|Coat of Arms|
Judge John Roll: A life of authentic Catholic witness
In January 2008, at the invitation of Bishop Thomas Olmsted, I gave a homily at the annual Red Mass for attorneys, judges and public officials in Phoenix. The theme wasn’t new; I’ve said it a hundred times. So has Bishop Olmsted. So have many other bishops. But over the past weekend I dug it out and reread the homily’s last few lines:
“We’re citizens of heaven first. Our time here is limited. This life passes. Eternity is forever. We need to act in this world accordingly, with lives of Christian service to the poor and afflicted—including the unborn child, the immigrant, the homeless and the elderly. The more authentically Catholic we are in our lives, our choices, our actions and our convictions, the more truly we will contribute to the moral and political life of our nation.”
Sitting in the congregation that day was a woman named Maureen, an active and very committed Catholic, and a veteran of crisis pregnancy counseling with Tucson’s Catholic Charities. After the liturgy she moved on to the other tasks of her day, as I did mine. Except that Maureen apparently talked about the Red Mass with her spouse. And 10 months later, after the 2008 election, I got the first of several extraordinary letters from her husband—John Roll, chief judge of the federal District of Arizona; the same John Roll who died in the terrible Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson.
It’s impossible to fully know a man from correspondence alone. But each of John Roll’s letters had the same four clear marks: generosity; intelligence, largeness of spirit and a sincere love for his Catholic faith. Two days after Roll’s murder, his law clerk, attorney Aaron Martin, described to me the kind of man he was.
Roll was devoted to St. Thomas More and kept a biography of the saint on a table near his desk. He liked mentoring young Christian attorneys because he believed their faith gave them a better moral foundation for the vocation of law. For Martin and for Judge Roll’s other clerks, “he was more of a father figure than a boss. He knew our families, and he always wanted to hear the news about them.” He had the habit of reading a range of Catholic publications every Sunday morning before Mass to learn more about his faith. He swam nearly every morning at the local YMCA to stay in shape, and he made daily Mass as often as he could. He liked to joke about a federal marshal who was once assigned to him as round the clock security for a month when he was facing threats. The marshal said, “Judge, I’m a Catholic, but I’ve been to Mass more in the last 30 days than in the past 10 years.”
John Roll would have turned 64 on Feb. 8. He had three sons and five grandchildren. Maureen and John Roll had known each other, according to Aaron Martin, since they were 14 or 15. They were, throughout their life together, each other’s best friends. They would have celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary later this month.
John Roll was, finally, a man of unusual personal graciousness. Despite their political differences, Judge Roll and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, had a cordial relationship of mutual respect. Giffords sought more resources for the court system, and Judge Roll was grateful. Precisely because of their differences, Roll tried to greet Giffords at her local appearances whenever he could. On the morning of his death, Roll went to Mass, and at 9:55 a.m., according to Martin, left his house to just “drop in” on Giffords’ public gathering as a courtesy, to say hello. He never came home.
This life passes. Eternity is forever. We need to act in this world accordingly, with lives of Christian service. Maureen and John Roll shared a life of quiet, powerful, authentic Catholic witness. Please keep them both, and the entire Roll family, in your prayers.
Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. is the Archbishop of Denver. To read more from Archbishop Chaput, click here.
To listen to Archbishop's homily delivered this past Sunday for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, visit www.archden.org/archbishop/homilies.
Wednesday, Jan 12:
Opening prayer for the House, Colorado Capitol building (10 a.m.)
Thursday, Jan. 13:
Presbyteral Council meeting, JPII Center (10 a.m.), followed by Priests’ Personnel Board
Saturday, Jan. 15:
Mass, FOCUS conference, Downtown Sheraton Hotel (10:30 a.m.)
Sunday, Jan. 16:
Mass, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (6:30 p.m.)
Tuesday, Jan. 18:
Committee of Vicars and Directors, JPII Center (9:30 a.m.)