Bishop Francis X. Roque Remembered as 'an Officer and a Gentleman'

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PROVIDENCE — Bishop Francis X. Roque, D.D., a priest of the Diocese of Providence who went on to serve as an Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and Titular Bishop of Bagai, before returning upon retirement to continued service in his home diocese, was remembered for his commitment to God and country during a Mass of Christian Burial offered for the repose of his soul on Sept. 19 at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul.

Bishop Roque, 90, died Sept. 12 at the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Jeanne Jugan Residence Home in Pawtucket.

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin served as principal celebrant during the concelebrated Mass, and extended the sympathies of all to the dozens of members of Bishop Roque’s family in attendance as he recalled the bishop’s life of sacrifice in responding to God’s call.

He also spoke about Bishop Roque’s strong commitment to the Blessed Mother and his continued commitment in retirement back in the Diocese of Providence, where had he worked closely with the Legion of Mary and served to promote the dignity of human life.

“Indeed, he had a long life, a wonderful priesthood. He was a great servant of the Lord and gave of himself in service to our nation and to our Church. We will always be grateful for that,” Bishop Tobin said, speaking at the foot of Bishop Roque’s casket to all gathered before offering prayers for the final commendation.

“Bishop Roque was an officer and a gentleman, indeed a disciple of Jesus Christ, a bishop and now he is with the Lord, we pray, in the Kingdom of heaven.”

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, shepherd of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, served as the homilist. He began by expressing his sympathy to the bishop’s family.

“I express my heartfelt sympathy to the family of the late Bishop Roque. You cared so well for him and were so important to him,” he said.

“Now that the final struggle is over, there is a certain emptiness. Remember that he continues to live on in the lessons he taught you and the treasured memories that are yours.”

He spoke of how when a young Francis Roque was baptized in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, and later ordained a priest there, he could not have foreseen all the good ahead that he would do, including serving in Army chaplaincy, episcopal office or as the longest incardinated cleric in the Archdiocese for the Military Services in her short 34-year history.

“But he was present when the Lord called and responded continuously and generously over the last 66 years,” Archbishop Broglio said of Bishop Roque, thanking the diocese for giving up for further service such a “kind and caring priest.”

Of the 50 priests concelebrating the Mass, only one had the distinction of actually having been ordained by Bishop Roque.

Father Joseph Escobar, pastor of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Providence, was a Dominican priest before being incardinated into the Diocese of Providence in 2000.

He was ordained in 1988 by Bishop Roque at St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, D.C.

“I was always touched by his gentle nature, his kindness to me and to my family at the ordination and his devotion to Our Lady. He died on the Feast Day of the Holy name of Mary, which I thought was appropriate,” Father Escobar said.

He maintained contact with Bishop Roque through the years, including on the 31st anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood last May 20.

Bishop Louis E. Gelineau, who attended Bishop Roque’s wake the night before in the chapel of the Jeanne Jugan Home, was one of the co-consecrators in the sanctuary at Bishop’s Roque’s ordination to the episcopacy on May 10, 1983 in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City by Cardinal Terence Cooke. Less than two months earlier, on March 25, 1983, then-Father Roque was named Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

“I was very honored by that,” Bishop Gelineau said.

Bishop Roque had been serving as a military chaplain, and had served in several areas around the world, earning the rank of colonel.

“Everybody loved him. He was a very solid man and a great, great priest,” Bishop Gelineau said.

“He was very much loved and he worked hard. He was an ideal person and a great bishop with the military, and in retirement he did a lot for us too. For anything I asked him to do he was always open and willing to do it,” including presiding at many confirmations.

Born in Providence, the sixth of seven children of parents Warren and Mary Roque, the future bishop attended St. Paul School, Cranston and La Salle Academy in Providence.

It was at St. Paul School that the future bishop discovered his vocation when a Maryknoll priest visited the school to talk about the priesthood and missionary service.

He went on to study for the priesthood at Our Lady of Providence Seminary, in Warwick, and Saint John Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Providence on Sept. 19, 1953 in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul by the late Bishop Russell J. McVinney.

Then-Father Roque first served as assistant pastor at Saint Luke Church in Barrington, from 1953-56, and then at the cathedral from 1956-61.

In 1961 he became a chaplain in the United States Army and served in Vietnam, Korea, West Germany, and Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

After Chaplain School at Fort Slocum, New York, Chaplain Roque was assigned to Fort Gordon, Georgia, and later to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he joined the 101st Airborne Division, known as the Screaming Eagles, according to a biography on Bishop Roque published by “Salute,” the magazine of the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

The article noted that while at Fort Benning, Georgia, Father Roque went to jump school and severely broke his right ankle falling from a rope climb, an injury that left him with a slight limp.

He served as an Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services from his ordination on May 10, 1983 until his retirement from the archdiocese in 2004.

Sister Mary Agnes attended the funeral along with a group of her fellow Little Sisters of the Poor who cared for him at their Jeanne Jugan Home.

“Bishop Roque was a very holy, quiet man who prayed very much in the chapel. He was always there for anyone who needed him at any time. He was a man who was full of faith. He loved people and he always wanted to help them,” Sister Mary Agnes said.

The “Salute” article also noted that up until a pair of strokes in 2017 impaired him, Bishop Roque was known for roaming the skilled nursing floors of the Little Sisters’ Jeanne Jugan Home, leading residents in song.

It is that type of joy for life that members of Bishop Roque’s extended family in attendance at his funeral say they appreciated most about him.

Mary Roque, the bishop’s niece who came from Boston for the funeral, said the outpouring from many whose lives were touched by Bishop Roque’s grace and kindness through the years has been amazing.

“Everybody is telling me what a holy man my uncle was. The last two years that’s been happening and I just keep getting letter after letter,” she said.

“They write him and they are so indebted to him because how he helped their family because of illness or just being a friend.”

At Jeanne Jugan, he continued to inspire, despite his worsening health.

“He never complained, he was always smiling, he was a source of joy.”

Joanie Roque, 16, recalled with a smile the times that Bishop Roque would come to visit her family in Berryville, Virginia, a place where he could get away from the hustle and bustle of life in Rhode Island every once-in-a-while as a retreat of sorts.

“He loved to spot deer,” the bishop’s great-niece remembered of his visits to her family’s home, along with the talks he would have with them as he sat on the porch swing.

One of his favorite parts of each visit was going to eat at John’s Diner for some simple fare, such as the cheeseburgers, which were his favorite.

He would also offer Mass for them in the house when he visited.

“That was a really cool experience,” she said.