On April 23, a journey 52 years in the making was celebrated as parishioners of St. William of Montevergine Church in Shelbyville, came together to honor their pastor, Father Louis Edward Rojas, SAC, who celebrated 25 years as a priest and 50 years with the Society of the Catholic Apostolate.
“It was a surprise. I didn’t want to do anything,” said Father Louis. “I’m not that kind of person to do a big hoopla, but I thanked them, and I wish them well for doing that.
“It went so fast,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to last this long, but God had another plan for me.”
Parishioners from St. Philip Church in Franklin, St. Catherine of Sienna Church in Columbia and Good Shepherd Church in Decherd, were also in attendance representing parishes where Father Louis served previously.
“As I grew in my faith and service, Father Louis opened the doors for me to continue growing. We celebrated his 25th anniversary to let him know how thankful we are for his dedication and sacrifice he has made for our home parish,” said Jorge Amaro, youth coordinator at St. William Church and the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. “This was also to remember his 25 years of service as a religious brother for the Pallottine community. I am especially thankful for him as he helped nurture my faith and my role in our Church.”
The early years
Father Louis was born in Bogota, Colombia, in March 1947 and lived there for nearly the first decade of his life until his mother, Elvira Millan, came to the United States to study to become a nurse.
Father Louis joined his mother just before his 10th birthday, arriving in the United States on Jan. 25, 1957. From there, he completed his schooling like any other boy, and was drafted by the U.S. Army in March 1968 and served until March 1970.
Then, he found The Society of the Catholic Apostolate, where he entered as a novice in 1970, at the age of 22.
A brother first
The Society of the Catholic Apostolate, or the Pallottines, are a Society of Apostolic Life within the Roman Catholic Church. It was founded in 1835 by a Roman priest, St. Vincent Pallotti. Pallottines are part of the Union of Catholic Apostolate and are present in 45 countries on six continents.
As a young man, Father Louis said he always looked up to the priests around him.
“In the back of my head, I always wanted to be one of them,” he said.
Then, while looking at five different religious orders, he knew he wanted to be part of the Pallottines.
“What attracted me was St. Vincent Pallotti’s idea of the whole Church working together. The clergy, the religious and the laity working together to be responsible for the Church,” Father Louis said. “It’s all of us that make up the Church. … His thing was basically to make a non-Catholic a Catholic, a bad Catholic a good Catholic, and a good Catholic an Apostle, and his thing with that was the revival of faith and love in the Church.”
But it’d be nearly three decades before he’d make his priestly promises. Instead, he made his first profession as a brother with the Pallottines on Aug. 22, 1972.
“For whatever reason, they said, ‘You’d probably be a better brother than a priest,’” Father Louis explained. “So, I became a brother and served for 25 years.”
In those 25 years, Father Louis found himself working in many roles and places around the country and the world. It included teaching at a Pallottine School in New Jersey, where he was in charge of cooking in the cafeteria every day; cleaning and cooking at the seminary; helping out with religious education and youth groups in parishes; completing his own studies in theology, and more. But it was while he was serving villages in Mexico, that his path to the priesthood was revisited.
“The opportunity came to go to Mexico to be a missionary to help Bishop Jose Andreas,” Father Louis explained. “We went and we worked up in the mountains, in the Sierra.
“I went out to the villages, and a couple times the bishop would come to visit for Confirmations and just to visit because he was from that area,” he continued. “The people would ask him, ‘We need a priest, can you ordain him?’”
From there, because of discussions that needed to be had with his provincial of the Pallottines, it took two more years, but Father Louis was finally ordained a priest on April 21, 1997, the birthday of St. Vincent Pallotti.
Following his ordination, Father Louis spent four more years as a priest in Mexico before coming back to the United States where he served at St. Joseph Church in Hamilton, New Jersey; St. Leo Church in Baltimore; and Resurrection Church in Baltimore.
Then, in 2008, he was asked by the late Bishop David Choby to come and help with Hispanic ministry in the Diocese of Nashville. While he helped wherever he was needed for the next six years, he generally worked with the Hispanic ministries at St. Philip and St. Catherine of Sienna.
Then, on Feb. 15, 2015, he was installed as pastor of St. William, where he has been ever since.
“My favorite thing about being a priest is ministering in whatever form it takes,” Father Louis said. “Being there, trying to be there for the people when they need it, especially through the dispensing of the sacraments.”
Preparing for the future
Now, his journey that led to 25 years in the priesthood will lead him down a new path as he prepares to retire from active parish priesthood at the end of June.
“I’m looking forward to that, but I think I will miss the activity with the people, being with the people. But, like I tell them, I’m not retiring from celebrating Masses,” he explained. “I’m retiring from the administrative part of it because, as a priest, we never retire from ministry.”
Following his immediate retirement plans of settling into his new residence in Spring Hill, he said he plans to go on a retreat to spend time in prayer and then travel to places he hasn’t yet. And, in between, he’ll help whenever he can.
And in his retirement, as he reflects back on the last 50 years, he said he hopes just one thing came from his time in ministry with the people.
“I’m hoping that I brought to them the message of Jesus, for them to know him a little better. I pray that they heard that from my preaching and my teaching,” Father Louis said. “I hope that I was able to transmit to them the love for Jesus. … Hopefully, I brought them closer to him, to know him as a Catholic and understand what our Catholic teachings are, and how that will lead us to maybe one day be all together in the kingdom.
“We pray and hope that we bring some hope and joy and peace to the people,” he said. “And hopefully that peace will transmit into peace in our communities. … That’s my hope, that somehow, we start with ourselves and then the people around us to change things, so that we make a better world, and we grow and share in love.”