HARTSVILLE—Benedictine Father Karl John Roesch, parochial administrator of St. Mary the Virgin Mother Church and St. Joseph the Worker Mission in Darlington, will celebrate his golden jubilee in May.
First there will be a Mass of thanksgiving at St. Mary and then on June 12 he will join his community at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, N.J., to honor all of those who have reached their 50-year mark.
In his life as a priest, Father Karl, as he prefers to be called, said he has had many amazing experiences and is grateful for the different paths down which God has let him travel.
He laughed as he recalled the time he arrived in Hartsville. Father Karl had been on sabbatical when he agreed to help in the mission area of the South. He was only supposed to serve for several months, but 10 years later, he is still here.
There was a great need in the area for stability, he said, so he stayed.
He described Hartsville as a working area where the faithful travel long distances to attend church, sometimes as much as 40 minutes or more. Youth tend to move away after college, but Father Karl said the parish is holding steady and enjoys a good deal of camaraderie.
One of his favorite events is the annual picnic. He said the parish sets up a tent and provides the meat for grilling, and the parishioners bring all the sides.
“We have games for the kids, and it’s a wonderful time. Everyone enjoys it so much,” he said.
Before moving to the rural South, Father Karl was pastor of a large parish in New Jersey, and before that he spent 30 years in a multitude of roles at a preparatory school run by his order.
Delbarton School in New Jersey was built by the Benedictines in the late 1930s. While Father Karl was there, he taught math, was chairman of the math department, and coached baseball and freshman football, among other things.
He added that when he was young and ambitious, he also took students on tours of Europe.
In his own travels, the priest has made pilgrimages to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Holy Land. He said he learned a lot about the areas, the attitudes of the people, and the culture. “Especially in Israel,” he added. “It made the Bible come to life.”
Each experience has been very different, and Father Karl said he is grateful for them all.
“Learning experiences are what makes us who we are,” he said.
The Benedictine credits part of who he is today to his family, who were strong believers in attending church and Catholic school.
He said when he was growing up, being a priest was a desired profession, and it was simply what he wanted to do.
“When I was ordained, priests were among the better educated people in society because we went to school for a long time,” he said.
Now, he believes the best way to promote vocations is by example. He said it is important to be there for parishioners, to interact with them and encourage them to find their niche in the church.
As with all priests, bringing the sacraments to the people is a significant part of his role. But Father Karl said he believes preaching is the best opportunity to make contact with the community.
“I’ve always tried to just bring the word of God to the people,” he said. “It’s critical to our priesthood and to their faith.”
He said he spends a good deal of time writing his homilies. A recurring theme is that when the faithful ultimately see God, it won’t be a surprise; it will be the same person they have prayed to every Sunday.
“I hope they realize the love of God is experienced in so many different ways in their lives,” Father Karl said.
The priest will be 76 in May, but he laughed at the idea of retirement, saying Benedictines don’t retire, they just fade away.
He said he already feels like he is semi-retired, and enjoys playing golf and reading. Those are just spare time activities, though, and Father Karl said he finds great enjoyment from being part of the inner workings of the diocese.
He has served on the Curia, and is currently a member of the College of Consultors, dean of the Pee Dee Deanery, and on the Presbyteral Council.
“I hope that I’m contributing something to the diocese,” he said. “God has brought me to a good community.”