Their chat was brief, recalled Jones, but it gave the bishop a chance to describe the dedication ceremony and to express his gratitude to the dying man who did so much to bring this church to Sugar Grove.

Building a business

Anthony Rich’s obituary reads like a page from an American Dream novel. The son of a cabinetmaker who’d immigrated from Yugoslavia, young Anthony was still in high school when he opened a radio repair shop in his small Illinois hometown of DePue, west of LaSalle. At age 21, he married Katharine, also from a small Illinois town, then became a trainer in radio communications for the U. S. Army Signal Corps during World War II.

After earning a degree in electrical engineering from Illinois Technology Institute, he went to work for Motorola. He eventually started and developed Rich Inc., a multi-communication system still used in schools and hospitals today.

When his son Jerry joined him, the two men created Rich Operating Systems that integrated audio, video and data in educational and medical centers. That, in turn, led to the integration of computer terminals in the trading industry that positioned the company as the world leader in information retrieval.

Field of Dreams

It was in the spring of 2008 that father and son had another lofty partnership in mind. They approached the Rockford Diocese about building a church in Sugar Grove — a long-time dream of many residents who were attending Masses in other communities, including Elburn, Geneva and Aurora. The Riches offered to kickstart that process with a $3 million donation from Anthony; along with 20 acres from Jerry, who had, over the years, turned chunks of farmland off Dugan Road into Rich Harvest Golf Course, one of the most exclusive private courses in the nation.

For the past four years parishioners have been working on this Field of Dreams campaign, holding services and other activities in the gymnasium of John Shields Elementary School while the church slowly began to grow.

But also growing was Anthony Rich’s cancer. Eventually he lost all his colon and intestines to the disease, yet continued to take delight in the building process, especially when the magnificent steeples were placed atop the church in May 2012.

“I truly believe he was hanging on long enough to see the completion of his dream,” said Jones.

Many see the significance of Anthony Rich’s death on 12-12-12, so soon after the dedication. They also see meaning in the fact that his was the first funeral Mass in the church’s St. Anthony Chapel.

While some say it was a shame he was never able to attend any services, the elder Rich was present for the groundbreaking in June of 2011, as well as the blessing of the cornerstone last fall. Plus, Anthony Rich was a man who truly believed that the beauty of any church lies in the people themselves. For its first-ever Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, about 1,100 people gathered in St. Katharine Drexel to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

“(Anthony) knew what he had accomplished,” said Jones. “He was at peace.”

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