Initially, I met Father Rookey through prayer sessions, but in time, I was able to interview him. When I met Father Rookey for one of my more in-depth interviews, he was in his upper nineties and he was back in Chicago, where he was first ordained close to eight decades ago. With Father Rookey and many others, I continued to send out flyers asking for interviews even if I already sent a flyer and/or didn’t hear back from someone.
Several months after the prayer session that I attended with Father Rookey in Olympia Fields, Illinois, I would have the opportunity that I was hoping to obtain – to interview this remarkable man. It was a cold, winter afternoon when I happened to look down and I saw a (773) area code phone number calling as I looked at the screen of my cell phone. I picked up my cell phone and I heard, “Victoria, this is Father Rookey,” in Father Rookey’s signature soothing voice. I was ecstatic that he was responding to one of my letters where I asked him if he would be interested in an interview. We set up an official interview.
When I arrived at Our Lady Of Sorrows in Chicago, I parked at the parking lot in the back and then I tried to find the door to enter. I ended up entering through the kitchen. A staff member was kind enough to walk me to Father Rookey’s office on the other side of the building. A sweet lady who volunteered there to help Father Rookey showed me where to sit and within a few minutes, in came Father Rookey. He wheeled himself in and then he, by himself lifted himself from the chair with wheels that he used to get himself around (now that it was difficult for him to walk) to the chair that was sitting there in the office. Soon the volunteer exited and it was just Father and I in the room. I had to pinch myself. I could not believe that I was fortunate enough to have the chance to interview this revered man.
Father Rookey detailed that there were thirteen children in the Rookey family. As with many others whom I spoke, a reoccurring theme throughout this book, Father Rookey was the only one who was left living besides his brother, Earl. Father Rookey was ninety-seven years old when he died in September of 2014. Throughout our interview, people would call and Father Rookey would dutifully pick up the phone. It was on speaker phone, so I heard these calls. “Hello, is this Father Rookey? Can I have a blessing?” Every few minutes throughout our interview, people from around the world called to get a blessing from humble Father Rookey. I witnessed up close what he did in his Compassion Healing Ministry as he listened to people’s woes and prayed for their recovery.
When he was thirteen (September 8, 1930), Father Rookey left the Sacred Heart Grammar School in Superior, Wisconsin for the Servite Seminary at Mater Dolorosa Seminary in Hillside, Illinois. He was now 500 miles away from his home and family. He then entered the Servite Novitiate, in Granville, WI on September 9, 1934. He professed solemn vows on November 1, 1938 and was ordained a priest on May 17, 1941. At the seminary, Father Rookey met Father John Keane. Father Rookey described Father Keane as, “a strict and holy man.” Father Keane became Father Rookey’s superior. In 1948, Father Rookey traveled to Ireland and he and Father Keane bought an ancient estate and founded the Servite Order in northern Ireland (Benburb, County Tyrone, Anterm).
In 1953, Father Rookey received a telegram telling him to come to Rome. Father Rookey was told, “You’ve been elected assistant general of the whole order.” As Father Rookey told this story to me, I then learned that an order is called a chapter. He shared, “Within each chapter, they elect new leaders, generals, assistants and all that.” That brought Father Rookey to Italy and as he put it, “all over Kingdom Come.” His sense of humor percolated through our discussions. It is impossible to speak with Father Rookey for even a few moments and not notice his wonderful sense of humor. He added, “If he’s any kind of a general, he’ll visit his brothers all over Kingdom Come. It was a very interesting six years.” They asked him to run a college in Neufchâteau, Belgium. In the midst of him telling me about his days traveling, a call then came in, “Yes, Father Rookey, it’s Pauline.” Can you pray for my ill husband? We need your prayers.” Father Rookey always used the endearing term, “dear” when he spoke to people.
I continually chuckled because of Father Rookey’s entertaining sense of humor, yet I was humbled by his fervent faith. I reflected that this is the signature of a special person. In his own words, as he made me laugh and he had me in awe of his intelligence, Father Rookey explained that his life’s journey has been guided by his constant “Yes” to God. Father Rookey described to me how deepening trust in God’s Laws and Love leads to the healing of serious hurts and the overcoming of life’s most difficult challenges. He shared that as we overcome life’s most difficult challenges, “Our souls begin to recognize that we belong to Him and He is Love. Ultimately, filled with His Love, we can give the gift of ourselves to Christ and His Love will come forth through us.” I chose Father Rookey’s story for this lesson about the power of faith because he exemplified that Christ’s love comes forth through our actions.
I continued to get lost in the stories about Father Rookey’s life that afternoon as well as through various follow-up interviews including a day when I attended a private mass with Father Rookey and then he and I along with the rest of my family enjoyed a lunch together at my parents’ house. From the staff at the International Compassion Ministry, I also heard stories about many of the extraordinary healings and exorcisms that have occurred. From these cherished times that I was fortunate enough to have shared with him, I developed a friendship with a miraculous and humble man, known to the world as “the healing priest” who, when asked about his “gift”, says simply: “It is God’s work, not mine – He does all the healing, I just pray.” Beyond doubt, Father Rookey allowed me to understand the importance of “having faith” in our modern lives.