A transplanted New Yorker, John LaRocca, S.J., joined Xavier’s Department of History faculty in 1977 convinced he would return to his native East Coast within two years. He’s been at Xavier ever since.
“After my first semester here I was back in New York for Christmas, and I went to dinner with some Jesuits who had gone through Jesuit formation with me. One of them looked at me and said, ‘You still going to be back here in two years?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘No, you’re not.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said, ‘You’re falling in love with the school. You have no idea what your face looks like when you talk about Xavier.’ ”
“It gave me a place to teach, and I love teaching. I found some excellent students here and a lot of very good people who allowed me to enter their lives. I also saw myself as someone who wanted to do research, and the University and Jesuit community offered me the support to do that research. And one of the essential parts of who I am is that I am a priest, and they valued the ministry I did as a Jesuit priest on the campus.”
During his 33-plus years at Xavier, LaRocca has taken on many responsibilities beyond teaching history courses. He has twice served as chair of the history department and has been a member of and chaired numerous University committees. He’s been chaplain to athletes, continues to take turns presiding at Bellermine Chapel Masses, and is well known for his Friday night pasta dinners at Kuhlman Hall and his beloved beagle, Isabella, whom he routinely walks on campus. He is an avid, opinionated Xavier basketball fan. Most recently he was named trustee emeritus to the Xavier Board of Trustees and completed a six-year term as rector of the Jesuit community at Xavier this past fall.
LaRocca says he enjoyed serving as rector because he got to spend time with his Jesuit brothers, to find out more about their lives, their hopes, expectations and disappointments. Still, he says he’s relieved to be free of the paperwork and regional traveling associated with the job. He hopes to spend his newfound free time—liberation, he calls it—doing research for a book on the theology of Mary Tudor and the Council of Trent.
“I’ve been on all sorts of committees that have done things from the trivial to the really important. I was on the core curriculum committee 20 years ago, the academic vision statement committee, the first one. I was chair of the faculty committee when we purchased Edgecliff College. Is that more important than when I presided at liturgy at Bellarmine Chapel or visited a suicide victim on life support in the hospital? I don’t know what’s more important. Maybe God knows that, and maybe I haven’t done it yet.”
To be sure, one lasting legacy of LaRocca’s is an endowed scholarship he established in 2008 for a first-generation college student. The Joseph and Constance LaRocca Scholarship is named in memory of the only child’s first-generation Italian-American parents.
“I figured they aren’t going to have any grandchildren or great grandchildren to remember them, but at least at Xavier University, somebody will remember that these people once existed, and there will be a college student who benefits.”