Father Roger J. Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, serves as Catholic Chaplain to Columbia University in New York City and to the Thomas Merton Institute for Catholic Life. He has been a pastor, newspaper editor and high school chaplain in the Diocese of Fall River. He writes for many publications, appears regularly on television and radio, and is the author of Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God (Pauline Books and Media 2018).
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92-42. Roger Landry
Roger Landry, Will Bachman
Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I am so excited to be here today with Roger Landry. This is going to be an amazing show, he has had some incredible experiences. Roger, welcome to the show.
Roger Landry 00:21
Very good to be with you well, and with all our classmates who are listening, before we even get in, in your first question, I just want to sincerely thank you for what you’re doing, I really think that it is an 9090 to 9092 class gift given to all of us. And I’ve listened to all the previous episodes and drives here and there, up until episode 37, which you just uploaded. And I’ve just rejoice to have the chance to catch up with some of those I knew, thanks to the interviews, as well as gotten to know those I haven’t met and profited a lot from hearing how so many of our classmates have grown in the last three decades and learned a lot from their fields because of your great gift and drawing out their expertise for all of us. So sincerest thanks for this massive commitment on your part, and for the quality of everything that you’re doing.
Will Bachman 01:11
Well, that is so kind of you to say, and my mom has not listened to all the episodes. That is really cool. Thank you. And it’s I mean, it’s been a gift to me too. It’s a gift of myself just having a chance to hear everybody’s stories. So thank you. So let’s start. Alright, so you know the drill, like tell me about your journey since leaving Harvard.
Roger Landry 01:34
It’s been quite an adventure, actually, during our senior year, after 18 years or so of desiring it. And about three years of what we would call discerning and praying about it. I determined that I thought God was calling me to be a priest. And so after graduation, I became a seminarian, someone studying for the priesthood for the Diocese of Fall River, which is all in southeastern Massachusetts, Taunton, Fall River, New Bedford, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, etc. Because I graduated with a degree in biology, I needed to do some catch up on philosophy studies. And so I was for a year at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland, and then another year at St. Philip’s in Toronto. And then after that, that then Bishop of Fall River now, Cardinals, Sean O’Malley of Boston, sent me for the next five and a half years to study at the Pontifical North American college in the Vatican, which was an extraordinary experience, where I studied with and got to know future priests religious sisters, Catholic lay people from all over the world grew a lot not just spiritually as would be expected but grew a ton as a human being just being around Italians, and their millennial experience of how to eat how to enjoy other people, etc. I had the chance to make some incredible friendships one with Pope John Paul the second another with the future Pope Benedict the 16th. Before he was oh, I had one of the coolest assignments ever, which was to be a guide for the Vatican, to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the necropolis, on which the basilica was built, in which they discovered St. Peter’s tomb. In the middle of last century. I and I had a chance to do a lot of good, advanced theological studies there and travelled a lot through Europe. Spend some spent a summer in Lisbon, spent another summer in Paris spent another summer summer in Vienna. And so finished up there with some advanced degrees in moral theology and bioethics and marriage and family stuff that has served me pretty well as a priest when I came back to the state. So I returned in July 2000. And I was assigned by the Bishop of Fall River to a Portuguese speaking parish, in Fall River where most of the masses and the confessions that a priest would hear were in Portuguese, not in English. I never thought that when I had told Bishop O’Malley that I was willing to study Portuguese. Is there 300,000 Portuguese immigrants in southeastern Massachusetts, that I would be determining sort of future assignments. But in my ecclesiastical day, I went to Lisbon, but it was it was really powerful work. I was also a high school chaplain and trying to help students manage their faith with a lot of the questions that come up in adolescence. I was there as the chaplain when September 11 hit. And so I’ll never forget those experiences with young people who thought that the whole world was coming down with the Twin Towers. After that, I was sent to Cape Cod to become a parish priest at St. Francis Xavier parish in Hyannis, which is famous because that’s where President JFK used to attend. And so we’d get bus loads throughout the summer, four or five bus loads a day just to see the Pew the bench where he would sit when he would attend Mass. A lot of people who didn’t want to spend time at the beach were coming to just check out the Kennedy pew and we’re at the beginning of my time. For example, the Shrivers were regular morning maskers I’ll never forget just how well Sargent Shriver would dress up for daily Mass he, you’d always know who he was and, and the type of reverence that he had by how, even when he was struggling a little bit with dementia at the end of his life, how he took those little things. And there were big Spanish and Portuguese communities there that it was able to help out with. And then I was transferred to, I think the most beautiful church in all of New England, which is St. Anthony’s in New Bedford, built by the French Canadian immigrants in the early 20th century, hoping that it would be made The cathedral or the principal Church of a new diocese that was being rumored to be formed, which would become the Diocese of Fall River, but fits 2200 people, some of the greatest Italian American artists that existed, were in there. They put 5500 lights throughout the church so that when it was when they would turn on the lights, in the early 20th century, were brown out the entire northern half of the city of New Bedford. So we would have to tell the electric company that okay, Christmas, Midnight Mass is coming on up. And so nobody else is really going to have much power between 12 and 2am. These types of things. And it was a it was a very interesting assignment because of the ethnic stuff I was sent there. Because ethnically, I was French Canadian and can speak French. But now there were many Portuguese there, there were a lot of Guatemalan immigrants there. And so with English, I would regularly use the four languages they are and, and learned a ton from the joys and the sufferings of the people. At the same time, my bishop appointed me the executive editor of our diocesan weekly newspaper, chat, a circulation of about 30,000, which got