Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

 Aug. 4, 2003

The Archbishop of Waverly: a fitting farewell to a friend

(The following are remarks by John Carr at the Mass of Christian Burial of Archbishop John R. Roach at the St. Paul Cathedral on July 23, 2003.

Archbishop Roach loved coming out to Waverly. He considered Waverly to be a model parish. Well, not in the sense that a model is a small imitation of the real thing, but a model in the sense that Waverly is a place where people of different religions and nationalities care for each other and live together in a real community.

John Carr works as Secretary to the U.S. Bishops Conference. He is married and has teenagers to raise, God bless him. He now lives in Washington, D.C. He describes himself as "coming from a mixed marriage," since his mother came from St. Paul and his father from Minneapolis.)

I was surprised, honored and overwhelmed to learn that Archbishop Roach had asked that I speak at this Mass, which marks his passing and celebrates his service. First, let me express thanks to his sister,

Mona, for those heartfelt words of gratitude for your family sharing John Roach with our family of faith.

Archbishop Roach's life and mine came together in different ways at different times over 35 years. What became a great friendship, ironically began in fear.

He was the no-nonsense, sometimes gruff, first rector of the new St. John Vianney College Seminary. I was part of the first freshman class. For four years, we debated the Vietnam War, Second Vatican Council and many other topics.

At that time, I thought he was too rigid. He probably thought I was not respectful enough. For 30 years, I've joked that one of his achievements was playing a significant role in my not becoming a priest.

I remember complaining one evening to then Monsignor Roach that the new auxiliary bishops would be great disappointments.

"Don't be so sure," he said. Early the next morning I heard on the radio that one of the new bishops was John Roach. I called him.

"I told you the new bishops would be awful." He just laughed. He had a great laugh.

When he was ordained a bishop in this Cathedral, he said among other things, "I'm not going to be an auxiliary bishop forever."

He didn't mean it the way it sounded, but we are glad it turned out that way. He was the only native son who became our Archbishop and he made us proud to be a part of the Church of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

You know how he built up this family of faith, built bridges between different religious communities and built the capacity of the Church to serve those in need and to stand up for human life and dignity here in the Twin Cities. Some may be less aware of all he has meant as a national leader.

The respect of his brother bishops led to his election as President of the Bishops' Conference at a crucial time.

He presided over the adoption of the Pastoral Letter on War and Peace in the midst of the nuclear arms race. He guided the Pastoral Letter on Economic Justice when its message was important and counter-cultural.

Before and after his brother bishops made him their President, they listened to his voice. As debates dragged on, Archbishop Roach would rise with some candor and humor to point a way forward that could bring them together. His voice is missed already.

I once watched him testify at a Senate Hearing on the Gulf War. At first, all the focus was on the more famous panel members.

But in the end, the questions came to Archbishop Roach as he calmly and clearly explained Catholic teachings and its implications. I said, "It was great to hear Jesse Jackson keep repeating, "I agree with the Archbishop.'"

Roach was less than thrilled. "That could get me in a lot of trouble with some of my friends."

He loved being President of the Bishops' Conference. He ran meetings with discipline, respect and humor. He was a principal consensus builder and problem solver. And he was so honored that a kid from Prior Lake,

Minnesota could meet with the Holy Father at least twice a year to discuss how to strengthen our Church.

In his dialogue with the Vatican, he was a straight talking Midwesterner, not given to ecclesial small talk or flattery. He didn't speak Italian and some Vatican officials didn't understand English.

It's been suggested that may have been a good thing. He had a great respect for the prophetic leadership of John Paul II and a deep sense of the universal Church, but he also wanted the Roman Curia to recognize both the loyalty and vitality of the Church in the U.S.

When he led our International Committee, the two of us traveled to the Middle East and Northern Ireland.

These were tough trips, but I have two pictures I treasure. One is Archbishop Roach in front of a vicious Loyalist mural in one of the toughest parts of Protestant Belfast. "No Papists in Belfast," it declared. Well, this was one Papist who was not going to be intimidated. He got out of the car and ordered me to take a picture. I was afraid he was going to start singing "Danny Boy" and get us both killed.

The other photo would have made a great Christmas card. In Jerusalem, we emerged from a tough meeting to be offered a ride on a camel. Archbishop Roach not only rode the camel, but wore the full Palestinian headdress and robe. He looked like the fourth wise man or an Irish Lawrence of Arabia. He took his ministry seriously, but not himself too seriously.

He believed the Church belonged in the public square. Through the years he moved beyond traditional categories of public life and came to exemplify the virtues of "faithful citizenship." In his civic roles, he was political, but not partisan. He was engaged, but would not be used.

He refused to be chaplain for any party, cheerleader for any candidate.

Rather, he challenged all of us to defend human life and dignity, to seek greater justice and pursue peace.

He began with the basics - the Word of God and the teaching of the Church. And he came to insist that our faith should shape our politics, not the other way around. So he was not politically correct nor easy to predict.

A priests' priest and a seminary educator, he led the way in promoting increased participation for women and lay leadership in our Church.

A headmaster of a respected military academy, he became a powerful advocate of peacemaking in the midst of the Cold War.

A principled and persistent defender of the lives of unborn children, he also defended the dignity of poor children and their right to decent education and health care.

