Kenneth J. Roberts was born in Southampton, England on September 14, 1931 - the Feast of the Holy Cross and it would signify his life for crosses would come throughout these 68 years of his life. Six months into that life he was orphaned and adopted by Captain and Mrs. Roberts. The Captain was not Catholic, but his mother who he simply referred to as "Mum" was a truly devout Catholic. The Roberts had six children of their own and six foster children. Ken was the oldest of the latter group. After making his First Confession and First Communion at the age of eight, another cross would uproot him and his family a few years later when they were hustled out of Southampton and to the safety of the British countryside out of harm's way of the Nazi bombardments. It would be three years before Ken would be able to return. When he did he found his original home destroyed and the family moved to a smaller home on the outskirts of the city.
The devout nature possessed by his mother proved to be a significant factor in Ken's life. From early childhood he had leanings toward the priesthood, but never made that total commitment until later in his life when the signs were undeniably clear. This was after sojourns in various jobs from pantry boy to steward for Cunard's grand jewel of the Atlantic the Queen Elizabeth and other positions that placed him in the company of the glamorous and wealthy set. Yet with all this rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, Ken still felt incomplete. His journey is best recorded in his best-selling book Playboy to Priest which chronicles his struggles to find his way and the rock of his life - his dear mum who never gave up hope that her son would be a priest. Earlier in his sailing employment he was approached by a wealthy woman with a deep devotion to Our Lady who offered to finance his seminary studies but he turned her down the first time. The second time around, after realizing the world did not hold the answers, Ken contacted the woman Mrs. Dishin who was only too happy to still help even after all those years. He approached his local bishop who referred him to the rector at Osterly College in England and Ken was told to wait a year and then reapply. Yet another cross to bear.
A year later he eagerly reapplied on the Solemnity of the Assumption. He was given a terse "forget about it" by the rector and told to concentrate on a Catholic lay apostolate. Crushed but not daunted, Ken turned to Our Lady, setting out on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and Rome, not in the high-fashion he had been accustomed to during his jet-setting days but by hitchhiking across Europe, meeting people from all walks of life. In Rome he received a letter of introduction to the rector of a seminary in Aosta, Italy and said they would accept him, but when he arrived he realized signals had gotten mixed up and it was only a minor seminary with sixteen the maximum age. Ken was 21. Again, another cross to carry, which he did all the way back to Lourdes, his Rosary always in his hand.
Reaching the shrine, he attended midnight Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows and met the priest afterwards, a Portuguese Padre who spoke perfect English. When Ken told him of his deep desire to be a priest this priest Father Placido opened doors for him, inviting him to his seminary in Portugal where Ken learned Portuguese, perfected his Latin and prepared for the major seminary. He poured himself into his studies there, and visited Fatima regularly, developing a deeper devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary first instilled by his mother. He also became friends with the families of Fatima visionaries Jacinta and Francisco and the aunt of Sister Lucia. While in Portugal his father died and Ken received permission to return to England for the funeral, but while home he contracted an illness with high fever. After recovering he returned to Portugal but during the hiatus his draft status had changed and he was drafted by the British Army, causing him to abandon his studies.
Ken's cross became heavier during his military stint for the atmosphere took him farther away from his faith and his burning passion to be a priest. After his duty ended he returned not to Fatima, but Southampton where he found a job with a plastics factory and became engaged to a young woman named June. They were to be wed. To advance his career and support a family he looked to his past and was hired by BOAC as a steward, taking him around the world. As the months passed and the money enticed him, he began to consider his hometown, past life and even his fiance to be boring. He delayed the wedding, staying with the British Airlines through his twenty-seventh birthday, being promoted regularly. With each promotion his faith grew weaker, making it a habit to come late to Sunday Mass, leaving early. Daily Mass became a thing of the past. All the while his mum was praying even harder.
In 1959, June, disillusioned by his behavior, broke off her engagement. It crushed him but he would later realize that when God closes one door He opens another. Such was the case here for he returned to both Lourdes and Fatima seeking answers. He found them and resigned from BOAC, trying to get his life straight again. He tried selling encyclopedias for a while and then an offer came he couldn't refuse: being rehired aboard the Queen Elizabeth. On board he made friends with a Father Wilson who counseled him to pray for one year and if he were approached to enter the seminary, he was to take it as a sign from God. On an outward voyage from Southampton to New York Ken was summoned to the cabin of Bishop Thomas Gorman, then the Bishop of Dallas who told Ken that if he decided to become a priest, his Diocese of Dallas would welcome him.
