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Tucson bishop buries a close friend

Judge John Roll, a Catholic who had just left Mass when he was fatally shot last week, was buried Friday. 'A lot of emotion,' says Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas, who performed the service.

January 14, 2011|By David Zucchino and Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
  • The funeral procession for federal Judge John M. Roll leaves the church. Nearly 2,000 people attended, a fire official said. Many had to be turned away.
The funeral procession for federal Judge John M. Roll leaves the church.… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Tucson and Los Angeles — Gerald F. Kicanas, bishop of the Diocese of Tucson, was in the Middle East attending a Catholic conference on peace when he learned while watching CNN that a gunman had opened fire on a crowd back home. He was stunned, he said — and then he thought he heard the name "John Roll."

"I thought I had misheard," Kicanas said in an interview. He hadn't; Roll, Arizona's chief federal judge, a devout Catholic and a close friend, was among the dead.

"I just broke down," Kicanas said. "It was a terribly sad experience."

Kicanas, 69, a leading voice in U.S. Catholicism, called Roll's widow, Maureen, from Jerusalem. He assured her, he said: "John went to the Lord."

Kicanas then rushed home to his flock, one of the largest in the nation. Of all the duties thrust upon him in the dizzying days since last Saturday's shooting — holding a Mass for the community, even presiding over the funeral of a 9-year-old girl — the most devastating, he said, was delivering the homily on Friday, when Roll was laid to rest.

"A lot of emotion," he said quietly. He described Roll as "a very balanced person of great integrity."

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, where 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green was eulogized on Thursday, was packed again Friday for the Mass and service held for Roll. Security was tight for the 90-minute service because many of Roll's judicial colleagues, as well as other dignitaries, were attending.

Nearly 2,000 mourners attended, according to a local fire official, including Arizona's two Republican senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, who said they were preparing legislation to name a federal courthouse in Yuma in Roll's honor. The senators called Roll a "tireless advocate for all Arizonans." Roll had pushed for the construction of the courthouse and had recently approved its design; it is expected to open in 2013.

Gov. Jan Brewer and former Vice President Dan Quayle also attended. Quayle carried a handwritten message from former President George H.W. Bush, who appointed Roll to the federal bench in 1991.

Traffic clogged the streets leading to the church, and mourners were screened by sheriff's deputies and federal officials on their way inside. Some were turned away.

Patrick McGrath, an Arizona state Supreme Court bailiff, said he drove from Phoenix to pay his respects to the judge, with whom he played golf and sometimes had lunch.

"If Judge Roll asked you, 'How's it going?' he really meant it," McGrath said. "He'd listen — really listen. He treated me like a close friend."

McGrath was among those unable to enter the church. He said a guard told him: "Unless you are a dignitary, you are not getting in."

Several of those lining the road said they had come to give the world a different impression of Arizona.

"We don't want people to have a negative view of our community because of one incident," said Margaret Apodaca, who carried a small U.S. flag. "That's not who we are. We're out here to show the true face of Tucson."

Roll, 63, was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Arizona as a boy.

He graduated from the University of Arizona and its law school. He served as an assistant city attorney in Tucson, a county and federal prosecutor, then as a Superior Court and appellate judge before joining the federal bench.

He became Arizona's chief federal judge in 2006. President Obama described him as "the hardest-working judge within the 9th Circuit."

Tucson's legal community is unusually intertwined with the area diocese, which includes about 350,000 Roman Catholics out of a total population of about 1.5 million. The diocese comprises 76 parishes and is the fifth-largest in the contiguous United States.

The relationship between the legal community and the church was thanks in large part to Roll, Kicanas said.

Kicanas and Roll were both transplants to Arizona — Kicanas grew up in Chicago, was ordained there in 1967 and had a fierce allegiance to the White Sox when he became bishop in Tucson in 2003. The two became fast friends.

Roll was very active in the diocese's leadership, particularly in the St. Thomas More Society, a fellowship of Catholic lawyers, Kicanas said. Roll frequently worked with young lawyers, speaking with them about the importance of melding their profession with a life of integrity, he added.

"We've talked a lot about heroes since this happened," Kicanas said in the interview. "But heroism isn't just moments of courage in the time of a crisis. There are countless others who are courageous simply by living for others and trying to live with integrity and contribute to their community. Judge Roll was that kind of person."

Roll attended Mass each day — including the morning of the attack. On his way home, he decided to drop by a shopping center where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a friend, was hosting a Congress on Your Corner meet-and-greet with constituents.

A gunman opened fire; six were killed and 13 wounded, including Giffords. The suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has been charged with five federal crimes, including Roll's murder.

In addition to his wife, Roll is survived by three sons and five grandchildren.

Services for the others killed in the attack will be held in coming days. A funeral will be held Sunday for Dorwan Stoddard, 76, a retired construction worker and gas station owner who was killed as he shielded his wife from bullets. On Monday, there will be a service for Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, a Giffords aide.

Times staff writers Seema Mehta in Tucson and Rong-Gong Lin II in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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