Fr. Bertin Roll OFM Cap
Date of birth: October 5, 1916
Place of Birth: Pittsburgh, PA
Investiture: July 13, 1936
Temporary Profession: July 14, 1937
Perpetual Profession: July 14, 1940
Ordination: May 28, 1942
Date of death: January 5, 2015
Burial: St. Augustine Cemetery, Millvale, PA
I've worn out some automobiles
and many more Guardian Angels.
God has been so good to me.
Who has it better than I do? Nobody!
We called him Bert,
the local crew of confreres,
to bring him back to life for real
after weeks of adulation
and pampering from Christian Mothers
who whispered with reverence
his name in full:
Father Bertin Roll,
the national director
of the Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers.
Thus began the tribute to our confrere by Fr. Bonaventure Stefun, OFM Cap., written on his hearing of the death of our brother "Bert." National Director was Bertin Roll's job title and his life's work. Except for the 26 years necessary to grow up, go to school, join the Capuchin Order and become a priest, Bertin pretty much lived to work for the Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers, the longest term of any friar in any one ministry: 61 years, finishing off with another 10 years as Director Emeritus. Could any friar ever have been assigned to one friary for so many years? After 71 years in a ministry, how did he remain so committed and enthusiastic?
If Bert were a salesman,
he would have carried
top honors every month.
He recorded 3000 miles in driving
addressing parish women's groups,
convincing them of the spiritual benefits
of the Christian Mothers Archconfraternity,
the mothers praying for one another,
and always for the children, and often,
determined that prayer and example
would imprint what God was making available.
Fr. Bert was always a man who loved "family. Born to William and Nora (O'Brien) Roll on October 5, 1916, he was named Raymond and baptized at St. Athanasius Church in Pittsburgh, PA, where he attended the parish grade school. His sister, Helen, and his brothers, George and Bill, kept in touch throughout their lives, though each of them was to precede Bertin in death. He always spoke lovingly of his mother and quotes his father as often saying to him: "If you are going to do something, do it right or not at all," as well as "Write bigger, son." (Bert was notorious for scribbling when he wasn't printing).
Raymond Roll, his given name, chose St. Fidelis High School Seminary after grade school, pursuing a call to the priesthood even though he was an excellent baseball player. Many say that he could have continued into the big leagues. But, instead, he was invested in the Capuchin habit in 1936, taking the religious name Bertin and professing temporary vows in 1937 at SS. Peter & Paul Monastery in Cumberland, MD, where he had lived his novitiate year. He studied philosophy with the rest of his class in Victoria, KS, and moved on to Capuchin College in Washington, DC for his priesthood studies.
Ordained on May 28, 1942, in DC's Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Fr. Bertin spent his first year as a priest friar in DC with his classmates, helping with Masses in the area and finishing up course work. He was named Assistant Director of the Archconfraternity of Christian Mothers for only one year before he became the Director. Established in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1881, the Confraternity of Christian Mothers were brought to the USA through the German Capuchin friars who immigrated here, escaping Germany's Kulturkampf which had been hostile to the propagation of the Catholic faith in families. Bertin began his work with the Christian Mothers as a young man of 26, while the Archconfraternity itself was celebrating 61 years on American soil. It's uncannily providential that this young man was to steer the ship for its next 62 years of life.
That was Bert's world
for 60 years and a little more,
forever living at St. Augustine Friary
and then he parked his car,
and prepared the books for the Lord's audit.
His birthday rang in the 90s,
on to 98,
the oldest age achieved
by a friar of the province,
with loyalty and perseverance
and eager devotion
to the Capuchin Order and the Church.
Bertin Roll loved life, loved baseball and absolutely loved golf. He was good at it. His travels around the US thoughout every year would always be punctuated by finding a fellow priest or parishioner with a membership to a golf course. His car was packed with boxes of Mother Loveprayerbooks: the manual written by German friar Pius Franciscus, OFM Cap. whose English version was edited by Bert. Still, there was always plenty of room for the golf clubs. Like Fr. Bert, the clubs were rarely at home in Pittsburgh.