Ken heeded this sign from God and enrolled at Osterly College. From there he went on to English Beda College in Rome. The day he entered Pope John XXIII officially opened the Second Vatican Council. On October 4, 1964 - the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi Ken received his tonsure. In May the following year he graduated summa cum laude from the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology. On October 31, 1965 he received the subdiaconate followed in November 1965 by the diaconate.
Just ten days before his ordination to the priesthood, he was to attend a last retreat for those to be ordained in Rome. On the first day the peace and solitude of the retreat was interrupted by another heavy cross. Word reached him that his dear mother had died. She had given him a chalice for his ordination. Ken was grief-stricken, barely able to concentrate on his retreat but he persevered. But he did not lose his mother, only gained an ally in Heaven and it was just before his ordination, as he was struggling to come up with a motto, mandatory before being ordained - that he realized his earthly mother was gone, but his Heavenly Mother was with him always. As he stood in a hall within the Vatican on the last day of the retreat on the Solemnity of the Annunciation he saw this large tableau of the Blessed Mother on the wall with the words below it "Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum" which in English translates, "Be it done unto me according to Thy word." Ken knew instantly what it meant and adapted it as his priestly motto. He was ordained the next day on March 26, 1966 in Rome.
He was invited to Dallas by Bishop Gorman who assigned him to various pastoral duties in parishes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. After Bishop Gorman's retirement in 1969, Bishop Thomas Tschoepe was appointed the new bishop. Father Ken continued in pastoral work and retreats in the Dallas area until his book Playboy to Priest was released in 1973. Soon he was in demand as a speaker throughout the country and he received permission to move to Flourissant, Missouri where he established his own ministry there. In the 80's and early 90's his fame spread and yet, despite all the accolades, he realized it wasn't him that should receive the applause but Mary's Divine Son and to Him Father Ken focused everything on. He made numerous trips to Rome to meet with the Holy Father - both Pope Paul VI and then Pope John Paul II whose Masses Father Ken would relate, were like nothing he had ever seen. It left him with a deep awe and greater respect for the Mass and the Holy Eucharist. It also left him with a deeper admiration for the Tabernacle of Jesus - His Blessed Mother.
To this day, Father Roberts continues to live up to the words of his motto, guided by two mothers; the Blessed Mother and his own earthly mum interceding from above. Father Ken never forgot Our Lady or her shrines, taking many to Fatima and Lourdes on pilgrimages and visiting Medjugorje in the mid-eighties where he realized in his heart that Mary was indeed appearing there. He began preaching the messages to all he could reach, accompanying many pilgrimages as spiritual director there. After years of working with youth in parish work in Dallas-Fort Worth, he was now able to reach the world. His talks became legendary and soon people all over were flocking to hear him and be touched by the eloquent words of this modern-day Archbishop Sheen. It wasn't as much his words as his "word" - as in "word of the day" that prompted so many to take their Faith and the Sacraments more seriously, to deepen their prayer life. His "Altar Calls" became legendary as flocks of youth felt called to come up after his Masses to proclaim their dedication to Jesus and that they were open to being called to the priesthood or religious life. He became a keynote speaker at conferences where thousands came to see, hear and be touched by his spiritual insight. He recorded a program for EWTN that was well-received and he taped a series, appearing regularly on Mother Angelica's show as well as standing as one of the chief apologists of the Church in America. He recorded more tapes, wrote more books, and filled a schedule brimming with retreats and talks throughout the country.
This editor and his family first met this marvelous priest in December 1990 during a retreat at our parish. He touched our hearts like few others had or have. We interviewed him for hours over a two-day period in our home and received his permission to publish those in our new publication A Call To Peace. It was enough material to run for nearly two years. It was during the two days of detailed talks with Father Ken that we learned of his background and a beautiful tradition that always marked his talks or Masses. No matter where he was going or talking, it seemed there were always three roses left for him - a rose for Our Lady, one for his mum, and one for him that he would offer to Heaven and relate how the Rosary is merely a bouquet of roses offered to God through the Blessed Virgin Mary. We can tell you first hand that, other than our own spiritual director Father Al Svobodny, OMI, no priest has had a greater effect on us spiritually than Father Ken.
