Guess who’s going to the Super Bowl?
Rev. Richard Rocha – who has been the pastor at St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church in Blue Springs for nearly four months – grins at the question, and sports a bit of an angelic grin when he comes up with the answer.
For the past four years, he has been the Catholic chaplain for the Kansas City Chiefs, and he promises that divine intervention may have played a role in him catching a plane to Miami Saturday morning and celebrating the team’s pre-game mass before Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV contest against the San Francisco 49ers.
“I did not pray about getting a ticket and going to the Super Bowl,” Rocha said, “although I will admit that I did think about it. I was making plans of hosting some priests and parishioners and that I would watch the game at home, because it would take most of a priest’s salary to purchase a ticket.”
He had been hoping for a phone call since the Chiefs beat the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship – and it finally happened.
“It was Thursday of last week and I received a phone call from the Chiefs saying that there was a slight chance that they would have an extra ticket and was I interested in going,” Rocha said. “I responded with a huge ‘YES!’ Then a text came later that said, ‘Welcome to Miami Father! We have a ticket for you. Can you do a mass on Saturday night?’ I didn’t hesitate and said, ‘Yes!’”
Since then, it has been a whirlwind of activities for Rocha, who had served as president of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic High School in Lee’s Summit, working to get the new area school opened.
Football has always been a passion for Rocha, who was born in Atchison, Kansas, and raised in St. Joseph, Mo. He played football and graduated from Bishop LeBlond High School in St. Joseph.
He then received a scholarship to play football at Benedictine College in Atchison, but transferred two years later to Missouri Western after the sudden death of his father.
He has a degree in education at Missouri Western State College and a master’s degree in education from Northwest Missouri State University.
Rocha was able to follow his first dream and coach football on both the prep and collegiate levels at Bishop LeBlond and St. Joseph Benton high schools, and Northwest Missouri State, Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas, and at Benedictine.
He served as the head football coach at North Platte High School in Dearborn, Mo., and Mt. Vernon (Mo.) High School.
When asked if he ever prayed for a win, he simply said, “When I was coaching, I never prayed that we win the game, but I did and still do pray that both teams have no serious injuries and that they both play well. And then I pray that we play better and make fewer mistakes than our opponent.”
In 1997, some years after he had started taking his faith seriously and evolved into attending mass on a daily basis, he resigned from coaching and entered Mundelein Seminary in Chicago to study for the priesthood.
“I was so thrilled to go to Chicago for seminary training because it was so close to Notre Dame University,” said Rocha, who was sporting his favorite Kansas City Chiefs cap, one similar to the one that helped him attend more Notre Dame football games than a seminarian could imagine.
As he attended his first Notre Dame football game, he spotted a fan sitting in front of him who was also wearing a Chiefs cap.
“We talked and as it turned out, he was also a native of St. Joseph and went to Bishop LeBlond. He invited me to his home to meet his family and we became fast friends,” Rocha said.
“Before I left to head back to Chicago, he said that he would see me at the next Notre Dame football game and I told him that I was only able to attend this game because I was given the ticket from a Kansas City booster.
“He said, ‘Tickets? I will supply the ticket, you just need to show up!’ And because of his generosity, I saw every Notre Dame home football game over the next five years.”
When he was drawn from his passion for football to serving as a priest, Rocha had one question.
“I remember asking God where He was leading me,” Rocha said. “And as it turned out, He was wanting me to coach on ‘His team!’ And all I could say was, ‘If I am going to give up everything – my love for coaching and getting married and having a family – to follow You, what’s in it for me Lord? And the Lord has truly blessed me in my journey.”
Along with serving as the Chiefs Catholic chaplain the past four years, he has been the Kansas City Royals Catholic chaplain the past 14 years.
Ironically, former Kansas City Royals player, coach and manager John Wathan happened to call Rocha during an interview to talk about an upcoming spring training golf outing.
“I have been truly blessed to have met so many wonderful people over the years and I feel so honored to serve God as His priest, and to have worked at St. Michael, St. Robert Bellarmine and all my other parish assignments.”
When asked if he had any heavenly insight into who might win the big game Sunday, again, he smiled and said, “It’s just an honor to be with so many wonderful members of this great organization, to be blessed to celebrate mass with players and coaches of the team to help keep them grounded, fueled spiritually, and hopefully watch them bring the championship trophy home to Kansas City!”