Who is St. Roch?
The Life of Our Patron Saint
Friday, August 16th is the feast day for our Patron Saint, St. Roch. As we pray today for his blessings let us take a look back on his life and why he became a saint. Roch was born in Montpellier, France about 1295 to a very rich and noble family. They were very pious and had prayed to our Lord daily for a child. When Roch was born they thanked God with tears of joy. Roch was born with a birthmark, a red cross, on his chest. When his parents saw this mark they knew it to be a sign of his future work and sanctity.
Roch grew both in age and grace with the help of his parents. He spent much of his boyhood in the practice of piety, penance, and charity. At a very young age God took both his father and his mother from him. His father’s dying words to him were something that the youth cherished as a sacred legacy. “Before all things, devote yourself to the service of God, and meditate diligently on the sufferings of our Divine Lord. Be the stay of the widow, the orphan, and all those in misfortune. Above all, keep yourself from avarice, the source of very many sins. Be eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame, be a father to the poor, and know that by employing the property which I leave you in works of mercy, you will be blessed by God and man.”
He stood firm in his resolutions to serve the Lord. His heart was set on the things of Heaven. He joined the Third Order of St. Francis, sold all his possessions, resigned his principality in favor of his uncle and gave all he had to the poor. Having put on a pilgrim’s habit, he set out on foot for Rome to visit the Tomb of the Holy Apostles. He was a firm believer in the Holy Scriptures and the fact that with God nothing was impossible. He believed that if one wished to stand on the day of the last judgment one must practice charity. That is why he stopped along his way to Rome in a town stricken by the plague.
Roch, along with the hospital superintendent, began conducting the holy Tertiary to the many plague-stricken. He traced on the forehead of each of them the Sign of the Cross and immediately they were cured. He went through the entire city, and in the same manner delivered those who he visited from this terrible malady. Soon everyone was blessing God and the young disciple of St. Francis, who was venerated as an angel sent from Heaven. He left the town secretly to avoid the honors but as he continued on his journey he blessed and cured others who were also stricken with the plague causing many to bless the name of the Lord. It was then that Roch himself was stricken with the plague.
Not wishing to be a burden to the other sick, Roch left the hospital to wander in the woods praying that God would not leave him to perish alone among the beasts. God having heard Roch’s prayer gave him the strength to seek shelter in a small abandoned hut and drink and wash his wounds from the streamlet nearby. It was there in the hut that Roch lay dying when a dog, guided by God, appeared with a small loaf of bread. Roch took the bread from the dog and in exchange gave the dog his blessings. After this happened several times the owner of the dog, having become curious as to where the dog was taking the bread, followed him into the woods where he came upon the dying Roch. He took Roch back to his home and nursed him back to health and the two pious men lived together henceforth devoting their lives to prayer and practices of penance.
When his health had fully returned Roch went back to the city and again began to heal the sick. He also blessed and cured many animals that had been struck by the plague and became known for his great love of animals. Roch received a message from God to return to his homeland so the two men parted ways and Roch returned to Montpellier.
The south of France was being ravaged by war and upon returning Roch was taken for a spy and arrested. Not wanting any special treatment by those that did not recognize him he would only say that he was a servant of God. This unfortunately confirmed the suspicions of those judging him and he was thrown into prison. Roch spent the next five years in the horrible dungeon at the mercy of his accusers knowing full well that all he had to do is let it be known who he was and he would go free. He continued to pour forth unceasing hymns of praise and thanksgiving, and asked for patience and constancy to the very end.
When Roch felt his painful pilgrimage was drawing to its close he asked for a minister of God to be brought to him so that he might receive his last Sacrament. Upon entering the room the priest beheld a supernatural light noting that the poor captive was radiant. After having given Roch the Last Rites the priest quickly informed the governor of what he had seen. While Roch slumbered he saw in his dream a heavenly messenger that said to him, “Roch the time is come for you to receive the reward for your labors and sufferings, and for your soul to repose in Heaven. God is pleased with you.” He awoke, with his soul bathed in holy joy. Addressing God, Roch asked that whosoever is attacked by the plague, or in the danger of being so attacked, shall implore my protection with faith and may be delivered from the sickness or preserved from his scourge. These words were barely out of his mouth when Roch expired, whilst raising his eyes to Heaven and pressing his crucifix to his heart.
As soon as he died the angels sang sweet melodies and the prison shone with celestial light. By his side was found a tablet on which an angel had written in letters of gold the name of Roch and the words: “I announce protection and deliverance to all those who being endangered by the plague, shall have recourse to my intercession.”
When the governor came to see the deceased he was amazed to find that it was his nephew! His family was summoned and uncovering the chest of Roch once again saw the wondrous, red cross with which he had been marked from birth.
He was believed to be 32 years of age at the time of his death in 1327. The following Antiphon and Prayer, in which the striking points of the life of St. Roch are beautifully commemorated, is said by the Church in his honor:
Hail, O most holy Roch, born of a noble family, marked in the left side with the sign of the Cross. St. Roch, in your far journeys, you healed in a marvelous way with your health-giving touch, the sick who were struck with the deadly plague. Hail, angelic St. Roch! Who, by the intervention of a heavenly messenger, obtained from God the privilege of preserving from the plague all those who invoke you. Pray for us, O Blessed Roch, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Oh God, who dist engrave on a tablet, by the hand of an angel, the promise made to Blessed Roch of preserving from the plague whosoever should invoke his name, vouchsafe, by his merits and prayers, to grant that we may be delivered from the plague of both soul and body. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. Roch is one of the most popular saints and having lived among the plague-stricken, his thoughts went beyond the grave to that life after death, when there shall be no grief, nor sorrow, nor hunger, nor thirst, nor pain, and when death shall be no more. He saw in the plague-stricken an image of the Savior stricken for the sins of all man. May he watch over us and protect us by the same miraculous power which he so often used while on earth and thus protect and preserve us from the plague of both body and soul.