me writing two columns a week, and gave me the opportunity to try to report the good and the bad that was taking place within the Diocese of Fall River, the church in the US and the church worldwide. And, you know, since I was relieved of those duties in 2012, have just continued to write ever since. And so I’m grateful for the duty that I had to really sort of hone the pen when I was there, because it’s served me well thereafter. In 2012, I became a pastor in Fall River and another assignment. And the parish was very poor. And because of that, I like any dad of a poor family, I had to take second job. So I was crisscrossing the country taking different speaking gigs in order to try to raise money to pay for things that the budget of the parish would never be able to afford. And so that was a sort of new instance of what was going on, where I was asked to go and speak to some large Catholic conferences, mainly but various universities, I started to do a lot of television. And that led to my being asked by a couple of networks to help out with the papal conclave election that led to Pope Francis becoming the 265th, successor of St. Peter, in 2013. So to be there in the Vatican, while all of this was happening to be interviewing various cardinals who would be electing to be asked to give commentary. It was a pretty unforgettable experience. And many of my parishioners there in Fall River, we’re watching the every night on television for an hour in their living room. And so it was a tremendous thing to share with them too. And I’ll never forget the enjoyment when they announced in Latin that there was a new pope and out on the balcony at the front of St. Peter’s came Pope Francis. And so I was there for a few years until 2015. A big change in my life was when I was asked to come to New York City to work as a diplomat for the Holy sea, or most people would know it as the Vatican but the traditional term was sung to settings or holy sea at the United Nations where for seven exhausting, but very fulfilling years, I first organized Pope Francis’s visit in 2015. To the United Nations, I did a lot of speech writing, we’re in the communications for our mission negotiated on various issues at the UN, like human trafficking, which is such a scourge to the world today and on which the Holy Sea is one of the leading players. I ran about 25 conferences a year that the Holy See organized at the UN supervise the internship program, which was a real joy where over seven years, I trained in launched 139 Different interns from 39 different countries. And being in New York allowed me to do lots of other cool priestly things, was a chaplain to a new vibrant, young religious order of sisters called the Sisters of Life as well as to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. I founded this apostolate here in the city for Catholic young adults called the LEA nine forum to try to pass on to them some of the principles of what we call Catholic social teaching or Moral theology for everyone rather than sort of just individual, it was able to write my first book called plan of life, which is now gone into its fifth printing. And then, after seven years there, in which I thought I had aged like 30 I know it was dying to move on. And I would have never guessed what the end result of that transition would be. The Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, talked to my bishop up in Fall River without my knowing, to see if hit be given permission to appoint me the Catholic chaplain at Columbia University, which I know you went to Columbia Business School after you were at Harvard. Well, but that’s what happens when I arrived here three months ago to take up this new position where I’m serving undergrads and grad students, professors and staff, and working with a group of Columbia alumni to build the first Catholic Center at Columbia, which will be named after probably the most famous Catholic in Columbia history. Father, Thomas Merton, who became a best selling 20th century author. And many seekers read his stuff, especially his most famous work the seven story mountain, to begin to try to find the answers to some of the questions that resonate and in so many of us and Columbia has been the only Ivy League school without a Catholic center. And it’ll make a big difference to all that I’m trying to do among the students here to finally have a place Bob Kraft was the owner of the New England Patriots a couple decades ago, built the Hillel here, which is really seriously upgraded the care that’s given to Jewish students at Columbia. So we’re hoping to be able to do something similar to the Catholics. And lastly, on a personal level, I, as a Catholic priest, as most people know, I make a promise of celibacy. So obviously, don’t have a wife or children of my own. But to the priesthood. I’ve been blessed with 1000s, who call me father, and who look to me to do for them in a spiritual realm. What good fathers do in general for their own biological or adopted sons and daughters, to try to launch them out into the world to give them the courage that they need to confront some of the challenges of growing up, etc. And it’s, it’s been a very rewarding 23 years of the priesthood, and have become a godfather to many children. And the uncle to seven great nieces and nephews, including one who just started here as a freshman at Barnet, whose growth over choice to see she’s the daughter of our classmate, my identical twin brother Scott.
Will Bachman 12:27
Wow, what an incredible journey you’ve had. This could be an entire season of of 90 T report. Okay, let I gotta dial back because I would be derelict in my duties. If I let this go by, you know, when a guest comes on, they say, Well, you know, I was friends with Pope John Paul, the second end like his successor, I got to hear the story about that. So tell me a little bit about, you know, so it’s
Roger Landry 12:52
a beautiful story. And that involves Scott, my twin brother and government major class of 1992. So, Scott, after Harvard, and I hope you have a chance to chat with him at some point in the future. He’s been likewise listener to the program. But he’s only up to somewhere in the teens of the episodes. He didn’t have as much long drives between New York and Lowell, Massachusetts, where we’re from to be able to listen to it. But he was, after a longer journey than mine and less direct. He was a seminarian, with me, studying for the priesthood in Rome. And so one day, I had written for special access for two people from Texas, who had come on in whose father had paid for the excavations that had unearthed St. Peter’s tomb in the 1940s. Long story very short, that there was a confusion at the Vatican. And they called me saying that they could come for mass with John Paul the second the following morning, but they were on already on a plane back to Houston. So I said, Well, could two people take their place? And well, what would be the proposal? He said, Well, my identical twin brother and I were first year guys here at the North American college, would it be possible for us to come? And so they said, Sure. So the two of us arrived in, we were dressed in what we call cast six, which are full length, black