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Magazines that led to vocation and Divine Mercy
A conversation with Fr Joseph Roesch, Vicar general of the Marian Immaculate Community and general prefect for the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy
30 September, 2012 |
In 2005 Fr Joseph Roesch, an American priest of the Marian Immaculate Community without a word of Italian, was appointed vicar general in Rome.
|‘SURRENDER’: Fr Joseph ... reluctant to answer the call to priesthood.
It became his “most memorable” assignment as he “surrendered to God’s will, said yes and went along for the ride”.
The importance of surrender was a lesson that Fr Joseph had to learn after initially being reluctant to answer the call to priesthood.
The second oldest of five children, he was born in Queens, NY, where his father was a high school art teacher.
“I was born in Queens, we moved to Brooklyn when I was around two and to Staten Island when I was about five – all boroughs of New York City,” he says.
Urban apartments eventually gave way to a family home in the suburbs, where young Joseph was involved in scouts and sport.
It was also there, in a “very Catholic home with pictures and statues of saints” that his foundation in the faith began.
“My father and my mother met as Secular Franciscans,” he says. “They continue to go to daily Mass. We often prayed the family rosary together while I was growing up.
“I had an aunt who was a Poor Clare nun and my mother’s cousin is a priest in Brooklyn.
“My parents gave us very good example regarding the practice of the faith. They also influenced us with their Franciscan spirituality – moderation in all things, simplicity.”
As a young boy, Joseph attended daily Mass during the summer and anxiously awaited becoming an altar server.
“I considered becoming a priest at an early age, even playing at saying Mass at home using saltines and water,” he recalls.
“I went to a vocational camp one summer when I was 11 or 12 to consider attending a minor seminary run by the Vincentians.”
He decided against the minor seminary and instead attended an all-boys Catholic high school and a Jesuit college.
“In high school, I was very involved in dramatics, participating in many plays in a few different schools,” Fr Joseph says.
His university degree was in English, with a focus on drama and theatre and a minor in fine arts, not a qualification immediately associated with the priesthood but one of invaluable experience.
“My training and experience as an actor have helped me immeasurably when I preach, give conferences, do television programs,” Fr Joseph says.
“The ability to effectively communicate the word of God involves some practical aspects – being heard, being understood, speaking clearing and logically, being able to tell a story, make a point, etc.
“It also helped that when I said my first Mass, I was not overly nervous since I was used to standing in front of people!”
Fr Joseph worked as an actor for a couple of years after leaving university, and admits he “lagged in the practice of the faith and in living a faithful Catholic life”.
“Eventually, due to the prayers of my parents and God’s grace, I returned to confession and the practice of the sacraments after reading a small book on Fatima and being touched by the example of the young visionaries,” he says.
“I eventually began attending daily Mass, praying regularly, going to confession regularly and I once again discerned my vocation.
“I broke up with a girlfriend and then felt free to pursue what had been a nagging call at the back of my mind for a long time.”
Though reluctant to take the final step of contacting a religious community, that was his preference over diocesan priesthood.
“I had thought that the diocesan priesthood could be lonely since I had grown up in a large family and I thought it would be helpful to have a community for support and to pray with.”
His parents then gave him an audio tape from a Catholic Charismatic Prayer Meeting held at Notre Dame University.
“On it was a prophecy in which someone spoke words which he felt that the Lord had placed in his heart. He said, ‘Why do you continue to ignore my call? If you continue to ignore my call, I will have to find others to do my work for me!’
“When I heard those words, I felt like I had received a blow to my chest. I felt that those words were meant for me.
“I immediately felt that I had been ignoring God’s call for far too long and that I would miss the boat if I didn’t do something soon.’
“That very day, I found a vocation ad for the Marians in a Catholic magazine and sent it in.
“I had known that I wanted a religious community and I felt that one that had Mary as a patron was right for me. A thought came into my head, ‘What about the Marians’?”
He wasn’t familiar with the Marians, but thought it sounded right.
“Perhaps my having read their magazine had made an impression on me,” Fr Joseph says.
“I was then relieved that I had finally taken the step but anxious about what it would mean in my life.
“I had kept my religious side well hidden from my actor friends.”
It was a fear of missing out that held Fr Joseph back when the priesthood had called earlier in his life.
“I wasn’t ready to answer the call several times because I thought that I would miss out on too many things in life,” he says.
“I had been afraid of going away to a minor seminary, feeling I wasn’t ready.
