PROVIDENCE — For Deacon Jorge Rocha, who will be ordained to the priesthood this Saturday, June 25, the vocational journey to ordination was neither easy nor clear. Born in the Cape Verde Islands, Deacon Rocha worked for many years at Providence College and endured great personal loss before answering a call to the priesthood, a decades-long faith journey that led to one simple goal.
“Just to be a good and faithful priest,” he told Rhode Island Catholic last Tuesday, when he gathered at Providence College with his siblings and uncle for a tour of his former workplace.
Deacon Rocha’s vocational journey began in his hometown in Cape Verde, where he attended Our Lady of Sorrows Parish with his parents and three siblings. When he was 11 years old, his parents began to make plans to move the family to Providence, sending him ahead to receive treatment for an eye condition and live with his uncle, Jorge Sequeira. However, in 1988, his mother passed away, followed four years later by his father, leaving the family split between two continents with only their parents’ love to connect them.
“We had to grow up by ourselves so we had something in common, which was our parents’ love and our faith which always keeps us together,” said Deacon Rocha’s sister, Carla Rocha, who grew up in Cape Verde and traveled from the islands to attend the ordination.
Deacon Rocha continued to live with family in Providence, attending Our Lady of the Rosary Church and Nathan Bishop Middle School. Sequeira, who raised his nephew through his teenage years, remembers a boy who was always outside playing soccer and even getting into trouble on occasion, though Deacon Rocha denies it.
“He was just a boy. He was a good soccer player,” said Sequeira, who received the news that his nephew intended to become a priest with great pride and a hint of surprise. “I never dreamed it would come to this.”
After graduating from Classical High School and taking some time off for reflection, Deacon Rocha attended Franklin Pierce University, where he studied journalism and played on the varsity soccer team. He developed an interest in sports media and worked briefly at UMass Lowell before returning to Rhode Island to pursue a master’s degree and work as a graduate assistant at Providence College. Eventually, he was offered a position in the athletic department handling media relations for the men’s hockey team, a job he would remain at for 10 years.
“At that time, I thought I knew what I wanted to do,” he said.
The Providence College community became like a second family to Deacon Rocha, embracing him and serving as another home. He developed friendships with several Dominican fathers, including Father James Cuddy, Father James Quigley, Father Ed Myers and Father Joseph Guido, who would later offer support and guidance as he began to discern his vocation. He also developed close friendships with his coworkers, one of whom, Lisa Vieira, shared her memories of the deacon during his visit to the campus.
“He was one of the first people that I met. He was always helpful, always kind and a beautiful person to work with,” said Vieira, who began working at Providence College in 2007. “I think [his becoming a priest] is a beautiful thing to be doing and I think he could touch a lot of lives.”
In addition to providing a social family, PC also prompted him to reconnect with parts of his faith. Though he was active at Our Lady of the Rosary growing up, Deacon Rocha never received the sacrament of confirmation as a teenager due to the timing of his parents’ death. Six years ago, he made the decision to become fully confirmed in the Catholic Church. It was after this that he began to express a calling to the priesthood to his Dominican friends.
“They told me to pray and to find silence because that’s when God speaks to you, in the midst of silence,” he said.
With the support of his family and PC friends, Deacon Rocha entered Pope St. John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass., in 2012. Though he briefly considered entering formation as a Dominican, his willingness to serve as a parish priest drew him to the Diocese of Providence. With a personality that is sociable and friendly but at times reserved, Deacon Rocha said the parish challenges him in a positive way.
“I like being around people in a parish setting,” he said. “It takes me out of my comfort zone.”
As a seminarian and deacon, he served at St. Timothy Parish, Warwick, and St. Philip Parish, Greenville, gaining early exposure to the patterns of parish life. Prayer remained an important part of his faith journey through his assignments and years of study, carrying him through moments of uncertainty.
“Was I here for the right reasons? Prayer helped me get through that,” he said. “Certainly God helped me see my purpose in life, that I was called to this.”
For his siblings, Deacon Rocha’s calling to the priesthood can be traced to their parents’ faith and love. Despite the family’s loss early in life, their parents’ faith continues to live on in the foundation they provided for their children.
“Our parents, especially our mother, had a big faith and I think he translated that for us,” said Carla.
“We suffered through many things, but you don’t have to be perfect to become a priest,” added Eunice, who also followed a call to the religious life and serves as a member of a missionary order in Spain. “For me, it’s the grace of God to be a priest. I hope his life is filled with light and hope fully that light shines upon the people he encounters.”
As the family approaches ordination day, they anxiously await the moment Deacon Rocha will dedicate himself to a life serving God and the people of Rhode Island as a diocesan priest. For Sequeira, who raised the deacon like a son, the dedication is bittersweet.
“I wish him well. I’ll miss his presence,” he said, before adding with a smile, “I don’t know if I’ll have to call him Father Jorge.”