The tales of Bert's golf games are the stuff of legend, and Bert was never shy to relate them. On different occasions, he made three holes-in-one in a single outing. Some of the best stories, of course, can't be told in an official necrology, but one story might give a hint at the color and joy which Bert brought to the game and shed light on the kind of stories he loved to recount. One time, while a fellow friar was bending to retrieve his own ball, Fr. Bert, positioned just behind the unsuspecting player, yelled the usual "FORE!" In future years, Bert would recount what followed as probably his greatest, though not intentional, "hole-in-one."
Our brother often shared the story of his childhood friend, Carl Beljan, a Golf Pro at Churchill Country Club in Pittsburgh. The two of them had caddied together in grade school. After Fr. Bert was ordained, Carl told him: "Hey Father, I'm a Pro! You know that we Pros hit some bad shots. So, Father, remember all your good shots, and you'll always come home happy." Bertin thought that was good advice and applied that to his life. Fellow golfers throughout the years heard Bert reminding them: "Hit them straight, and only remember the good shots."
Bert had a lot of "good shots" to remember. On the sixtieth anniversary of his work in 2004, he wrote:
All my shots were aimed at drawing myself and the Christian Mothers closer to Christ and to His and our Blessed Mother Mary. A panorama of those sixty years would picture me working with my wonderful office force, Stella, Janie, Jill, and Mary surrounded by maps, phones, directories, thousands of medals, Mother Love prayer books, and millions of leaflets and stickers. There would be glimpses of churches and confessionals plus rectories, priests, Christian mothers, restaurants, and rest stops along with golf courses, bars (not too many), cafes with tasty soup and service stations. I've worn out some automobiles and many more Guardian Angels. God has been so good to me. Who has it better than I do? Nobody! Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!
Unrecorded and unofficial,
the best of Bert
was his daily compassion:
a pleasant 'how are you feeling'
for a confrere
just come home from hospital;
'What are you working on?'
to a student friar;
and a casual
'You look nice and happy today,'
to a woman visiting the friary;
and always a word of interest,
or a story,
about a priest he met on his travels,
as he mooched a place to sleep
from rectories across the country.
Bertin had a faithful crew of women who worked with and for him in the Archconfraternity central office. In 1982, when the Confraternity celebrated the 40th year of Bertin's ordination, the women wrote of their work with Bert, authoring the introduction to their seasonal Newsletter. Rose, Gertrude, Jill, Janie, Stella and Catherine wrote that Fr. Bertin "treats us, his helpers, and all Christian Mothers with thoughtful kindness and is confident that we can take care of his office while he is away visiting Confraternity parishes." Throughout most of his tenure Jill Turok, Jane Bienemann, Stella O'Such, Mary Anderson and Rita Jones were indispensable in arranging his travels, responding to inquiries, supplying local chapters with resources and providing organizational advice to local leaders. Their hard work, loyalty and friendship were valued, and he cherished their service. Although many have made their own journeys to the Lord with Bertin, Jane's daughter, Jill Turok, continues her dedicated work with fond memories of Bertin's kindness and commitment.
It is rare that one can say truthfully that "I never heard a word of complaint from . . .," but most friars would agree that the phrase is rightfully used when speaking of our confrere. He was perennially grateful, rarely mentioning his own numerous accomplishments, and always quick to recognize and express his appreciation for the talents and contributions of others, especially those who might go unnoticed.
He was never too busy or too tired for those who sought him out for confession or spiritual guidance. He was unfailingly faithful in prayer, entirely devoted to the Church and held himself to the highest of standards as a Capuchin friar and priest. When he was home, his relaxed and casual homilies for the friars at St. Augustine often noted what a "great life we led as Capuchins." One Thanksgiving Day homily delineated a whole list of things to be grateful for, a list that even included the "great towels" we used and the "great parking lot" the friars enjoyed because of the "great Guardian." It was all "great," and Bert really was grateful, without pretense.
