At the last Mass John Roll attended last Saturday, he would have heard the antiphon “…on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen.” Within a couple of hours he would be shot dead by a mad gunman. Arizona’s highly respected chief federal judge was laid to rest Friday, and those who knew him best say his life was filled with light.
Roll had a reputation as a law-and-order judge, as well as a man of great compassion.
A classmate from Salpointe Catholic High School, Dave Hardy, wrote on the online guest book connected to Roll’s obituary that he knew Roll in a professional capacity as well. “I had enormous respect for his integrity. Not just honesty but also the belief that there was ‘law’ out there, separate from his own likes and dislikes, and that a judge’s task was to find and be bound by that, without fear or favor. He was a good judge and, beyond that, a great man.”
Roll devoted his time and energy to helping other people understand and appreciate the law. He worked with developing nations in the former Soviet Union, assisting the creation of a judiciary system and other legal work. He acted from a deeply held belief that people should be free, and that a system of laws was an important part of building a free society.
Roll was a dedicated Catholic, and had gone to see Giffords after Mass on Saturday. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson remembers Roll as a man of “great faith and great integrity.”
“For many years, he would begin his day serving the early-morning Mass at SS. Peter and Paul. He proclaimed the Word of God as a lector at SS. Peter and Paul and St. Thomas the Apostle. He lived his faith as a servant of our nation for the cause of justice,” Kicanas said on Saturday.
Archbishop Charles Chaput paid tribute to Judge Roll. How did he know him? CatholicCulture explains:
The federal judge began to correspond with Archbishop Chaput after his wife, Maureen– “a veteran of crisis pregnancy counseling”– heard the archbishop preach the homily at the Red Mass in Phoenix in 2008. Archbishop Chaput recalls:
Roll was devoted to St. Thomas More and kept a biography of the saint on a table near his desk. He liked mentoring young Christian attorneys because he believed their faith gave them a better moral foundation for the vocation of law. For [Aaron] Martin and for Judge Roll’s other clerks, “he was more of a father figure than a boss. He knew our families, and he always wanted to hear the news about them”…
John Roll was, finally, a man of unusual personal graciousness. Despite their political differences, Judge Roll and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, had a cordial relationship of mutual respect. Giffords sought more resources for the court system, and Judge Roll was grateful. Precisely because of their differences, Roll tried to greet Giffords at her local appearances whenever he could. On the morning of his death, Roll went to Mass, and at 9:55 a.m., according to Martin, left his house to just “drop in” on Giffords’ public gathering as a courtesy, to say hello. He never came home.
This life passes. Eternity is forever. We need to act in this world accordingly, with lives of Christian service. Maureen and John Roll shared a life of quiet, powerful, authentic Catholic witness. Please keep them both, and the entire Roll family, in your prayers.