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Alex Reichel - Beloved Leader of Australia's Charismatic Renewal Movement Dies

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
8 Aug 2012

Dr Alex Reichel will be greatly missed

Dr Alex Reichel's leadership of Australia's Charismatic Movement and his untiring work with the Academy of the Word will be long remembered, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Sydney,  Monsignor John Usher says.

The former Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Sydney and a leading figure in the Australian Catholic Church, Dr Reichel died peacefully in his sleep at his home at Oyster Bay early on Monday morning, 6 August.

He was 84 years old.

"He will be sadly missed," says Msgr Usher and described Dr Reichel as "living proof that when the rational and the spiritual are combined, the result fosters a better understanding of our world bringing new insights and above all, deepening our faith."

Internationally regarded as a gifted mathematician, Dr Reichel never saw any conflict between the logical discipline of numeric quotients and equations and the metaphysics of faith.

St Francis Community took its name from St Francis of Assissi, St Franics Xavier and the city's St Francis de Sales Catholic Church

"Throughout history the Church has repeatedly integrated faith and reason and shown how these can be combined to support each other. The Church was in fact responsible for the Scientific Revolution which continued through Medieval times, right up until the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th Century when rationality took over and rejected the transcendent in favour of pure philosophy," he told Catholic Communications in May this year during celebrations to mark the 40th anniversary of the St Francis Community, the Catholic charismatic renewal community he founded in the 1970s.

Named after St Francis of Assisi, St Francis Xavier and Haymarket's St Francis de Sales Church, the Community was established to support and give help to the city's marginalised and homeless.

For four decades this small but dedicated Community has provided succour, help, shelter and a friendly hand -up to Sydney's homeless and desperate, initially founding inner city refuges before setting up a rehabilitation centre for the marginalised on a farm at Bundeena, giving them a chance to live in safety and rebuild their lives.

In addition to his work with the Community since 1992 Dr Reichel has been the driving force behind the  Academy of the Word. Based in the Polding Centre in the CBD, the Academy offers university and lectures at no charge to the city's battlers. For 20 years, Dr Reichel led a team of leading academics from the Catholic Institute of Sydney, Broken Bay Institute, the Archdiocese of Sydney and the St Francis Community who volunteered their time to give lectures on theology, philosophy, world politics and insights into spiritual life, religious studies and social justice issues.

Ably assisted by leading Sydney academic, Dr Jo de Groot, Dr Reichel  encouraged creative initiative among the Academy's diverse students and provided specially- designed seminars on healing and wellbeing.
While there was - and is - no charge for entry into the Academy, Dr Reichel  made it a condition of enrolment that every student undertake the Academy's Biblical Theology Class and "agree to listen and read with an open heart and mind."

Dr Jo de Groot will now take over as Regent of the Academy. "My involvement with the Academy of the Word has been an ongoing pleasure as was having Alex ask me to continue the work of the Academy and that of the St Francis Community, all of which is part of the ongoing service to the poor. I told him I could only do it with Jesus!" she says.

"He was one of the most significant people in my life in terms of a sharing of faith and service to the poor. He also acted as mentor for my PhD in the study of mental health amongst the marginalised."
During the many years Dr Reichel was at the helm of the St Francis Community and the Academy of the Word, the achievements of both groups have been remarkable.

"When you are doing God's work the Holy Spirit provides," Dr Reichel would insist and shortly before his death, he summed up the reward of working with the St Francis Community and Academy, and being able to help the marginalised and vulnerable, as the discovery of "a Christian life."

 "It might sound scandalous for someone who was brought up Catholic and was a daily communicant, but until I was 31 years old, I knew nothing about Christian life," he told Cathcom in May this year, explaining that until 1968 his main reason and interest in attending Mass was for the liturgy.

"But it was an academic interest and very much from the head rather than the heart," he said.

Dr Jo de Groot will continue the work of the Academy of the Word and the St Francis Community

All this changed during a year's sabbatical at the Joint Institute of Laboratory Astrophysics at the University of Colorado in the USA where Dr Reichel came into contact with the charismatic movement.

"Initially I was very much opposed but within a short time I was won over, and discovered a level of faith that was so outside all previous experiences it made my hair stand on end."

Returning to Australia, Dr Reichel received permission from Cardinal Gilroy, the then Archbishop of Sydney, to begin holding charismatic renewal prayer meetings at Sydney University's St Michael's College. By  1972, Dr Reichel's prayer group had moved to Albion Street's Church of St Francis de Sales, Surry Hills and this was where the Catholic Charismatic Community of St Francis was born.

"In those days there were many homeless on the streets and they'd gather around the church for shelter. Setting up refuges we helped them form little households and supervised them as well as helping them find support and assistance for mental health and issues of alcoholism or drugs. Basically it grew from there."

Dr Reichel is survived by his wife, Nola and his adult children, Damian, Catherine, Bernard, Benedict and Francesca. Dominic and Christopher, two other sons in his close-knit family, predeceased him.

Msgr Usher said; On behalf of the Archdiocese of Sydney, I would like to offer condolences to Alex's wife and children on their loss"

A funeral Mass for Dr Reichel will be held at the St Joseph's Catholic Church, Como NSW at 10.30 am on Monday, 13 August. The Mass will celebrated by Dr Reichel's long time friend, Monsignor William Mullins.