Dec 5, 2014

Remembering Roger G.

The last time I drank an alcoholic beverage was in August of 1983.  At that time, my "home group" in Alcoholics Anonymous was the Fayetteville Group in Fayetteville, Tennessee.  We met on Tuesday and Friday nights.  On the last Friday of the month, we had a guest speaker and celebrated the AA birthdays of anyone in the group whose birthday occurred during that month.  We were always on the lookout for new speakers to tell their stories at these so-called "eatin' meetings."
Sometime in 1984, the guest speaker was a gentleman introduced as Roger G. from Manchester, Tennessee.  My wife, Margo, and I listened intently to Roger's story.  He and I had a lot in common.  He had been raised in the north (the Boston area) in a devoutly Catholic family.  He was a college graduate.  He had migrated to the South fairly recently.  I could identify with much of his story.  After he had finished his story and the meeting had ended, Margo and I asked him if he'd care to join us at Shoney's for coffee and dessert.  We learned later that "coffee" was the magic word.  He would join anyone for a cup of coffee any time.  Roger joined us and within the next couple of hours, we became friends and Roger Gaudet became my first real AA sponsor.  Over the next several years, he would be my guide and mentor through the twelve step recovery program.

Roger's story was unusual in a number of ways.  He was not much older than I but he had been sober for nearly 25 years.  He had gotten sober in an AA group in Newton, Massachusetts, when he was around twenty years old.  That was a rarity in the early 1960's.  He spoke of the reaction of the older AA members when he attended his first meeting and stated that he was an alcoholic.  Many of the older members said that he wasn't old enough to be an alcoholic.  But Roger kept going to meetings, got a sponsor, worked the 12 steps of the program, and remained sober.  When we met, he was the director of a treatment facility in Manchester, Tennessee.

Roger became a fixture at our home on weekends.  Our guest bedroom became known as "Roger's Room."  He and I spent countless hours together and our common interests kept the conversation lively.  He had been formally trained as a keyboard artist at the New England Conservatory in Boston, and for several years had made his living as a concert organist, representing the Rudolph Wurlitzer Company of North Tonawanda, New York.  

An ad for one of Roger's concerts,
in Spokane, in 1976
Roger would travel from city to city under the sponsorship of a local music company that sold the Wurlitzer line of electronic organs.  The company would send tickets to local residents who were potential customers.  Roger would put on a show at a local auditorium, demonstrating what could be done on the latest Wurlitzer instrument.  The dealer was ready to sign up potential customers at the conclusion of the concert.

He could spin yarns for hours with stories of those years as a travelling musician.  When he would arrive in a city, he'd call the AA answering service to determine the location of a nearby meeting.  If there were none nearby, he'd sometimes ask if an AA member could pick him up at his hotel to take him to a meeting.  Naturally he had met hundreds of AA members all over the world by this practice.  At one point, he was doing a series of concerts in Australia and encountered an AA member who was a Qantas Airlines 747 pilot.  The gentleman lived on a ranch and insisted that Roger live with his family throughout the duration of his Australia tour.  On Roger's return flight to Hawaii enroute to California, he was invited to sit in a spare engineer's seat in the cockpit of his plane.  The Qantas pilot happened to know the pilot of Roger's flight and had suggested this extra hospitality, knowing of Roger's interest in aviation.  Another time, while in L.A., Roger was picked up at his hotel by a couple of black recovering alcoholics driving a pink cadillac convertible.  They took him to an AA meeting in Watts at which, as Roger would tell it, his was the only white face.

One time, Roger told me to set aside a Saturday night for him and Margo and me to attend an AA "Roundup" being held at Guntersville State Lodge in Alabama.  As Roger put it, "There's a speaker that I want you to meet."  We went to the meeting and the speaker turned out to be a fellow who called himself "John the Indian."  His story was one of the most incredible recovery stories ever and it turned out that he and Roger had become close friends in the earliest days of their sobriety.  They had an almost identical sobriety date and had started their recovery in the same groups near Boston.  It was like old home week when Roger went up to John after his talk and asked, "Do I look any older?"  They hadn't seen each other for about twenty years.

Roger was a natural musician and every weekend was enriched by his playing at Margo's Baldwin Acrosonic spinet piano.  He would simply sit on the bench and start to play.  It might be Mozart or Chopin or Rachmaninoff.  It might just as easily be Cole Porter or Rodgers and Hammerstein.  His repertoire was unlimited.  And Margo would toss out requests and Roger would invariably play them from memory.  He was astonishing.

His musical skill led to an amusing incident one Saturday afternoon at Parkway City Mall in Huntsville.  There was a store there called "Tony Barone's Organ Center."  The store was a long-time fixture in Huntsville, and the store was designed to be open on two sides.  If someone was playing one of the several display instruments, they could be heard throughout the mall.  Roger and I were shopping and he noticed the organ center.  He said, "Let's have a little fun" as he strolled into the store and sat at one of the more elaborate electronic organs.  Soon a salesman descended on us.  Roger asked how you turned on the instrument.  The salesman brushed Roger aside as he slipped onto the bench.  "Let me show you gentlemen a few features of this marvelous organ."  He proceeded to go through his routine, describing the capabilities and gadgetry, and even playing a few simple tunes.  Roger asked if he could try it out.  As Roger centered himself on the bench, he reached up and started to flip various stop tabs to reset the organ's registry, and launched into an astounding version of the Colonel Bogey March, employing pedals and both keyboards.  It was Roger at his flamboyant best!  By the time he finished, a crowd of several dozen bystanders had come into the store to see who was playing.  The salesman realized that he had been set up.  The owner of the store came out of his office to meet Roger.  We stayed for a couple of hours as Roger played request after request to the appreciative audience.