Axioms and short phrases of wisdom often flowed from Bert's lips which made him easy to listen to for most audiences. In 1954, Fr. Bertin and fellow friar, Fr. Simon Conrad, co-hosted the nation's first televised youth mission which was broadcast live on the CBS TV network for eight weeks. The two Capuchin friars traveled to New York City each weekend for the nationally broadcast series, "Look Up and Live." Bertin and Simon hardly possessed similar personalities, but some said they made a great pair.
Bertin's retreats were filled with hints and suggestions that he found helpful for daily life. A long list prepared at a retreat for student friars in 1946 listed possible resolutions that the friars could undertake. They included folksy gems which undoubtedly explain his own character:
-- I will always talk things over with my Coach and Manager, Christ.
-- I'm out to catch every drop of good, every drop of grace, that comes my way.
-- My temper is too good a gift to lose.
-- Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall be greatly surprised: he shall enjoy everything.
In the Provincial archives, there is a large and very thick envelope in Bertin Roll's file that dates back to the year 1929. It lists where Bert was to be on any given day, listed by month, day and year. Month after month, day after day, he programmed his life by city, by parish and by pastor. Just one example from September and October 1959, lists a Monday-Friday agenda as including, respectively, "South Bend, Indiana; Chicago, IL; Wausau, Wisconsin (LaCrosse); Pine River, Minnesota (Duluth); [and] Brainard, Minnesota." He visited groups of Christian mothers in every state of the USA. Other than having to fly to Hawaii, he virtually lived in his car. This itinerant friar forged relationships in numerous American locales, and he received the appreciation of local pastors, bishops and, more importantly, many a Christian mother.
The good of people
was Bert's main hobby
and constant exercise.
It is obvious that Fr. Bertin found himself in a very different world of women as his 61 years as director came to an end. Yet even women who recognized that parts of his message were 'old-fashioned' and offered a predictably limited view of 'motherhood' and 'womanhood' were still able to perceive Bert's goodness and positive intentions when they came to know the man and his good heart. His message seldom changed throughout his 61 years, even if the decades produced significant changes to family life. He was not an avid reader and rarely entered into intellectual queries. His was a Reader's Digest wisdom, packaged for a public that needed to be encouraged and 'lifted up' in the midst of the burdens carried for their families. Even at home at St. Augustine's, Bertin's usual "How ya' doin?" never demanded or expected a response. He was eponymously able to "roll" through life, keeping his gaze on the Lord, "on the ball, and on the road."
In an undated interview he gave to Phoenix, Arizona's Catholic Sun, Fr. Bert admitted to the obvious changing scenarios for the modern family. "Years ago, he said, "wives used to say to their husbands, 'You bring home the paycheck every week, and I'll take care of the house and children.' Of course, it doesn't work that way anymore, and I think it's a better ballgame with fathers involved." The article ends: "Father Roll hopes to continue his work 'until they take the keys away from me.'"
No one had to take the keys away. Even Bertin recognized that age is not kind to our bodies. He would have stints in the hospital a few times. A hospital stay in Texas while on the road in 2006 showed him that his frequent travels were things of the past. He retired to life at home, helping out for Masses or for the Sacrament of Reconciliation when he was able, but increased weakness was unavoidable. Our brother, Phil Fink, OFM Cap., then the guardian of the friars at St. Augustine's, personally cared for Bertin when he was ultimately confined to bed and unable to be with the brothers regularly. Phil was three months away from his own passing to cancer when Bert's condition worsened. With care at home no longer feasible, Fr. Bert began hospice care on Saturday, January 3. He made his Transitus to the Lord on Monday, January 5, 2015. Final tally: official resident at St. Augustine Friary, 71.5 years; official resident outside St. Augustine Friary, 2 days.
"Who has it better than I do?" was Fr. Bertin's frequent question. Though it's difficult to gauge "good" and "better" in a given situation, most would agree that while Bert was around, we had it good.