Death of NBA star Kobe Bryant, mother’s faith inspired man to become Catholic

Orlando Richardson, middle, stands with Doris Allen, a catechism teacher, left, and Joni Scott, RCIA director at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Detroit. Richardson, 67, joined the Catholic Church this year at St. Charles Borromeo, a decision he said was inspired in part by the late NBA legend Kobe Bryant’s Catholic faith. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic) 

Orlando Richardson, 67, finds solace in RCIA classes, learning about the sacraments and the God to whom he’s turned his life over

This story is part of a series of profiles on new converts who entered the Catholic Church at this year’s Easter Vigil in Metro Detroit. 

DETROIT  Orlando Richardson came into the Church at the Easter Vigil, April 3, this year at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Detroit. 

But the 67-year-old convert is still going to RCIA classes, and his a desire to learn more about his new faith hasn’t waned. 

So every Wednesday, Richardson attends the online classes offered by St. Charles Borromeo and its RCIA director, Joni Scott. Richardson said the classes keep him grounded in the faith, learning more about the Church it took him a lifetime to join. 

“I wanted to become Catholic to learn more about Christ and God and the life of the Church, and I’m still learning,” Richardson told Detroit Catholic. “I’m starting from scratch, and I’m OK with that. I don’t think I’ve ‘got it all’ now, since I’ve been initiated into the Church, and I don’t want to stop there. Every Wednesday, I learn more and I can ask questions.” 

Orlando Richardson is pictured with Doris Allen, Joni Scott and Lester Kirby, a St. Charles Borromeo parishioner and Richardson’s Narcotics Anonymous sponsor — who later became his RCIA sponsor. 

Richardson grew up on Detroit’s west side. He was baptized at Second Baptist Church in Ecorse as a baby. His mother converted to Catholicism out of a desire to see her seven children go to Catholic school and avoid a lifestyle in a neighborhood that was getting “rougher,” but Richardson had other plans. 

“She put me in Catholic school; we were raised on the west side in neighborhoods that weren’t bad, bad, but it was getting rough with gangs and stuff like that,” Richardson said. “I didn’t want to go to Catholic school, and neither did my brothers. So she let me have my way, and I went to a regular school.” 

Richardson went to public school and grew up, but his life was filled with ups and downs, including an addiction to narcotics. But in 2020, news of the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the life of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter really touched Richardson, a longtime basketball fan. 

“Kobe Bryant and his daughter were killed in a helicopter crash,” Richardson said. “I’m a sports fan and stuff, so it touched me when I heard that he had went and received Communion before boarding their helicopter. It really changed my heart. I was seeking a church at that time, and between my mother and the Kobe Bryant ordeal, I made up my mind and wanted to pursue the Catholic faith.” 

Richardson sought the support of a familiar face, Lester Kirby, a St. Charles Borromeo parishioner who was Richardson’s Narcotics Anonymous sponsor for 30 years. 

Richardson credits Kirby’s longtime support — first as an influential voice in his battle against narcotics abuse and later as a witness to the Catholic faith — with inspiring his decision to become Catholic.

“I knew he was Catholic, so I went to him first,” Richardson said. “He’s been helping me go over my life situations and how to adapt and live clean along with the spiritual part of life. ... He never told me to become a Catholic, but he always said I needed to get God, get a church home. So I called him, and told him what I had decided to do.” 

Richardson had bounced around a few denominations and heard many preachers, but the way his RCIA classes broke open the Scriptures and explain them in depth validated Richardson’s decision to become Catholic. 

“I was learning about having more faith, and it brought a lot of peace,” Richardson said. “I’m not as confused about life nowI’ve been in a relationship for 13 years; we’ve been engaged but haven’t gotten married yet, but now she, Cynthia, is in RCIA, because it changed both of our lives. I like what I’ve become, more peaceful, more open. It’s changed me a lot.” 

Richardson said he has always been a spiritual person, particularly in the 12-step Narcotics Anonymous program, which leads participants to “turn their lives over to God.” 

But now Richardson better understands the God to whom he is handing his life over. 

“It’s amazing when you can recognize miracles in life, as I have over the past years,” Richardson said. “It’s been amazing how many small miracles seem big to me now that Christ has showed me when he was in my life. All I had to do was continue this path and have faith. He’s giving me the confidence that things are going to be alright.”