Sister Denise Roche, the President of D’Youville College, is a very warm and welcoming person. Her office is located just inside the front entrance of the Koessler Administration Building and she often encourages students to stop by and introduce themselves when they are free. I wanted to meet Sister Denise because I have heard so many wonderful things about her and grew curious. So I set up a time to meet with her and I learned a lot about the spectacular woman heading D’Youville College.
What is your favorite part about being the president of D’Youville College?
I love being around students. That’s the heart and pulse of the college. The students are very different from year to year and do different things for the college. Those students then go out and do many great things and a new group of students come in. There is a constant growth and dynamic, it’s great! I love the students. They are the best part!
What is something that most students do not know about you?
They probably don’t know that I was sociology major at D’Youville or that I taught first grade. I loved the kids, but I was a dismal failure at teaching first grade, by my standards anyway. Both my mother and my sister went to D’Youville. I grew up in Buffalo and was away for about ten or twelve years when I entered the Grey Nuns before I came back here.
What made you decide to devote your life to God?
Well it probably wasn’t one decision it was a journey through life. When I was young I loved going to church and learning about God and all that. I really enjoyed high school and I attended D’Youville for a year. I loved dating. I loved activity. It was kind of a push-pull for a long time. I think what made me decide to become a nun was my thought that if I don’t try now I’m probably going to get so engaged in life that I won’t try it and I’ll always wonder if I should have been a nun. So I tried it and I just gradually liked it more and more. I drifted into it. The more I know about God the more I am delighted by what I am doing. It gives me an opportunity to reach out further.
Believe it or not it is probably fruits and vegetables and if I had to pick one it might be broccoli. I’m just really weird but I love vegetables. I like them raw. I love them steamed and I like them in food. I could just snack on broccoli, but I like it in eggs and casseroles too.
What is your favorite kind of candy?
That’s a harder one. I like dark chocolate. I don’t eat a lot of candy.
What is your favorite color?
Navy blue. I love blues and my own personal favorite is navy.
[I asked Sister Denise if that was why the chair I was sitting in was navy and she said yes. She continued with a story about the president's house she is now living in.]
When they were decorating the president’s house, they asked me what colors I wanted. I told them to make the colors very neutral because then anything could go. They then asked if they were to use a color what color should it be. I said blue. The first time I saw the house, everything was beige: the furniture, the walls, everything. There was one blue chair and it’s all still there.
Who is your favorite music artist/band?
I like a lot of the older things like the Tijuana brass. I like Carly Simon. Contemporary I don’t know. I like classical music. I enjoy the Buffalo Philharmonic and almost anything that they do. I like Beethoven. He’s my favorite. I also like Barbara Streisand.
Marguerite (as in Marguerite D’Youville) is the word for daisy and so I like daisies. During the Grey Nuns’ celebration time they always have daisies around because they are called marguerites. That’s my favorite and they are happy little flowers.
Do you speak any languages other than English if so which one(s)?
I stumble through Spanish. I can do a little bit of French; I read it better than I speak it. I learned to read German, but I never really spoke it. In high school and college I took a lot of Latin. We did speak it a little, not that anyone ever speaks it back to you, but I can read Latin. Latin is probably my strongest second language.
Do you have any hobbies? If so what are they?
I love to read. My biggest hobby is more of an exercise, I love to walk. I do loads and loads of walking in the nice weather. I went to Ireland once and the first morning we were there I got up early and went for a walk. It was beautiful and I loved it but I walked so far that I couldn’t find my way back. The streets aren’t rectangular you have to go back the same way you came, which took a very long time.
There are many injustices and problems in the world why is world hunger as opposed to another issue so close to your heart?
I think because it is so basic. The discrepancy between people like senior citizens, children and babies who are starving (even here in the United States) and the rest of us who throw out a lot of food and are fussy about what we eat. It just seems that food is a very basic essential for everybody and that we should be finding ways to share it and make enough for everyone in the world. I’ve read these economists who say we could easily feed the whole world right now without producing more food; it’s a different distribution of food. As I get older and read the words of the New Testament, the words of Jesus. there’s one theme that comes out over and over again and it’s helping the poor, the widowed, the suffering, and the hungry. I think it is a very basic need that is very important.
What can students do on a daily basis to help fight hunger?
I think one thing students can do is to just be conscious of the part that food has in their own lives. When we went tray-less in the cafeteria I thought it was an inconvenience because it’s hard to carry a plate, silverware, a glass, and whatever else, but they said we waste so much food on the trays because people take everything and they may not want it or use it once they start eating. That revolts me. We need to be conscious of food and we need to know that even the least wasteful of us wastes a lot of money on coffee paying probably four times the amount it costs to produce it, while there are people starving in the world. There is nothing wrong with buying coffee from Starbucks but if you can spend five dollars on Starbucks you can put five dollars in for food for someone who is hungry. Just this year we have fed thousands of meals to people right here in our area and it is a wonderful contribution.