garments that are that a priest would wear we had here at that time. So we had identical haircuts, identical glass frames, and everything else. We looked very, very similar. And so when St. John Paul, the second after the mass came to talk to us, He said to us in Italian CFA, veramente Janella. You guys really are twins. And then he asked, in Italian, do you play tricks on your rector? shokaku silvassa Touray. But neither Scott and arrived because his eyes were darting between the two of us knew to whom he had addressed the question. And it’s funny the way real history happens. We could have just simply said see, yes, because we were regularly playing tricks and the rector at the time, it was Cardinal Dolan of New York now. He used to put us in play This is where we could play trips on some of the visiting dignitaries and things like this, we could have just said See, or we could have mirrored his language, and simply said, simply joking. I was fooled. We were always playing tricks on him. But we both periphrastic Lee blurted out in stereo, because our voices are identical. Separately, lo facciamo. We’re always doing it. And I looked at Scott Scott looked at me, we couldn’t believe that we had said the exact same thing at exactly the same time, we turn to face John Paul the Second, but he wasn’t in front of our faces anymore, because he was in a full scale guffaw, he found that so funny. Everybody else in his library after the mass was howling, he sort of stood up for a second looked at us, again, killed over a second time, laughing. And then he stood up, slapped us on the outsides of our faces. He said, bravi americani. You Americans are cool. And from that point forward, Scott ended up leaving the seminary, he ended up marrying, he’s now got three kids, etc. But from that point forward, he had a nickname for me, which was ill Janella Americana, the American twin. And so every time I would see him thereafter, and I had 11 times where the two of us were able to chat, I’d met him. I was in his presence many other times, but live in times when we were able to chat. And he would always ask about Scott. And he would always be super encouraging, because he loved people with personalities, and somebody who made them laugh. He never forgot that first meeting. So among other things I was able to do was I was able to introduce my parents to him on their 30th anniversary as we celebrate our 30th anniversary. This year, I remember my parents 30th wedding anniversary, where they were in Rome, and I had written for the permission to be able to introduce them to the Holy Father. And, and he came and he was so kind, he gave us about three minutes, which is super long for a pope with so many guests and wanted to find out about their stories and everything else like this. I had a chance right before he was returning to the states to take up that assignment in the Portuguese parish. And at the high school that I mentioned, you were I was able to ask them for advice. They said, like, Holy Father, I’m going back one of my son’s Portuguese immigrants, one of my assigns is with young people that are Catholic High School, and he blurted out giovani young people, I said, Would you have any advice? And he said, Yes. And you know, he had extensive youth ministry experience when he was young principal, and he said, if they know you love them, then they will follow you. If they don’t know, you love them, then they’ll always be suspicious. So make sure they know you love them. And you know, I’ve tried to live by those words. And I think some of the fruit that’s been born has been precisely because of following that advice. And the last time I met him was only seven months before he died, he was already very much in the throes of the Parkinson’s disease, which would, would take his life I had a group of American pilgrims and asked if I could introduce them to him. And we got the permission to do so. And so it was outside and St. Peter’s Square, and we surrounded his chair in the American Archbishop isn’t he’s now a cardinal Cardinal James Harvey, who normally would introduced the groups I was about to say, and I’d like to in Italian, I’d like to introduce you to Father Roger lander and a group of pilgrims. And as soon as John Paul the second saw me, he blurted out to no Americano, American twin, at which point Cardinal Harvey who knew me elsewhere, but didn’t really know that I knew John Paul the second at all, just said an Italian you guys know each other. And John Paul the second said, See Chicanos, Yamo. Yes, we know each other. And as I knelt down beside his chair, and the whole group sort of filled on him for the photos, I felt a hand on my head. And I actually thought it was this pilgrim from Chicago, who thought it was funny to dress up for meetings with some of the Vatican Cardinals in shorts, and a tie. And you know, it was really a gadfly, and somewhat immature to be blunt with you. This guy happened to be standing behind me as we were lining up. And I thought that this guy was trying to do something silly in a photo with Pope John Paul the second. But as I turned around, at the end, I recognize that the hand on my head was attached to a white cassock and it was John Paul the second who in Parkinson’s disease, actually had to reach probably about 30 inches to get to my head. And I was shocked by it and I just said Kiko sensitivity Patrick, quello Santika, what did that mean holiness? And he said, kind of cryptic words that is that have always been there ever since he just said, in Italian in Georgia, no surprise, one day, you’ll know. Now I thought it would be a miracle that would bring my dead hair follicles back to life. Well, but that wasn’t what happened. I still don’t know. But like in Christianity, there’s some significance of the gesture of the imposition of hands on a head and the fact that John called a second He’s doing that as his last gesture. You know, I’m still waiting to see exactly what that meant. But I loved him like a father and I was so grateful for his gift of spiritual fatherhood. And and so he continues to inspire me and as, as Catholics will often pray through the intercession of the saints. And so I’ve used him as an intercessor. And if you want to talk about it, I can tell about it, I can tell an incredible story that happened in 2007, where a guy who hadn’t walked for 28 years, came to confession to me in this parish, in Bedford, and everything else that I’ll say to you, he said, on a 2020, special with Elizabeth Vargas, on Good Friday in 2008. But he was healed through the intercession of John Paul the second, and for the first time in almost three decades, was able to walk thereafter, thanks to a miracle in which I had just a small part of being a witness. And so John Paul, the second still has a major impact on my day to day life.
Will Bachman 21:02
That is incredible. What a story. What and what a way to, you know, connect with a leader of your faith. I want to hear about being a diplomat at the United Nations that is, out of the ordinary out of my normal world, I want to hear about that, too. I mean, he did so much to 26 conferences. That’s one every week, two weeks. So tell me a bit more about that period in your life.
