Fr. Rock Travnikar, OFM
BY FR. FRANK JASPER, OFM
Everybody loved Fr. Rock!" That’s what Fr. Michael Chowning and I heard repeatedly when we attended the memorial services for him at St. Lawrence Parish in Tampa on Jan. 5. Rock had one of the largest friar funerals that I have ever attended. St. Lawrence had three separate services.
In the morning 500 school kids celebrated a memorial Mass for Fr. Rock. During the dialogue homily, Pastor Monsignor Michael Muhr asked for comments about him, and hands shot up all around the church. Rock had a special way with children and he really connected with them because of his antics and his creative approach to sharing the Gospel. At their penance service in Advent when the pastor assigned the sixth-grade boys to Fr. Rock, they cheered.
At noon there was a memorial midday prayer. The 100-plus people sang a special prayer in Rock’s memory. During the service a 3-year-old came walking down the aisle and touched the poster-size picture of Rock in front of the altar and was obviously talking with him. She returned and stared at him several more times. She brought a tear to everyone’s eye. After the service I asked the girl if she was talking with Rock and she said yes, and he was talking with her. When I asked what he said, she hid behind her mother who said she could whisper in her ear and she would tell me. "He said he loved me." He said more but even her mom was not able to get her to say what had occurred. But obviously, it was really special.
In the evening about 400 attended the memorial Mass with a full choir, a flute and exceptional music. Music Director Philip Jakob composed a special rendition of All Creatures of our God and King as a tribute to Rock. The pastor captured Rock’s spirit in his homily and acknowledged that "Rock was not an efficient man. He loved people too much." He elaborated on his creativity and spontaneous spirit that the people loved so much. One of Rock’s final homilies in Advent was printed in his funeral program. In it he acknowledged how difficult it was for him to accept himself and forgive himself. It’s almost as if he were preparing for his meeting with Jesus on Christmas when he died.
After Communion Andreas, a freshman at nearby Jesuit High School, shared his very personal experience with Rock, who instructed him in the faith and taught him how to serve at Rocky Creek Village, where he lived. At the conclusion the whole congregation clapped loudly, affirming what he had said. Afterwards I complimented Andreas and told him I was glad that I didn’t have to follow him in the pulpit. Neither the pastor nor I received that kind of response. As people were lingering afterwards, parents were consoling second- and third-graders who were sad that Rock had died.
Both Fr. Mike Chowning and I felt really proud to be friars with all the positive things that were being said about Rock and the Franciscans. I used that opportunity to invite others to join us and follow Rock’s example. It was amazing how Rock touched so many people. Even the folks at Fifth Third Bank were upset to hear of his death. He was definitely a people person; he related with them in a deeply personal and intimate way. As the pastor indicated in his homily, Pope Francis would certainly approve of Rock’s approach to ministry because he definitely "smelled like the sheep."