Auckland priest Fr Frank Roach gave two orders before he died. Both concerned his funeral. The first was that there were to be no eulogies. The second was that there were to be no sad faces.
The reason for the first order came from the Gospel reading — Luke 17:-10 — used at the funeral Mass, celebrated at St Therese church in Mangere East on December 22, explained Fr Neil Darragh in the homily.
“We are unfaithful servants. We have only done what we needed to do, we have only done what we were told to do, we have only done what we should do. In other words, we do not expect any compliments, we do not expect praise, we do not expect recognition, for what we do,” Fr Darragh said.
“And this is how, especially a priest, should live. It is, in fact, how Frank lived,” he added.
“So I am very nervous about suggesting any of the good points about Frank,” he said, to much laughter from the congregation.
But Fr Darragh found ways to point out many of Fr Roach’s good points — his love of reading and of history, his friendliness to ministers from other churches, his hospitality, his generosity, and his love of music.
Fr Darragh fondly recalled Fr Roach’s sense of humour.
The homilist referred to the photo on the front of the order of service, saying it captured something about Fr Roach. He is anticipating that we will indulge in some type of humour,here at the funeral. It is going to be something we can laugh at, Fr Darragh said.
“And that is what he was very good at. He could make people laugh.
“When you went into a place where there was a gathering, or a dinner, or lunch or something, where he was, nearly always there was laughter. He had that talent. He knew he had it and he wanted to use it, because that was good. . . .”
“Perhaps the most important of all, he could laugh at himself. And he quite often did tell stories about himself that were humorous stories that made him look silly, as Fr Frank would say, but they were meant to be humorous.”
One such story concerned the time a loud party was taking place next to where Fr Roach was saying evening Mass, Fr Darragh said.
Loud music and drunken laughter and shouting went on until the early hours of the morning, and Fr Roach went to the property, where he shouted at those present to stop the noise. It was disrupting his concentration, which was focused on rewriting his homily for the next Mass. He told those at the party that if the noise didn’t stop, he would curse that house.
Now these are fairly strong words, and no priest should ever say them, Fr Darragh noted.
But Fr Roach was obviously taken seriously. About five minutes later the noise stopped, and “Frank never got a wink of sleep for the rest of that night because he was guilty and worried” about what he did, and he knew it was wrong.
He told this story, and at the end of the story, he would say “wrong again”, which he often said, Fr Darragh added.
Fr Roach died in Auckland Hospital on December 18, aged 89, after a short illness. In his priestly ministry, he served at Te Awamutu, Papatoetoe and Grey Lynn, before a ministering in Samoa in the early 1970s.
Returning to Auckland in 1974, he worked in the Samoan Chaplaincy and was parish priest at Grey Lynn, Hillsborough, Waiuku, Mangere East, Pukekohe and Panmure parishes, before his retirement in 2014.
Fr Roach was ordained in 1957, before Vatican II, and “he didn’t agree with a lot of the changes that happened. He thought they messed up the Church, and he said so”, Fr Darragh said.
But Fr Roach didn’t think priests should return to wearing elaborate garments, and he was no fan of enforcement of some rules and regulations for the sake of it. But he did think the rules should be there.
“He and I met in the early 70s, and from then on we were friends,” Fr Darragh said.
The two disagreed on “almost everything theological, but we were still good friends for all that time”.
“When [Fr Roach] went to Samoa in the 1970s, he was a bit despondent about the condition of the Church. But when he went there, he found a Church that was vibrant, strong and musical. Samoa, in a sense, was his renewal.”
Fr Darragh spent a few minutes of the homily at Mangere East speaking in Samoan, with his remarks drawing several ripples of laughter from many in the congregation.
Fr Roach also became involved with the Tongan community in Auckland — and he was one of the founders of the Tongan Catholic community here, Fr Darragh added.
At the end of the homily, Bishop Patrick Dunn thanked Fr Darragh for giving “a eulogy that was not a eulogy”.
At the start of the Mass, in welcoming people, Bishop Dunn noted how many people considered Fr Roach as “family”.
The bishop said people gathered for the funeral as a type of “extended family”.
He also noted Fr Roach’s love for his own family.
Bishop Michael Gielen and Bishop Denis Browne were among the concelebrants at the Mass. Fr Roach’s body was interred at Panmure Catholic cemetery.