In about 1986, Roger informed us that he had been praying for guidance and had concluded that he was being called to enter the Roman Catholic priesthood.  This was an interesting turn of events for a man who had been married twice and had four daughters.  It turned out that his first marriage had been annulled and his second was never valid in the eyes of the church.  He was also nearly 50 years old.  He would have to find a bishop willing to support him through a seminary path of at least three years.  The sponsoring bishop would be unlikely to get too many years of pastoral service from a man who would be ordained in his fifties.  But Roger succeeded in getting Archbishop Edward T. O'Meara of Indianapolis, Indiana, to sponsor him.  Roger attended a "late vocations" seminary, Sacred Heart School of Theology, in Hales Corners, Wisconsin.  And on June 3, 1989, Margo and I (as well as a lot of other Huntsville AA members) were in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis for his ordination to the priesthood.  By this time in his life, he had reconciled with his children.  One of his daughters sat near him during the ceremony, and Roger carried his grandchild down the aisle in the processional, handing the baby to her mother before he took his place for the ceremony.  And the next time we spoke to him, he was Father Roger!

One of his first assignments was as associate chaplain 
for the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with residence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish near Terre Haute.  Here was this world-travelled former drunk serving as chaplain to a group of retired nuns!  He told me it was evidence of God's sense of humor.  As Roger put it, "That will teach me to pray to be surrounded by beautiful women."

In 1994, Roger was named pastor of 
St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, Indiana.  Margo and I visited him there and he was a very happy man.  He was loved by his parishioners, was composing lots of liturgical music, was performing organ concerts for some cloistered nuns at a nearby convent, and was still in demand as an AA speaker (and what a wonderful recovery story he had to share).

Roger took an early retirement in 2001 for health reasons and on August 2, 2002, he left us.  The tribute that follows appeared in the Criterion, a regional Catholic newspaper, the week after his death.  Unfortunately, it's impossible to capture in print the bigger-than-life presence that was Father Roger.  I am very blessed and grateful to have had him in my life in a very important and treasured way.

Father Roger Gaudet, retired diocesan priest,
dies on Aug. 2 by Mary Ann Wyand

Father Roger B. Gaudet, who retired as pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville last year, died in his sleep on Aug. 2 at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. He was 65. He was granted early retirement for health reasons in January 2002 and lived at St. Paul Hermitage, where he served as chaplain. Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Gaudet at 11 a.m. on Aug. 6 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Father Thomas Schliessmann, pastor of American Martyrs Parish in Scottsburg and St. Patrick Parish in Salem, was the homilist. Burial followed in the Priests’ Circle at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis.

St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis hosted a luncheon after the funeral. The wake was Aug. 5 at St. Paul Hermitage. “He had been under the care of a doctor,” Father Schliessmann said. “Several years ago, he asked me if I would preach at his funeral. He and Father Raymond Schafer and I were ordination classmates.” Father Gaudet’s last name means “rejoice” in Latin, Father Schliessmann said, “and that’s normally how he lived. He lived rejoicing and enjoyed his 13 years as a priest.”

A former Marine, he had been married and was the father of four daughters. After his divorce, his marriage was annulled and he began studies for the priesthood. “He was able to enter the seminary after proving that any financial obligations to his four grown children were taken care of,” Father Schliessmann said. “He was a talented musician and professional organist. Following his ordination, he wrote the music for a special Mass at every parish where he served. He also played the organ for concerts to raise funds for parishes.”

Before his ordination, he was a therapist and ministered to persons with drug and alcohol dependencies. He was a recovering alcoholic and had participated in the 12-Step Program for more than halfof his life. “He had a very intimate and even mystical relationship with our Lord and an understanding of what he did for us on the cross,” Father Schliessmann said. “He had a very deep devotion to the Eucharist.”

Born on June 11, 1937, he was ordained to the priesthood on June 3, 1989, at age 52 by the late Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral. His first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. In 1991, he was named temporary associate pastor of St. Barnabas Parish in Indianapolis.

In 1992, he was named associate chaplain for the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with residence at St. Mary-of-the-Woods Parish near Terre Haute. The following year, he was named administrator of St. Mary-of-theWoods Parish while continuing as associate chaplain at the motherhouse.

In 1994, he was named pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Fortville, where he served until his early retirement last year. St. Michael the Archangel parishioner Jim Hession of Indianapolis knew Father Gaudet for a number of years and remembered him as a man of great faith and a talented musician.

“In a brief 13-year career as a priest, this man brought the true message of God’s love and mercy to those who needed it most,” Hession said. “He played [the organ] for the pure pleasure of it for the [Providence sisters] in the infirmary at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and at several nursing homes in the Indianapolis and Terre Haute areas.”

Hession said Father Gaudet also “worked tirelessly with the recovering alcoholic population” and served on the board of directors of Progress House, a recovery house for alcoholics and addicts. “I guess the most astounding part of Father Roger’s brief ministry is that he did most of his best work behind the scenes,” Hession said. “He had a way and an understanding and a belief that spoke volumes about spirituality, sobriety and serenity.”

Survivors include four daughters, Theresa Morese, Shannon Gaudet, Christen Pellitier and Susan Cabral, who reside in Massachusetts; two sisters, Rose Marie and Claire Gaudette of Henderson, Nev.; two grandchildren; and five great grandchildren.
Image courtesy of John D. Fitzgerald, a mutual friend of Father Roger


JDFitzCTB said...


Loved the blog!

I have a scan of the program from Fr. Roger's funeral mass if you'd like a copy...but I didn't see any way to contact you directly.

Please contact me if you'd like me to send you the file.


John Fitzgerald

Bob said...

I'd love to have that. Please send it to Thanks,