Roger Landry 21:31
So it was a huge surprise when I was first asked, which is almost eight years ago at this point. There’s the in in the Roman Catholic liturgical cycle. December 3, is the feast of a great Jesuit missionary called St. Francis Xavier. And every December 3, priests and religious sisters, for example, and a lot of Catholic lay people around the world, meditate in the morning and this thing called the Liturgy of the Hours, on a letter he had written to the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius, trying to get more missionaries to preach the gospel in India. And he put very much at the end of that letter. I just wish I could go back to the Sorbonne, where you and I studied and scream at the top of my lungs. Listen, could you use your learning to be able to bring the gospel to the people of India, who don’t know what that you had charity that matched your learning and everything else with it, you just say, Send me anywhere you want, Lord, even to India. And so I walked in to meet with my bishop who asked to meet with me urgently. This was in Fall River. And I knew because of the timing of my life was about to change, I had no idea what he would propose. But he might not do at the time, or the papal Ambassador un. His last name was AUSA, only four letters at UCA. But my bishop when he first proposed, what he was going to be talking about, put somewhere like about 20 syllables into those four letters. So I had no idea what he’s talking about. And I was just imagining mosquito nets, in some missionary territory, when he said, you have been asked for by Archbishop I was and he added these other syllables. And they said, Who was this guy? I’ve never even heard of this guy. And I was wondering if the typical blank check that Catholic priests give, before we meet with our bishop, you know, when we freely lay down our freedom in the priesthood, we basically do what we’re asked to do. I had no idea where it’d be sent, but after about 30 seconds, he mentioned the word New York. And I said is this guy unsealed to the United Nations turned out that that was right? And so I started in March 2015, six months before Pope Francis would come to the United Nations. And so that was just an extraordinary experience to plan a papal visit, to meet with all the you know, I was the liaison for the Secret Service, for example, the liaison with many of the folks at the highest levels of the UN, because when Pope Francis came, he was the he was the fourth Pope to come to the United Nations, the fifth visit, overall, pretty much the UN shuts down. And everybody’s begging us for tickets. It you know, he’s a celebrity, unlike almost anybody else. And so everybody wanted to sort of get in to be with him. I could have made a lot of money if I were capable of taking bribes. I did have curiously one Latin American president call and asked if he could have what we call a bilateral a one on one with the Pope. And when I said the pope really isn’t doing except for President Obama and DC and then the Secretary General and the President’s Security Council at the UN, he didn’t want to take no for an answer. And so I had to say, as Catholics would believe that the Pope is the vicar of Jesus Christ on earth. I said, I can’t arrange for an appointment with Pope Francis but I wouldn’t be able to arrange an appointment any hour of the day with the Pope’s boss, if you’re interested. Senior president he didn’t find it funny. But nevertheless, that was it, at least the conversation was over. So that whole experience was really cool. At the UN, like the Holy See we we swing way above our weight. And there were a couple reasons for it. One, the typical arguments that we would make in any of the negotiations in any of the interventions there have deeper premises than, than a lot of the political premises that would be coming from the 193 member states that were there, many of the UN agencies, etc. The second advantage that we have, which most won’t know, is because of the Council of Vienna in 1815. This massive diplomatic conference after Napoleon had basically bulldoze through all diplomatic conventions. In previous centuries, they determined the countries of the world that in any country that doesn’t want to choose another system, that the Holy See would be the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps. And what that means in many of these countries, about half of the countries in the world is that we host all the receptions. Whenever there’s a new ambassador appointed whenever an old ambassador is leaving, if the country is too small to really host it, we host all of the parties. And so pretty much diplomats were in any other sort of, if they’ve been through three or four assignments before they get to the UN, they’ve almost always been in an assignment in which they’ve had to regularly visit the holy seas mission, which we call a Nunciature. In embassy in these particular countries. And many of the diplomats at the UN, even those who aren’t Catholic would have gone to Catholic schools. And so when we get there, they do treat us with a lot of respect, especially the smaller countries where we can give a worldwide voice some of the diplomats from other countries joke that the Holy sees the third biggest country in the world, behind China and India, because technically, in some way, we represent the aspirations of 1.3 billion Catholics across the world. And so we can magnify the voice of some of the countries on the margins. And if I can tell you a couple stories, so among those events that I planned, I was asked by this group outside of us one of these non governmental organization, if the Holy See would be willing to do an event after St. Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa was canonized. Normally, we wouldn’t do explicitly faith events, because many were trying to box us into a religious group at the UN, whereas the holy Sea is actually the longest the extant diplomatic corps in the world. And we’re there because technically the holy Sea is a state. And so we wouldn’t ordinarily do that. But Mother Teresa was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mother Teresa had an incredible care for the poor at a time where the UN was super interested in making sure nobody was left behind, but also had some real ideas about concretely helping the poor. So I said, Sure, we’ll do this event on two conditions. One, that you’ll pay for a bus I was throwing the NG to take those who are served by Mother Teresa’s sisters here in New York, at least 100 of them to the event of the UN, that was an easy one. And then I said second in terms of instead of a banquet afterward, you and the new NCO and as many ambassadors I can recruit are actually going to serve the people served by Mother Teresa’s sisters in the city. And that took a little bit longer, but eventually I said it was a scenic going on and they decided that they were going to do it. And so we launched the event and I got from the for convents of Mother Teresa here in New York. 25 from each convent, many of these that they serve homeless, they didn’t have IDs. But Mayor de Blasio, his office was able to provide IDs here in New York City, many of them needed to get proper clothing in order to be able to come. But we were able to arrange that with various thrift stores here. But like one of the most moving things well I’ve ever had a chance to do in my life is you know, at the United Nations, there are title plates, we call it digital title plates in which normally put the country of the ambassador who’s going to be intervening. But then you could also put on the names of the individuals who are coming on in. And so I got the names of these 100 people served by Mother Teresa sisters, and immediately behind the rows where the ambassadors were seated, because they’ve got priority in any Hall, just out a diplomatic protocol. But right behind them, I reserved the seats for these poor people served by Saint Teresa and they came in and they recognized that they had a name that was important at the biggest inter governmental body in the world. They saw their names right behind, right behind the ambassadors and and they were very touched and I was very moved to be able to see how touched they were. And then we took them across the street where I was staying in a Catholic parish. It’s called Holy Family parish. In in the hall. We serve them this fabulous Italian dinner. are given by one of the caterers here in New York City, who wanted to do it for free. And I invited various ambassadors over, I made some aprons for them to be able to serve the ambassador, who intervened that they willingly accepted. And they told me afterward that it was so much fun to be able to flip it. Because at the United Nations, everybody talks about the poor, but sometimes there’s a gap between