A large white statue of Our Lady of Fatima stood next to the lectern beside Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, as he gave his homily for Sunday’s Mass commemorating his 25th priestly ordination. This Sunday also happened to be the 13th of the month during this 100th year since the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima.
Father Joe concelebrated the Mass with several of his fellow Marian priests at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Looking at the statue to his left, during his homily Fr. Roesch said, “It’s God’s plan that Mary would be here today for the Mass of the 13th of the month. It didn’t occur to me today that this [anniversary of my ordination Mass] was happening on the 13th of the month, but God is always filled with surprises.”
Father Roesch, known for his appearances on many Marian-produced programs for EWTN, told a story about how Our Lady of Fatima played a role in his vocation to the priesthood. Though he was raised in a devout family and went to Catholic schools all his life, after graduating he began to fall away from his faith.
Referring to the Gospel reading for the day from Matthew 14:22-33, he said, “My life became like the Sea of Galilee, churning up and turbulent, everything was out of order.”
But his mother gave him a book about the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima that explained the story of the three shepherd children receiving these visions. This story touched him in a way he had never experienced before. He had never been interested anytime his mother tried to reintroduce him to Catholicism. But then all of a sudden, the story of Fatima inspired him to have a great hunger to pray, to read spiritual works, and to strive to do God’s will.
“It was clearly a grace from God won for me by the Blessed Mother … there was a complete change in my life, and it wasn’t because of anything that I had done,” he said.
His love for the Fatima story eventually brought him to take a pilgrimage there. By then, he had been discerning a vocation to the Marians, but he had one last reservation about joining the order. He feared that if he joined the Marians, they might send him overseas to a country where he did not speak the language. He feared struggling to communicate in a strange country. But while he was in Portugal, Our Lady of Fatima told him in his heart that he ought to say “yes” to the Lord and that everything would work out. So, he joined the Marians in 1986 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992.
Immediately after ordination, though, the Marians told him that they would be sending him overseas to Rome — just as he had feared. But by the grace of God, his superiors changed their minds and told him that he could spend his first six months working in a parish in North Carolina.
“During those six months, I wanted to get as much experience working in a parish as I could. So I think I did more Baptisms than John the Baptist,” he said.
After those six months, his superiors changed their minds yet again and he did not have to go to Rome for the foreseeable future. He spent the first 13 years of his priesthood in the United States — just as he had hoped.
Finally, he went to Rome 12 years ago, where he has been serving ever since, and this past spring, he was just elected to another six years there as vicar general.
“God is filled with surprises and that’s the wonderful thing about taking a vow of obedience — you end up doing things that [you] wouldn’t have chosen to do,” he said.
Thanks to the vow of obedience, he’s enjoyed preaching in places all over the world, places he never would have gone otherwise.
All this time, he has felt Our Lady accompanying him in his vocation. Even when he hears Confessions, he feels her there with him, helping him to know what to say to help those in need of direction.
Addressing the congregation after the Mass, Fr. Kaz Chawlek, MIC, the Marians’ provincial superior of the United States and Argentina, said, “[Fr. Roesch] always seemed to say ‘yes.’ … [Whenever we] assigned him to a particular thing, he said ‘yes.'” Fr. Kaz emphasized how Fr. Joe’s devotion to the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the Divine Mercy have helped to sustain his vocation.
“I don’t think that we would [have been] able to do as much as we have done without him,” Fr. Kaz said.
In a reception on Eden Hill after the Mass, Fr. Roesch presented a new prayercard memorializing this 25th anniversary of his priestly ordination. It depicts an image of Our Lady of Fatima beside the Divine Mercy. The prayercard that memorialized his ordination 25 years ago, June 27, 1992, depicts a now faded image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“I’m very grateful to Our Lady for helping me throughout these 25 years, and I only pray for perseverance … for myself and for all my Marian brothers. May we be faithful to the end,” Fr. Roesch said.