After celebrating his silver jubilee as a priest on March 25, 1991 he continued his strenuous schedule but soon ill health caught up to him in the mid-nineties. Suffering from blood-clots, he was forced to cut back on his rigorous schedule. As the smear campaign against Medjugorje mounted, he was caught in the cross-fire. Long a target of the left and the far-right, charges of child molestation were trumped up against him from years ago and the timing was not in his favor. For more on this, we strongly recommend you read our editorial on this, first printed last year on November 17 in volume 9, no. 225 entitled, We know God will not turn away from Father Ken Roberts. It will reveal that this was a concerted effort to silence a good man who now is suffering his greatest cross yet - not being able to celebrate Mass in public, preach or hear confessions. As we mentioned in the previous paragraph, it became his trademark that someone would always leave at least three roses with him before he spoke or said Mass. Now many who threw bouquets at this priest are casting brickbats and the petals are drooping as the thorns of those roses try to sting this priest of 34 years. The roses are few and far between these days and we're prayerful he'll soon receive them again. Tomorrow would be an excellent day to start since that is the Feast of the Little Flower - Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.
It was Father Ken who told us in 1990, "The day I stop staying Mass is the day I stop being a priest." Though his faculties have been greatly curtailed for now, he is still able to celebrate Mass in private, which has to be the highlight of each day. Banished by his Diocese, he was afraid he would have no place to lay his head, but Father Leroy Smith, head of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Center in Norwood, Ohio heard of his plight and, like the good Samaritan, invited him to live there in the special place which is the beginning of religious renewal for the area that will spread out to the rest of the country. Father Ken is grateful for he has support of the Marian Cenacle of priests in the area and the support of fellow priests at the Center.
It was Father Ken who has always said, "obedience bears the greatest fruit." Like Blessed Padre Pio he has been obedient and accepted in humility the restrictions placed on him, not understanding the full reasons but accepting it all for God has a reason for the crosses each of us must accept. Like the Capuchin monk of San Giovanni Rotundo who will be a saint in the new millennium, we are confident Father Ken will someday be exonerated of these accusations and be restored to a higher status within the Church. Then once again the faithful everywhere can attend his Masses and be inspired by this dynamic priest who has effected so many conversions, all because he was willing to submit to the Divine Will and bear his cross, no matter how heavy, through his priestly fiat "Be it done unto me according to Thy word."
One of the first things I heard was someone calling the Pope a king working to save his kingdom. Alright, I thought, one person who misinterprets who this man is, and what he stands for. But it got worse.
Next we hear of a strict father, suppressing his son's emotions, scarring him. One friend told how, when they were playing soccer, Karol (who was an excellent goalie) suddenly left because he promised his father he'd be home by four. A commentator made this appear to be oppressive, bordering on abuse. I saw an obedient son. One who felt his obligation to his father was more important than a game with friends.
One poet, reviewing a poem to his mother "The White Grave" said that it was Karol's longing for his mother, and wishing his love for her would end. But then….recognizing that he's opening himself up, suppresses his emotions and closes with a terse…."God grant her eternal rest."
What I got from the poem was a son, who sees his mother's love, even in death. Not a son who feels he has to hide his emotions. Asking God to grant her eternal rest is not the phrase of an uncaring, unfeeling child.
But the real slander began with their assessment of his activities during World War II. They first spoke of how the Church set up the Holocaust, that by specific teaching, the Church encouraged the oppression and death of the Jews. The history of the tensions between Christians and Jews is sown in 33 AD Jerusalem. Far too long ago to go into detail. The Cardinal Patriarch of Poland had a letter read that said that Jews were a danger to Poland, to Europe, etc. But no 'official' Church teaching was ever shown where the CHURCH advocated such a thing. One fellow told of his earliest memories of 'Catholic' children in Krakow, chasing him so they could beat up "the dirty Jew." Again, no official Church document showing this activity was ever encouraged. The fault of the Holocaust, they imply, lies with the Catholic Church.
One person even spoke of Saint Maximillian Kolbe's publication, "Knights of the Immaculata," as an anti-semitic rag, Even though, again, there is ample evidence that he did hide and care for Jews in danger. Hardly the actions of an anti-semite.