their lifestyle and the lifestyle of those for whom they’re speaking. But that was a way in which they were able to do something super concrete. And then at the very end of that event, the caterer or the restaurant terms name is Angelo’s evil, incredible guy. He said, Hey, Father, like what are we going to do? We’ve got four trays still have leftovers, like, what’s the plan? And they said, Angelo, do you want to see how important your vocation is? As a as a feeder? He says, What do you mean, and I talked to him a little bit by the time and I said, Come with me take two of these. I’ll take the other two. And all of the folks that we had brought, were getting onto the buses that were outside waiting to take them back to the various conference where they were. And I just took the microphone at the beginning. And I said, What do you think of the food? You know, they gave a standing ovation. And I said, What would you say if I were to tell you there are leftovers and I held them up? At which point they some of them on the bus started jumping up and down. And I’ll never forget looking into Angelo’s eyes. He couldn’t take it. He’s a very emotional Italian, he had to leave the bus because he just couldn’t fathom how happy people could be for the fruits of his labor. Right. And so those, there were other events that I did every 321. So every March 21, do a special event on Down syndrome. Because to be blunt, well, I mean, there’s a genocide happening against those with a third 21st chromosome. And like Iceland, a couple of years ago proclaimed that they had eliminated Down syndrome. Because with prenatal testing, they were just preventing those diagnosed with Down syndrome, from being born. And you know, that goes so totally against the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and so many of the other positive things that the UN stands for. And so I had the privilege to host these events. And I would bring in those with Down syndrome to speak at the United Nations. And some of these stories were so edifying, but I’ll tell you one, there was this Down’s woman from Portland in Oregon, and, and she was going to be a Keynote or at our speech, she had swum once the English Channel, and she had graduated, actually full graduation from one of the universities out there in Oregon. And part of running an event is making sure that it’s going to finish on time. And I said, Karen, we can give you 12 minutes for this. And she says, Don’t worry, Father, have already timed it. And it’s 11 minutes and 48 seconds. And so I said, Okay, Karen, that’s great. So she came a few weeks later, and she was giving her talk, which you totally memorized, incredible and memorized, not in a mechanical way, but memorized in a way in which it looked like she was speaking extemporaneously. It was extraordinary. But at one point, she said something that got her extended applause. And she lost her play. And I was seated next to her. And she turned to her left, where she looked at me and she said, Father, I’m so sorry. At which point, she looked at her notes, she found out where she was, and she started to finish her entire speech. And I asked her after what I said, Karen, just curious, why don’t you apologize? And she said, Well, I told you that I had memorized my speech, and that it would take 11 minutes and 48 seconds. And obviously, I forgotten that part. And I knew it would take a little bit longer. You know, it’s just one of the most incredible stories. And, you know, we could, we could spend a lot of time talking about those other experiences. There were lots at the upper diplomatic level too. But what I will remember for the rest of my life is the possibility to be able to give what the world would consider little guys, one of the biggest platforms and watch them step up to the plate when all the lights are shining on them and hit and hit a tape measure Grand Slam, those types of things. I was just privileged to be able to catalyze
Will Bachman 34:25
that’s an amazing story. What’s involved in its Tell me a little bit more about what’s involved in organizing a Pope’s visit. So you mentioned kind of like saying no to the president of I’m not sure which country, but other than that, like, just in terms of the stuff behind the scenes that we wouldn’t even think about because obviously security but just tell me a little bit more about what’s what’s involved in all that.
Roger Landry 34:50
So almost everything is scripted. And so there have to be negotiations about the littlest details. And in those negotiations, you’ve got various interlocutors so you have the people, for example, over in the Vatican to sign off Pope Francis, sometimes even himself, you’ve got the Secret Service here in New York, because he was likewise going to be in other places in New York, you needed to deal with the Archdiocese in New York, he needed to deal with the United Nations, and various agencies within the United Nations needed to deal with the city of New York needed to deal with the state of New York, all of us were in regular conversation. And sometimes we needed to go back and forth, because not everybody had the same priorities. So like, for example, when Pope Francis wanted to add a visit into Central Park, because so many more people wanted to see him, then we’re able to, we’re going to be able to be accommodated, like the Secret Service wanted to make that possible behind eight foot barriers. And we needed to put some pressure on the Secret Service to just say, like, the Pope, who tells us to take down walls is not going to be pleased. If people are going to have to sort of look behind eight foot walls, we appreciate what you’re doing cetera. So we have a lot of those types of details that come on in. And then there are the speeches and the ideas and things. You know, what’s normally asked before the Holy Father would give a speech at the United Nations would be various ideas in terms of what he should speak about. And so we would provide those and what was a sort of little kind of privilege, for me to be blunt was that the speechwriter of the Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at that time, wanted to write the speech for Ban Ki Moon, but really wanted it to be opposite Pope Francis, etc. And so she called and said, what you have a chance to just answer 11 questions for me. And I said, Fine. And one of the first questions was, would he have any Latin phrase that would matter to him? And I said, Well, he’s got his PayPal motto, which is misery, Rondo, I’d quailty Gendo. That looking at him with mercy, he chose him about the calling of the apostle Matthew. And I said, Would you like me to apply that to the agenda of the United Nations? And so I started to lay that all out. And I gave the answers to those 11 questions. And most of what I said to the speechwriter, banky Moon actually got into his speech. And so Bonnke Moon was speaking to Pope Francis with some words that were echoing what I had said, and some of the ideas that we had shared with Pope Francis likewise, got into that speech. And there was a little bit of, you know, I’m just there watching us all take place, and said, like, it’s nice to be a boy from Lowell, participating in this dialogue between the Secretary General of the United Nations and the successor of St. Peter. And so lots of those details go into this speech into the papal visit. It’s a time in which it don’t get much sleep, to be, to be honest, I was sleeping about one or two hours a night my boss was sleeping a little bit less. But it was likewise privileged, I was able to bring my parents my twin brother, his family here, to have a chance to be in the Pope’s presence. My My parents will never forget the time that they met Pope Francis and they joked with him the first time I met Paul, for instance, that the visit of met him several times after but you know, what do you say when you meet the Pope and I always prepare people so that they don’t get nervous and like a deer in the headlights when they’re actually in front of them. So I said like, what am I going to say to him and what language will I speak Italian or Spanish or English? I decided in Spanish to just say to him, gracias Santi, that was por su ahem flow. Safford. Oh 12k Female mentee, they are contract Ido Thank You, Holy Father, for your priestly example, which is finally converted me. And he looked and you know, this is the first time I’ve had a conversation with him, the day that he arrived and he without missing a beat said convict Theodosia to metropolo por converted you obviously for the worse. And so from that point forward with with had a little rep art day in which I know he’s got a sense of your Marino’s that I have a sense of humor. And so we we we do try to alleviate some of the heavy things that we need to do buy some of that good natured levity.
