Issue Date: August 1, 2003
Minnesota's Archbishop Roach dies
|Archbishop John R. Roach: called
"instrumental in calling national attention to social justice issues,
fostering ecumenism and building up the work of the laity"
St. Paul-Minneapolis prelate was leader in justice issues
By JERRY FILTEAU
Catholic News Service
Archbishop John R. Roach, head of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese
from 1975 to 1995 and president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops
from 1980 to 1983, died of heart failure July 11 in St. Paul. He was 81 years
Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis said that Roach
was instrumental in calling national attention to social justice issues,
fostering ecumenism and building up the work of the laity.
While Roach was president of the bishops conference, the bishops
took up two of their most notable projects, pastoral letters on peace and on
the U.S. economy, which many regard as the most significant statements in the
The Challenge of Peace: Gods Promise and Our Response
(1983) was credited with sparking serious new thinking throughout the nation on
moral issues surrounding nuclear deterrence and other U.S. defense
Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S.
Economy (1986) was intentionally developed more slowly so as not to
distract attention from the peace document.
As chair of the bishops Committee on International Policy in
1991-94, Roach spoke out on the conferences teaching on war and peace
during the first Persian Gulf War.
In that capacity he also frequently defended human rights and condemned
violence around the world, from Latin America to Africa, from the Middle East
to East Timor and the Balkans.
After retiring in 1995, Roach continued as head of the bishops
national Task Force on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Education, which
produced Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and
Directions in 1998, a document the bishops overwhelmingly adopted.
In it the bishops pronounced Catholic social teaching a central
and essential element of our faith without which Catholic faith formation
and education programs are not fully Catholic.
Archbishop Roach was a devoted churchman and a courageous leader
rooted in prayer. His devotion to the bishops conference was
inspiring, said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill.,
bishops conference president.
Roach held other positions and posts:
- He served on a number of episcopal conference committees, including
administration, priestly formation priorities and plans, and its ad hoc
committee on sexual abuse when it was formed in 1993.
- He chaired the National Catholic Educational Association, 1986-89.
- His reputation as an articulate advocate for family farms and
policies of sustainable agriculture and development put him in the middle of
the U.S. bishops efforts to stem the collapse of family farms as
thousands of farmers faced bankruptcy in the 1980s.
- He headed the U.S. bishops Task Force on Food and Farm Policy
- He was president of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference,
1986-90, during which he oversaw a restructuring of the conference to help it
address new needs.
- He also served as vice president of the bishops conference for
three years before he was elected president.
- After the national Call to Action conference in 1976, a largely lay
gathering sponsored by the bishops at which representatives of dioceses and
Catholic organizations issued calls for changes in society and the church,
Roach headed the bishops follow-up implementation committee until the
bishops conference distanced itself from the lay organization that
Born in Prior Lake, Minn., near the Twin Cities, on July 31, 1921, Roach
was ordained a priest June 18, 1946, after theological studies at St. Paul
Seminary in St. Paul. He also earned a masters degree in education from
the University of Minnesota.
After ordination, he taught at The St. Thomas Academy in St. Paul, for
the next 22 years, five as a Latin and religion teacher and 17 as headmaster.
He was founding rector of the archdioceses new college seminary, St. John
Vianney Seminary in 1968 -- a post he held until he was named auxiliary bishop
of St. Paul- Minneapolis in 1971.
When he was named archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis in May 1975, he was
the first Minnesota native to hold that post.
An ecumenical and interfaith leader, he met in 1976 with Minnesota
rabbis and the Jewish community to discuss the U.S. bishops
Statement on Catholic-Jewish Relations and preached to 1,500 at a
In 1979 he was the first Catholic to preach at the traditional Lutheran
Reformation festival in the state. He told the 4,000 guests, We have gone
too long as a people separated. When we look at the plea of Jesus Christ for
unity, it is hard to regard our division as anything but sinful.
Shortly after he became archbishop he was one of the leaders in bringing
the states Catholic and Lutheran bishops together for an annual joint
retreat. In 1990 the archdiocese and the area synods of St. Paul and
Minneapolis entered a Catholic-Lutheran covenant.
|A pioneer on justice front
Even before he became president of the U.S. bishops conference,
Archbishop John Roach was nationally recognized as a forthright social justice
advocate unafraid to take on difficult issues.
In his installation homily in July 1975, he signaled what would be one
of his major concerns when he commented that the church exists in the
midst of too much hate, too much suffering, too much injustice.
Before his installation, he once donned a Sioux ceremonial headdress and
beaded garment to attend a Native American hearing at a local parish. Over the
years he broadened efforts to reach out to black Catholics and welcomed
Southeast Asians, Koreans, Hispanics and other new arrivals in the area.
To reach out to those in troubled marriages, he established an office to
aid separated and divorced Catholics.
Although he took a lead in promoting women to positions of
responsibility in the church, on several occasions he reminded groups pushing
for womens ordination that the issue was closed.
In 1978 he publicly rebuked a pastor who had turned over his pulpit to
feminist Gloria Steinem.
In the late 1970s he endorsed the J.P. Stevens and Nestle boycotts, both
controversial social justice issues of the day.
In 1979 he established the first Catholic diocesan commission on women
in the United States, and in 1985 he formed the first diocesan AIDS
He established what is now called the Westminster Corp. to develop
low-cost housing for needy individuals and families. Through creative
private-public partnerships it has built and manages more than 2,000 units and
has served as a model for similar diocesan projects in other parts of the
In the early 1990s, when his archdiocese, like a number of others around
the country, was hit with cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, he
responded with a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy and education program
that was long cited as one of the earliest and best in the nation.
-- Catholic News Service
|Roach faced his own dark side
St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John Roach faced a personal trauma in
February 1985 when he had a minor auto accident near his cabin in rural Chisago
County, Minn., and was arrested for driving while intoxicated. He was fined,
spent 48 hours in jail and received counseling.
A proud man, he said it was difficult to face my own
flawedness, but he was grateful for the outpouring of support he received
from his priests and people.
That Easter in his Peace column, a regular feature in his
archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Bulletin (now The Catholic
Spirit), he wrote about how he had been changed during Lent and how his
prayer life took on new meaning.
I felt the loving embrace of the Lords mercy, gentleness,
love and, finally, peace. ... I will know a special joy in celebrating
Christs resurrection because you have sustained me as I tasted the
agony, he wrote.
A longtime friend and colleague, John Carr, secretary for social
development and world peace for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- who
was a student at St. John Vianney Seminary when Roach was rector there -- said
a sign of Roachs greatness was that, instead of being destroyed by the
arrest, as many bishops would have been, the archbishop went through
rehabilitation and became a better man for it.
At the archbishops request, Carr, one of the U.S. churchs
leading social justice figures, was to speak at the funeral.
-- Catholic News Service
National Catholic Reporter, August 1, 2003