WEST HAVEN — On Dec. 15, the day that would have been Fr. Martin I. Rock, S.J.’s 90th birthday, parishioners of St. Mary Catholic Church gathered for a memorial Mass for their former pastor.
Fr. Rock oversaw the building of the new St. Mary Church in West Haven, where he served as pastor from 1992 to 2010. Before leaving the parish, he began a weekly Mass for children, for which he is remembered fondly. He died Oct. 9, 2017 at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, Los Gatos. He was 89 years of age and had been a member of the Society of Jesus for 72 years, 58 as a priest.
Fr. Gustavo Vidal, the current pastor of St. Mary’s, said it was an honor to celebrate the Mass because the theology of the readings of a memorial Mass emphasize the Church’s teaching that Catholics are baptized into Christ’s death so that they may live in eternal life.
Fr. Rock, who entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1945 and was ordained a priest on June 12, 1959, “dedicated himself to a life of spreading the Good News of salvation,” Fr. Vidal said. “I hear wonderful stories about Fr. Rock – how dedicated he was to his people, how dedicated he was in his ministry, how dedicated he was to his calling, to his vocation to the priesthood. But the amazing thing about the ministry of Fr. Rock was that it was not his ministry, it was his participation in the ministry of the priesthood of Jesus. That is the awesome thing about it. Whenever he was celebrating Mass he was acting in persona Christi – in the person of Christ. He was willingly letting God use his humanness so Christ could be present to his people every time he celebrated the Mass.”
Through the other sacraments such as healing and marriage, “God used [Fr. Rock] as his channel, as his instrument to counsel his people, to lead his people to the truth,” Fr. Vidal said. “What we are celebrating here is the life of a man that was rooted in the life of the sacraments, in the life of the Church. We are celebrating the life of a priest who gave himself totally to Christ by serving his people. … He was part of something that was bigger and greater than himself. … That is how we should understand a priest – he gives his life and offers sacrifices for all of you. …”
Among those attending the Mass was Connie Wayment, whose eyes welled with tears as she recalled Fr. Rock, who was the only priest her sons would go to for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, she said. “He was gentle, he was just very loving,” she said.
“He always preached about love” and emphasized that Jesus loved people no matter what their sins, said Cecilia Costesso, the parish secretary.
Fr. Rock baptized Devyn Vigil, who also attended the memorial Mass. “His homilies were my favorite,” she said. “He inspired more than taught. It keeps you coming back, as a kid especially.”