Will Bachman 39:18
Talk to me about some of your writing. So you mentioned that you’ve written a book and published a book the plan of life you also have this at a time yet for a time you had a weekly calm. Tell me about your your writing career.
Roger Landry 39:32
Yeah, so it will it Harvard, I did some writing and I look back to the fact that somewhat providentially I took x Boz 17, in which David plots was in my class, several others were in my class. And so there was a very high bar among writers in that class and the type of feedback that you get everything else I didn’t quite know how useful it would be later, but it was it’s been super useful to be able to make those types of arguments and in Intel logical ways. So I would write two columns for this newspaper at the beginning, then I’d start to write for the sector of the newspapers. In, in southeastern Massachusetts, whenever there were major issues that would have a larger readership started get published by various cities, National Catholic papers, especially the national National Catholic register. Writing has a much longer shelf life, then, than typical preaching, which can sometimes go in one ear and out the other. So when you write people can come back to it. And so even when I’m preaching homilies, I do try to write them and upload them. Because they can be of use to people all over the world, I have a website called Catholic preaching.com, in which I upload the stuff I’ve done over the last 24 years. And when you see the various countries that access it, what the downloads are in the phone calls you get from certain priests and deacons and bishops in these different countries, Sri Lanka, Uganda, except they’re just feeling a little guilty that they’re borrowing too heavily on the stuff that I put up there. I say, that’s literally why I put it up there. So that my work might be able to have a little bit of a greater opportunity to sort of help out those who are hungry for these types of things. And so, so the writing skill, you know, the Christianity is heavily dependent on writing, you’ve got the four gospel writers, you’ve got St. Paul, who wrote so many of his letters, you’ve got the entire Hebrew Bible that was composed by the prophets and everything else, and the writing of any individual Christian compared to that no Christian would say that it’s there. But the inspiration that it takes the help that you need from above, and then to be able to use it to try to persuade and encourage and help, etc. That’s just been fun. The amount of feedback that I get from folks, the book idea flowed out of my work, teaching young students, catechism, or religious education on Sunday mornings, just so that they’d get a chance to meet a priest outside of mass, because a lot of the times they could just categorize them as somebody other but to, you know, be able to ask the questions and things I would always teach 15 minutes before they go into the classes of their age groups. And I started to debut a thing of practices of how to keep your awareness of God alive over the course of the day. And we call the various practices a plan of life. But what was shocking to me is how many of their parents who were there having coffee, and another part of the hall, would start to come close and listen to these talks. And then let’s say like, one of the talks is what I call the heroic moment, that when your alarm clock clock goes off, or your parents say time to get up, to actually get right up, and you don’t snooze, and snooze, and students and stories and snooze, because if you’re able to win that first battle of the day, when every cell of your body is screaming, stay in bed, but Your will strong enough to overpower it, because there’s some of purpose to get on up, you’re going to have moral strength to be able to do some difficult things later. And you know, after giving that talk, the parents came to me and said, I’ve been trying to get my kid out of bed for the last few years. And just because he listened to you when he wanted to please God, he’s now getting out of bed, my job in the morning, so much easier. Father, you’re gonna tell more parents about these types of ideas. And so, I mean, ultimately, out of that, I wrote this whole book that was published by the daughters, St. Paul, called plan of life habits to help you grow closer to God. And it’s now in its fifth printing. It’s very practical in terms of what to do once, you know, in the halcyon days of Catholicism in the US, which were when most Catholics are going to Catholic schools, the religious sisters would always teach these types of things based on their own practices in their religious communities. But we did the Catholic schools, unfortunately, aren’t as strong as they once were. A lot of people have fallen through the cracks in terms of how to make the faith practical. And so that was the attempt in that book. And, and it was fun to do. And if I ever find more time, well, I’ve got several others that are in the hopper that I would love to be able to, to finish.
Will Bachman 44:19
Tell me about your sort of plans aspirations for your current role as a running Catholics at Columbia.