They did make one concession, they did admit that Pope Pius XII DID do a lot to help Jews. But then turned around and condemned him for his silence. Again, I saw historical revisionism and narrowness. Everyone, including the Chief Rabbi of Rome, knew what would happen if Pope Pius XII openly condemned Hitler, and the Holocaust. (They conveniently forgot to mention how Pius XII set up a collection of gold to give the Germans who promised they would be left alone if they gave them a set amount of gold.) They forgot to see what happened when other Bishops DID openly condemn the Nazi's. Four Dutch Bishops did so in the latter days of World War II. The Germans, who were busy fighting the Allies, took enough time to, not only step up their deportation of Jews (Anne Frank may be alive today if they remained silent), but arrest and execute anyone else they wanted to. The four bishops were executed as were many others, among them Saint Edith Stein.
No, for the PBS producers, this only made Karol feel guilty. One author, writing a book on non-Jews who helped Jews, interviewed a number of people who knew him. They all spoke of him doing what he could to save Jews. (He worked in a quarry, hardly a position to aid many people.) When asked the Pope if he had helped any Jews, the Pope answered, "NO." Now, to be kind to the author, he may have taken this as the definitive answer. However, he had volumes of testimonies saying that the Pope did indeed help Jews. Could it be that, regardless of what he did, he felt it wasn't enough? We all have heard stories of 'heroes' who said that they didn't do anything. That is the mark of a real hero.
Now, this guilt ridden, emotionally scarred Pope then set out to 'atone' for his sins by re-uniting Jewish children with their families after being hidden in convents and seminaries. (Those dirty anti-Jewish Catholics), going to the Jewish Synagogue in Rome, and making it clear that anti-Semitism is a sin...that you cannot hate Jews (you can't hate…period) and be a Catholic.
The majority of the show finished, I couldn't stand any more. No doubt, this 'guilt-ridden' Pope, emotionally scarred by an oppressive father, who sought God only in as much as an emotionally scarred person will to turn to fantasy to 'shield' him from the world.
John Paul II has seen the best and worst of humanity. He has seen our cruelty disguised as angels of light, and our glories, covered as in clay. He has seen the truth of humanity, good and bad. And he knows the only way out for mankind's woes. But I doubt that is what the documentary showed. Rather, it showed a mixed up person, who wants to remain in the safety of an 'oppressive' Church. A person trying to hold onto a (supposed) medieval Church in the 20th century. I'm sure it made the dissidents feel secure their opposition to him. But I have to agree with Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who felt John Paul II would go down as one of our greatest Popes, regardless of what PBS thinks or unfairly portrayed.
As for my impression of this two-and-a-half hour put-down of the Pope, I was not impressed. Neither, I would suspect, were loyal and devout Catholics who know the truth about this great and compassionate man of God. One thing for sure: Catholic bashing is alive, well, and growing.
Pax Christi, Pat
This office, with Bishop James M. Harvey as Prefect, is responsible for the Papal Chapel, organizing papal audiences including private and public ones in Paul VI Hall and St. Peter's Square. In addition this office is in charge of overseeing and preparing non-liturgical elements of papal ceremonies as well as coordinating itineraries and other arrangements for papal visits and trips the Holy Father will make away from the Vatican. It is this office which determines protocol regarding papal audiences and other formalities involving the Holy See with outside interests.
The background on this office stems from the time of Pope Sixtus V in 1588 when he established the Sacred Congregation for Ceremonies which continued until August 15, 1967 when Pope Paul VI supplanted the congregation with this prefecture, updating and reorganizing it on March 28, 1968.
This office is highly visible wherever the Holy Father celebrates Mass or a liturgical event for the Master of Ceremonies is the well-known face of Monsignor Piero Marini who few know but would recognize instantly. He prepares all liturgical preparations for the Holy Father or his representative during official papal liturgical functions. During the function, whether it be Mass or Benediction or something else, you'll see him standing near the Pope directing the other ministers near the altar, adhering to strict liturgical procedures.
This office dates back to the early Church and evolved over the years until it was formally established by Pope Paul IV in 1563 as a result of the Council of Trent. In 1917 it was somewhat revamped by Pope Benedict XV and further restructured by Paul VI in 1967 as the Prefecture of Pontifical Ceremonies. In Pope John Paul II's Motu Proprio Pastor Bonus on June 28, 1988 it was reorganized and Msgr. Marini appointed with its present title.