If you are interested in joining the hunger initiative here at D’Youville be sure to check out Campus Ministry and get involved with the many volunteer opportunities offered. Friends of the Night People is a great way to cater to the hungry. Contact Rev. Jan for more information or to sign up at email@example.com.
If you could change the world in any way what would you change and why?
I would end war everywhere. It’s such a way of life and it’s pointless. It disrupts families and creates poverty. It does all the wrong things and there is never a winner. Even whoever is the victor must watch their back because the other one is going to come back and try to get them. It’s endless it just promotes more war. So, I would like world peace.
I actually have a super hero. It’s Jesus, but you know what happened to him. I think I would be a person who would go about doing good and could motivate other people to go around and help one another. That would be my superhero.
What is the best advice you have that students should hear?
I think the most important thing over time for students and for all of us is to develop a good heart. Everything you learn and every opportunity you get can be used selfishly or can be used for the good of others. Not that you suffer, you make money buy a car and all that, but if you develop a good heart you see everything in your life differently and you learn how to forgive which is so essential. I think you learn that from people you admire, students, faculty, or friends. You learn it from what you read, and you learn it from the classes you take. Develop your spiritual self, whatever your own spiritual self is, because that is really who you are and who you will be for the next eighty years and after you die. Don’t neglect it. The most profound part of you is that spiritual self and that heart that you develop.
What would you like prospective students of D’Youville to know about you and/or the college?
If students come here and choose D’Youville, we will do everything we possibly can to help them meet their goals. Sometimes their goals need to change a little because they are in the wrong program or are in over their head. Even then, we can guide and help find other opportunities that match their talents. When someone comes here they are really part of the D’Youville community. I like to think that we really do care about one another here and we will do what we can to help people meet their dreams.
Do you have any favorite television programs? What are they?
I’m a news nut! I watch the news all the time. I get so frustrated when I’m away traveling and haven’t seen the news in three or four days. I like Downton Abbey which is on Sunday night at nine on WNED. It’s always new to me because I don’t watch TV a lot because I’m not home a lot on regular nights. The summer is great because I get all the reruns and it’s the first time for me. I love half-hour comedy shows that are funny like Everybody loves Raymond. It makes me laugh and it’s only a half hour so it’s not a big commitment. I used to like Frasier sometimes because that was kind of sophisticated humor and that’s about it. I also like the movies on channel 50 TCM.
What is the most out of the ordinary or amazing thing that has ever happened to you?
Going to the canonization of Marguerite D’Youville because I never expected that she would be canonized in my lifetime and even if she was I didn’t think I’d be there and I was. It was my first time in Rome so it was a big adventure. On the other hand I never thought I would finish my doctorate and I did. That was a pretty big surprise too.
The experience of the canonization was wonderful. It was in St. Peter’s and the Pope was in charge and there were lots and lots of people and Grey Nuns and those who they serve. There was a great sense of unity. We were there for nine days and it rained everyday, so I hated Rome. However, I had another opportunity to go back a few years ago in June and it was magnificent! I loved it because I could walk all over the city and go to little tiny restaurants that didn’t even have names and things like that so it was much nicer. Another surprise that I probably thought I’d never have and it really did change my life was going to Israel in the late 80’s. It was like seeing the bible come alive with all the different places and it is still very traditional and I never thought I’d get there. We went to the Western Wall and I got to go there and say a prayer. The women were separated we had to go inside and the men were at the wall praying. It was a wonderful experience.
What is the most interesting experience you have ever had with God? (i.e a God wink, miracle, prayer answered)
There is a growing awareness that God is ever present in life, in every situation, every circumstance, and every person. I know that’s a very gradual sense, but there are things that I am apprehensive about doing and they work and I just know that God is present in that moment or interaction. I had a best friend who died of cancer. She was supposed to live six months, but she lived a year. Spending time with her was a great revelation of God in our lives and in our suffering circumstances. That was my most memorable experience with God.
You said you have a sister any other siblings… nieces or nephews?
I have my one sister and she has eleven children and they have thirty-six or seven children. That’s a big family – all my sister.
I understand you travel often. Where is the most interesting place you have traveled and why?
Israel around Jerusalem, because I wasn’t expecting to like that as much. But that is where Jesus lived, so I was very familiar with the names of the places and with what was happening at the Mount of Olives and the Sea of Tiberias. We visited all the places and some like Bethlehem were a bit commercialized. I also got to go to Greece and that was remarkably beautiful. It was just wonderful, with the best fruits and vegetables in the world probably. Ireland is my roots and I got to go there too. I had a desire to see it. I usually go where there is a reason to go. I went to Hungary and visited the schools and met the people and that was a lot of fun getting to know the culture. Hungary was lovely. The people are wonderful in Hungary.
If you could summarize D’Youville with one word what would it be and why?
Charismatic. D’Youville is able to do what it is supposed to do, which is educate people at a graduate level, but to do it with charisma – with a real desire or purpose and to use that to give back or give out to others.