Roger Landry 44:30
So I’m thrilled to be here. It is a little bit like a trip down memory lane. And that’s why the 92 reports been so helpful to me and not just revivified my own memories, but seeing what Harvard was like through up until now. 36 of our other classmates that you’ve had a chance to interview about what the experience is like of being an undergrad, what are the moments that are still influential Three decades later, etc. It’s gonna have been enormous how to say how am I going to prioritize what I’m trying to give the students here. But coming here, I have very low expectations, Colombia has a reputation for being very secular. And I thought I’d have to do a lot of work tilling the soil, having arrived, have kind of been blown away by how many students are really hungry for what’s on my menu. And, and they’re coming regularly. I have office hours, pretty much from one to six, Monday to Friday. And I seldom have an opening. And, you know, I started with our long appointments. Now it’s half hour appointments, because a lot of questions and they’re coming a lot as they look toward the future a lot as they look toward the President COVID, I think has expedited some of these questions, because they were forced to face the larger questions about life and death, because some people were dying, and they saw it they, I think we’re given a healthy, young criticism of what I would call scientism, in which the only truth you could possibly know comes from science, because while a lot of the science was helpful, some of our scientists who are going beyond their scientific remits, and trying to do behavioral control, and things like that. And, you know, at first, you needed math. Second, you didn’t need masks, and it was being adapted for political reasons, not always scientific reasons. And so a lot of the students are beginning to look at different sources of authority, whereas they might have just given pretty much all their weight to scientific empiricism and things like this. The loneliness that came in COVID really said, how are they going to structure their fraternity? And where are their real friendships going to be made? And a lot want to make them with, with their fellow Catholics, they recognize so many people were suffering, and so how can they get involved in helping those who are less fortunate. And so Catholics already have a lot of those outgrowths, there is a little bit of a hunger for the, for the good to assess the credibility of truths that they would have learned growing up. And so they were excited to have the opportunity to ask those questions to somebody who can speak their language, because a lot of the kinds of Columbia students might be brighter than the typical experience that they have with their Catholic school teacher, or catechist, or sometimes even their clergy. And so all of those factors come together, such that they’re, they’re coming with a real hunger and keeping me very busy here. So that’s been, that’s been a real joy. We’re building a Catholic Center, which I think I’m sure yet which I’m super excited about, and I think, will really help in our outreach, because during things like exam period, here, the libraries are filled to overcrowding, they’d love to be able to go someplace else outside of their really tiny dorm rooms at Columbia, much smaller than what we were used to at Wigglesworth for me and Mather and the typical size of what what we were blessed with in Cambridge, they want to get on out to have a place where they can go study, have a free cup of coffee, be able to take five or 10 minutes as a study, break to pray or catch up or ask a question of some of the other students, all of those things will, will help our work. But I am super excited to be back on a college campus, I would have never expected it. I am even more grateful. Seeing the students here for you and I received go into Harvard when we were there. I mean, the experiences that I picked up the friendships that I made, all of that has helped me I think, to be a better chaplain to these students 30 years younger.
Will Bachman 48:44
What has surprised you about being a priest? is something that you wanted to do you said, you know, when we started the show, from very early on, and so you had been thinking about it, you know, your life? What, what’s what’s been surprising to you? I mean, you’ve had such extraordinary, you know, opportunities mean, the pope at the UN, what’s different than you expected?
Roger Landry 49:11
So I think the biggest thing would be that, like, I always expected that the gifts I believe God gave me would be used as a priest. But I never expected that God would use my weaknesses as much as he has. And like, especially when I was a parish priest, in Fall River in New Bedford, the fact that I went to Harvard was pretty intimidating. And so I almost never mentioned it. Because in my first parish, only 5% of the people would go on to college, and my second parish, only 12% of the people have gone on to college. And so if you say you are Harvard, they’ve got these very strong stereotypes of what it means to go to Harvard and so it was passionately harmful, if that ever find out. But like a lot of the times I was setting goals that I thought were too Isn’t that proved to be too high? You know, for a Catholic priest, we want to talk about the universal call to the holy to try to become more and more like God to with his virtues. But to do that was almost received as if I was telling people that to please God, you needed to be a first ballot Hall of Famer and Cooperstown rather than just play ball. And so how did I need to adapt it to really meet the folks and, you know, I found it through weaknesses. So to give a practical example, to do Men’s Ministry, I always thought that I’d be able to do a lot with men, I was a coach, I was an athlete, you know, I love sports. There are lots of things of interaction with with every guy, but there was a certain looseness. And I think it was because they were putting me in another category. And so at the end of maths, I said, I just like to ask a question, guys, if any guys here know something about cars, I’ve got a problem with my Ford Fusion outside, I can’t even diagnose it what it would be. If any of you know cars more than me, I’m a total idiot when it comes to it. I’d really be grateful for your help to black fusion outside in the parking lot. And so when I finished mass and went outside, I had about 10 guys waiting, saying, Father, can you pop the hood? And I said, Yeah. And they said, turn it on. And all the rest, they were able to diagnose it, what it was, what I needed. I said, Where do I need to go for it? And one of the guys says, I have one actually in my truck. So I’ll put it on. And then he put it on in and everything else. And I said, could at least thank you guys with some coffee or some juice or whatever in the rectory. Most of them were able to come on in. And that was the opening by which that say, you know, Father, I have a question for you, you know, I’ve never actually received the Sacrament of Confirmation, what do I have to do about that? Or father, I didn’t marry my wife in a Catholic ceremony. How complicated is it to do but the weakness actually was the open door by which they felt that they could relate to me. Similarly, you know, as a priest, one of the joys that we have is meeting people at their really most vulnerable moments when they come to the sacrament of confession with us and confess their sins. And my experience, as a senator, just like everybody else, has been so useful there when they think that they’re coming on in to talk to somebody who has no experience is what they’re struggling with. When I’m able to say, Listen, I get it, I get it, here are some practical ways that you might be able to take the next step, everything else like that. I believe God has really used my weaknesses more powerfully than he’s used the strength.
Will Bachman 52:35
It takes a lot of strength of character, to be able to show that vulnerability in front of people where you’re expected to be a role model.
