Years after exchanging the gridiron and goalposts for vestments and the altar, Father Richard Rocha is again taking up coaching, of a sort. As the new Director of Vocations, he will be recruiting, mentoring young men in the process of discernment and cheering them on.
Father Rocha, who grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri had always dreamed of coaching football, even while hearing this constant, quiet voice calling him to something greater, the priesthood. It took 14 years for him to answer, while he lived his original dream of coaching. In 1996, he finally realized that it wasn’t what he wanted, it was what God wanted. He made the decision to enter the seminary and study for the priesthood at the age of 34.
He understands the uncertainty and rebellion many young men feel when they first think they hear the call. He also understands the power of prayer when it comes to vocations.
“My mother prayed every day for 14 years that I would become a priest, praying to St. Jude and Our Lady of Guadalupe,” he said. “I had no chance.”
Father Rocha was ordained in 2002.
He served as a parish priest for several years before being tapped by newly installed Bishop Robert Finn to serve as his Master of Ceremonies and secretary in 2005.
He expects to use his experiences, as a high school and college football coach and as a priest to help young men discern and nurture their call to the priesthood.
“We’re all on God’s team, he said.
In the years since his ordination, Father Rocha has learned that prayer is a huge component needed in our daily lives. “We need prayer, to thank God for our blessings and to make requests, like praying for more vocations. We have to help young people develop the mindset of prayer. Staying close to God through prayer and the sacraments will help those called to priesthood or religious life to discern.”
Putting God first is huge, he said, “developing prayer lives and having a spiritual direction. I hope to get that across to young men.”
He himself was drawn to the Eucharist, attending Mass with another coach occasionally at first then daily, wherever he was. “It’s important for a young man who thinks he might be called to the priesthood to stay close to God through prayer, the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and adoration.”
He is excited about his new job, and is confident that although there will be challenges, the groundwork laid by current Vocations Director Father Steve Cook and his staff, Keith Jiron and Marilyn Schaeffer, will make the challenges simpler.
“It is a good idea to get priests to develop a watchful eye for possibilities, young men and even school boys, who might be considering the priesthood. Father Cook has put together quite a database of potential priests, which will be very helpful.”
Father Cook is returning to parish life; he will serve as pastor of St. Peter Parish in Kansas City.
Father Rocha hopes to recruit more young men to the priesthood. Serving as Bishop Finn’s secretary has given him a take on what the bishop wants for this diocese, and one of those is a greater number of vocations. “It’s important to plant the seed early. That’s one reason why we have fifth grade Vocation Days, begun by Bishop Emeritus Raymond Boland in 1995, to interest and excite youngsters about the priesthood. We also need to plant the seed in parents, asking them to pray for a vocation for one of their own. That’s a challenge, not just praying for vocations in general, but to pray that their son or daughter hears and heeds God’s call.”
The Vocation Office has seen an increase in young men wanting to enter the seminary and study for the priesthood. There were six seminarians from this diocese in 2004. Five years later, there are 26 seminarians studying at seminaries across the country, including Conception Seminary College, St. Meinrad in Indiana, St. Gregory the Great in Nebraska, Mundelein in Illinois, Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis and The North American College in Rome.
“I don’t plan on having an annual draft day for seminarians,” Father Rocha said with a laugh. “Right, each parish in the diocese required to send one of its young men to the draft and seminaries will take their pick. No. What we will do is suggest and ask. I’ve heard of young men who considered the priesthood, but since no one ever asked them if they were thinking about it, the call went unanswered. But we have about six young men entering the seminary class next year.”
Father Rocha joked that with this new job, he was moving up, to the sixth floor of the Gillham Plaza Building next door to the Chancery. He looks forward to working with the Vocations Office staff and bringing in new recruits for God’s team.
Printed with permission from The Catholic Key, newspaper for the Diocese of Kansas City, Missouri.