“I wasn’t ready to go to the college seminary, fearing what my friends would think.
“I wasn’t comfortable enough with owning who I was and who I was called to be to proclaim it to the world. I also wanted to try acting.”
He corresponded with the Marian vocation director in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, before joining, but the first Marian he met was Portuguese.
“I met him in Fatima during a pilgrimage that I made there,” Fr Joseph recalls. “He asked me my age, which was 24 at that time.
“He said, ‘Join now! Twenty-three is too soon and 25 is too late!’ I think he said that to everyone!
“I surrendered my heart to Jesus and Mary at Fatima. I was given the grace to let go of all of my fears.
“When I met the Marians in the US, I felt comfortable with them and their spirituality. It seemed like a good fit. “
Fr Joseph was ordained in his home parish of Our Lady Star of the Sea in Staten Island, New York, on 27 June, 1992. He was 31 and “very happy”.
“God gave me a great deal of peace,” he says. “I knew that this was what I was called to.
“When I had been working as an actor, I had some success but I felt like this was not what I was supposed to be doing, that I would not be using all of my talents that God had given me.
“The ordaining bishop, now deceased, Bishop Patrick Ahearn, had a wonderful sense of humour and a strong New York accent.
“He said to me at the end of the ordination Mass, ‘You have no idea what you are in for Joe, you’re too young and you’re too dumb! But you will see how wonderful it is to be a priest, how God will use you in ways that you can’t imagine!’ He was right!”
Fr Joseph had learnt about Divine Mercy before entering the Marians.
“My parents had visited the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge before I was even aware of the Marians,” he says.
“The Marians’ magazine which came to our house had stories about the Divine Mercy. I began to read them. Many had been written by Fr Seraphim Michalenko, MIC. This is how I started to learn about the Divine Mercy.
“While I was discerning my vocation just before I entered the Marians, a religious sister who lived near our house had monthly prayer meetings at her convent. I would attend and she would ask me to give some short talks on the Divine Mercy
“I read more about it and I have been able to doing many things on EWTN – the annual live broadcast on Mercy Sunday, the taping of the Chaplet, Mercy Minutes, three television series on mercy and other appearances.”
Fr Joseph has also given talks and hosted conferences and parish missions on mercy.
He is the general prefect for the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy, a lay group affiliated with the Marians.
He was the rector of the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, and was instrumental in having it recognised by US bishops as a national shrine.
He has also worked at the Divine Mercy Shrine in the Philippines.
“There is a 50-foot tall statue of the Divine Mercy set on a hill overlooking the ocean,” Fr Joseph says.
“There are stairways up to the heart of Jesus behind stained glass rays. In the heart is a tiny chapel with the Blessed Sacrament. Many hearts are touched there and then the people want to go to confession.”
As youth minister at Our Lady of Grace in Greensboro, North Carolina, he escorted a busload of young people and seminarians to World Youth Day in Denver in 1993.
In 2005 he was elected a member of the Marians’ general council for six years and became involved in the administration of his religious congregation.
“I travelled to the different countries where the Marians work to encourage the men in their work.
“I also helped set up new missions in the Philippines and in India. I worked with young Marian priests studying in Rome and I published an internal newsletter.”
In 2011 Fr Joseph was appointed vicar general of the Marians and received his posting to Rome, where he is also the local superior of the Marian House.
He is in Australia this month for the Sydney Apostolic Congress on Mercy.
“I visited Australia for the first time in 2006,” he says. “I loved Australia on my first trip. It is a beautiful country. I was especially taken with Sydney Harbour.”
He will participate in conferences in Sydney and Melbourne, and will visit elderly members of his community.
“I will visit a 93-year-old Marian priest living in a nursing home outside of Melbourne. He had been working with the Russian Catholic Community there,” he says.
“I will also visit a 90-year-old Marian living in Adelaide who works with the Lithuanian and Spanish speaking immigrants.”
Fr Joseph enjoys movies, basketball and baseball. He is a keen reader and follows politics on the internet.
Since ordination, he has learnt that he was right in his concerns about “about loneliness and the desire to seek a family like community”.
“I have since found that I don’t have the strength to be a diocesan priest – I would not be able to maintain my prayer life because everything depends on personal discipline.
“I am helped tremendously by praying together with my fellow community members.”
•The Sydney Apostolic Congress on Mercy will be held at St Mary’s Cathedral Hall from 5-7 October. For more information email email@example.com