A defender of the integrity of Christian marriage and family life, he spoke out against unjust discrimination on the basis or race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or immigrant status.

A proud product of rural Minnesota, he was a strong advocate of urban equity and fair housing.

A man comfortable in board rooms and on the golf course, in places of influence and affluence, he became a powerful advocate for "the least among us," for those who live in refugee camps or homeless shelters, and for farmers losing their way of life.

He learned from painful experience the failures of the institution he led and his own failings. Like others, he would tell you he discovered too late and did too little in the early days of his leadership to confront the pain and hurt and evil of clerical sexual abuse.

As we all know, one day he crashed his car into a convenience store and his soul was tested. He didn't deny, lie or hide. In years of hard work toward recovery, in honest and humble preaching, in sharing his struggles and stories of God's grace, he transformed a terrible moment into a source of hope and courage.

Acknowledging and addressing addiction made him a better pastor, preacher and leader - more faithful, more humble, more respectful of the struggles of others and more trusting in the Lord's care for all of us.

At this time when our Church is under challenge, he gave us an example, which should continue to guide us.

Tell the truth.

Recognize your own mistakes and failings.

Resist denial: Face the problems and deal with them.

Reach out to those who have been hurt.

Recommit to the mission Jesus gave us.

Rely on your faith for strength and direction.

Trust the Lord always.

These wise lessons shaped a good life and remain a powerful legacy.

In bad times and good, this was a priest who loved being a priest. He was holy, but not pious, faithful but not doctrinaire, in the narrow sense of those terms. Archbishop Roach was not afraid.

His confidence in the Gospel, the Church and himself led him forward. John Roach knew who he was and what really mattered...in that chair, at this altar and pulpit; at the State Capitol up the street, on "Meet the Press" or leading the Bishops' Conference, but also in quiet prayer, in loyal friendship, and as his power and health diminished and his death drew near.

Most of us as we grow older become less open, growing more and more convinced of our own righteousness and wisdom. Archbishop Roach went the other way.

He never stopped listening and learning, reading and thinking, searching and praying. He tried to make the Gospel his guide and the Second Vatican Council his road map.

This deepening faith was most clear in his strengthened commitment to Catholic social teaching. He became in this community and in this country one of the strongest articulators of the Catholic social

Tradition. His last major role in the Bishops' Conference was to help bring together more closely Catholic education where he began his ministry with the Catholic social mission and message.

Like his great friend Cardinal Bernardin, he tried to build bridges, not walls. He believed the Gospel was to be proclaimed to all, not reserved for a few. He believed our faith was to be shared and tested, not cloistered and protected. He believed the broader world was the place for engagement and evangelization, not enemy territory.

He called us to see ourselves as one family of faith whether we worship at St. Agnes or Joan of Arc, whether we live in Edina or North Minneapolis, Prior Lake or South St. Paul, whether our families came from Ireland or Asia or Latin America or Stearns County.

He was not a simple man. When he said he "couldn't be more pleased" about some event or activity, you knew he was often dreading it. He could be tough.

He was never timid. He didn't hold grudges, well, not very many, well, not very long. He could be stubborn. He would set his jaw and his face would turn red, but then most times he'd eventually say, "Let's try to do the right thing here."

John R. Roach was an institutional person, a Churchman in the best sense of that word. He was a leader, not a crusader. He was never called trendy.

He was comfortable in the exercise of power and tried to use it to make things better. But he also had a personal touch and a pastor's heart.

The last time I saw him I drove him to breakfast at "Town and Country."

He was quite unsteady, but still sharp. Virtually everybody in the room stopped by to pay their respects. He knew their names, not just the corporate executives and politicians, but also the waitresses and bus boys. He was a strong leader, but he was also a good pastor.

This Archdiocese has a long legacy of great leaders. Archbishop John

Ireland was a dominant Catholic voice in building up our nation and John

A. Ryan was the preeminent voice in shaping Catholic social teaching in our land. Archbishop Roach would be the first to insist he did not have

John Ireland's sweeping vision nor did he have John Ryan's intellectual brilliance or theological precision. But in his own way and in his own challenging times, he followed in their footsteps and was a worthy successor of Ireland and a practical advocate of Ryan's social justice principles.

We are better for his time among us and diminished by his passing. No one can fill his shoes, but we can follow the path he charted. This is a time to thank Archbishop Flynn for how you cared for Archbishop Roach in these last years.

And we share his gratitude and great satisfaction that he left in your capable and caring hands this family of faith he loved so much and served so well.

As we lay him to rest today, the memories are many, but one stands out for me - Archbishop Roach celebrating the Eucharist in the little cave in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. There were only a few of us in that tiny space but he prayed for you and for me.

He prayed for this Church he loved and for a nation and world of greater justice and peace. Now let us pray for him and for all of us that we will continue his good work.

Today, we gather to say goodbye to a strong leader, a faithful priest and a good friend. We come together to say thank you to the family who shared him with us, to the Church who formed him and called him to service and leadership and to a generous and merciful God who gave him to us and now welcomes him home.

Here in this Cathedral of St. Paul, in this city of St. Paul, we say goodbye using the words of St. Paul:

You proclaimed the word.

You were persistent when it was convenient and inconvenient.

You sought to convince, reprimand and encourage through patience and teaching.

You fought the good fight.

You have finished the race.

You kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4, 1-2,7)

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