Roger Landry 52:45
Yeah, there is some pressure. But at the same time, there’s, for me as a Catholic priest, a little bit of faith that if God started with somebody like St. Peter, whose first words to Jesus were, Depart from me, oh, Lord, from the sinful man, that the same type of job description applies 2000 years later, and if God could do something good through him, and is constantly getting on up that God can can make both my weaknesses and my strengths fruitful. So that’s what gives me hope. That’s what keeps me going through. And, you know, a lot of the times when when you’re able to give people hope that the weaknesses are not the end of the story. But really the beginning of the next chapter. That’s when people are inspired. To keep going, you know, I was very moved, listening to Andy Aaron’s from me and interviewed a while ago, and just how honest he was in the conversation about some of the mistakes he made about how difficult it was to be to experience being fired all the rest of it. And I’ve likewise been moved by many of our other classmates just 30 years out, somebody had said it at some point, and I can’t remember which of the interview, few weeks it was, well, who said like at their 10th anniversary, I think it was Jeff. But at the 10th anniversary, I’d wanted to impress people, but at the 30th anniversary, I can just kind of be myself when I’m there. And, and I think that there’s great power there. And as members of the Class of 1992, I think we’ll be able to do a lot of good for the world, when we’re able to leverage even our weaknesses, because our weaknesses everybody can relate to where some of the gifts and the opportunities we’ve had fewer can.
Will Bachman 54:32
So you’ve listened to at least one episode, maybe more. And you know this, this section is coming. So when asked you talk to me about any of the courses or professors you had at Harvard that continue to resonate with you?
Roger Landry 54:47
Yeah, I hearing these questions I had to go back and say think which were the most impactful but one of the professors who had a huge impact on me was Nobel Prize winning Dudley Hirsch Bach. I I took him 10 first semester, we were there. And he had this massive thermodynamic explosion in the first class, which really got my attention, which was pretty cool. But then he just offered regularly to go to lunch with students at the freshman dining hall. And so I signed up one. And I said, like, Can we do this another time. He said, of course, like whenever they were opening sign up. So about three times, I went out with Dudley Hirsch Bach, who had won the Nobel Prize two years earlier. And you know, that was a very powerful experience that no matter how famous he had become, you didn’t need to be a jerk to win the Nobel or to be a Harvard professor, that that type of proximity to students was one of the real highlights and just to be able to share some of those dreams that I you know, I was preparing to become a medical doctor if God weren’t calling me to your priest. And so, so I really loved that class a ton. I had the class on Michelangelo, by John Sherman. And I was taking that in during our senior year. And he quickly figured out that I was a Catholic who was knowledgeable about our faith. And I didn’t know at the time that he was on the commission for the Vatican to determine what was going to happen with the renovation of Michelangelo’s last judgement in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. And so a Japanese firm had paid for the whole thing to be cleansed. But the big question was, they had discovered that a whole bunch of loincloths had been put on the nudes, and all the figures on the Last Judgement. And he just said, you know, one of the questions we’re going to be deciding next week is our recommendation as to whether the loincloth should be put back, or whether Michelangelo’s original design of making them all nudes, should, should remain what are your thoughts? And so I said, Listen. To be blunt, we think that in the resurrection at the last day, that clothings, not going to matter. But in the Sistine Chapel, there are masses facing that judge or less judgment. And that’s where all the Pope’s are elected. And I would hope that uncovered groins of the various male and female figures, on the Last Judgement of Michelangelo wouldn’t be a distraction. But I’d love to eliminate that possibility so that we could definitely make sure we get the right Pope so I put the loincloths back on. And he laughed about it, he thought about it, that was more or less where he was leaning, he told me, but he had made up this final decision. And the final decision if you have a chance to go to the Sistine Chapel, and one of my privileges while I was over there, as I was in the Sistine Chapel, often with just a small group of 356 people. So we were able to see what Michelangelo did with all his glory. But most of the figures have had the loin cloths restored. Whereas there, there are a few in which they had been removed. So it was a little bit of a compromise solution. And then the last course that I really have to mention is Eric gold Hawkins explaining the Holocaust and genocide, which really prepared me for the work of the United Nations and sensitized me to how genocides happen, and how so many others who would be expected to stand up and courageously do something, look the other way. I mean, this is what we saw with ISIS. This is what we’re seeing in northern Nigeria with the attacks and so many of the Christians. This is what we’re seeing with the Uyghurs in China. And so that type, of course, went from my head to my gut pretty fast. And, you know, has given me a real passion to speak up when those things are happening and to try to do something like what if there’s not so much a genocide happening in the Ukraine today, but what the Ukrainians are having to endure, and a lot of people would like to flip the channel, I just can’t. And I’m, I’m grateful that in the time where I was trying to figure out what big trajectories there would be in my future life, that I had Professor gold Hawkins class, because what was permitted to occur to the Jews, especially with many who obviously should have known better here in the US, with all our education with all our news, all the rest of it. I just said, I never want to be in a circumstance like some of those Christian churches in Germany, when they were hearing the cattle cars, bringing people to the gas chambers passing by would have ministers who would just say sing louder. I wanted to attune to the frequency of that suffering. And Professor gold Hawkins class was a real gift to me to help me to do that Precociously there at Harvard.
Will Bachman 59:50
Roger, you mentioned one website that you run, what are the best places for people to go? To find out follow your trajectory? Look at your writing. Find out more about what you’ve been up to.
Roger Landry 1:00:04
Catholic preaching.com is the easiest place to go where I pretty much upload most of what I do, and there’s a podcast that flows from it, as well as the YouTube, the various videos of different talks and lectures and appearances and stuff are all sort of based out of out of Catholic preaching.com. But anybody can email me, I’d love to hear from classmates, Roger Landry, one firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m happy that our alumni committee decided to keep those email addresses where it was controversial up until about a month ago. So still very easy to find me, Roger email@example.com.
Will Bachman 1:00:47
Roger, it’s always a highlight of my week to record these shows. And this one, particularly so you’re an extraordinary individual, and have made such incredible contributions. It’s been just an absolute joy to speak with you.
Roger Landry 1:01:02
I look forward to continuing the conversation, knowing that you’re very close to New York as well, well, but so much renewed gratitude for this series. And thanks for the honor of of allowing me to have this conversation.
Will Bachman 1:01:14
All right. Thank you, and listeners, you can go to 92 report.com. Read the transcript of this episode and every other episode, and sign up for the weekly newsletter. So that’s the promo for today. Alright, thanks for listening.