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Priest: Journey is what's important

January 28, 2009|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Father Larry Rock's path to the priesthood isn't typical, and he wouldn't recommend it to others. That said, his life B.C. -- "Before Christ" -- helped shape the kind of priest he is today.

Rock, who became the chaplain for St. Maria Goretti High School in Hagerstown in August 2008, was born and raised in Butler, Pa.

After high school, he graduated from a private business school in Pittsburgh and worked as a systems analyst for 10 years, for companies such as General Motors in Detroit and W.R. Grace in Baltimore.

"I was a heathen pretty much most of this time. I was not living a good life," Rock said of his years after school.

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After a childhood friend got out of the U.S. Marines, he and Rock bought a townhouse together. A turning point for Rock was when his roommate wrapped his car around a pole while driving home and was in a coma for 30 days.

His friend survived, but was disabled.

"That scenario really made me pause. It made me ask questions. Is there more to life?," said Rock, the youngest of four, who was raised in the Byzantine Catholic church.

While he was in the process of questioning, his mother was on her own spiritual journey, one Rock described as a deepening conversion. She sent her son a book, one he wasn't really open to exploring.

When he finally read the book, Rock said it opened his heart to God.

"I began to see life as not living for myself. It opened up the world for me," he said.

He began visiting churches of different denominations in search of God and it took him back to his Catholic roots.

Rock, 43, renewed his faith by attending Rite of Christian Initiation classes, designed for anyone who wants to become a baptized, confirmed Catholic. His journey continued with enrollment at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., and ordination as a priest in 2000.

He served parishes in Catonsville and Bradshaw, Md., before his assignment to St. Maria Goretti.

Rock's position at the high school includes chairing the religion department, coordinating the school's religious curriculum and teaching five classes of two courses -- Morality in Christian Relationships and Scripture.

He still leads liturgies and prayer services as needed

"I love it. Of course, it has its challenges. I'm being energized if I'm doing what God wants me to do," Rock said. "We have a good time. The students keep me on my toes."

Coming from a family of teachers, Rock said he's a teacher at heart and is finding the school setting a comfortable fit. He enjoys that he's always doing something different and said this job doesn't require as much multi-tasking as parish ministry.

"This is more structured. For me, I find a certain level of comfort in that," he said.

An avid outdoorsman, Rock looks forward to hiking and other outdoor activities on Saturday, his day off. Few of his priest friends are off on that day, though.

Rock would like to hike the entire Shenandoah section of the Appalachian Trail, a 110-mile stretch he figures would take him two weeks.

"I want to take time and enjoy the experience, enjoy the vistas. For me, the journey is what's important," Rock said.

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