I WAS born on 28 January 1946 in Ballinahown near Fermoy town in County Cork, Ireland; the third born son of Garrett Roche and Margaret O’Toole. I was named Garrett after my father.
I attended Grange National Primary School, a two-teacher country school, from 1951 to 1958. Between 1958 and 1963 I attended the secondary school run by the Christian Brothers in Fermoy town.
After completing the Leaving Certificate examination in 1963 I worked as a laboratory assistant at the nearby Agricultural Research Institute at Moore Park. However, in September of that year I left and joined the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) at Donamon, Roscommon, Ireland.
I was ordained a priest for the Society of the Divine Word on 6 January 1970 and appointed to what was then the Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Ten months later, on 8 October 1970, I arrived in the Western Highlands. After an introduction to my role with Fr Arnold Steffen at Kumdi, I was sent to Togoba to take the place of Fr Paul Ksiazek, who was going on leave to Poland.
In the middle of 1971, the parish of Karap in the Jimi Valley became vacant and I was asked to go there. Karap was about two hour’s drive from Banz. The government station at Tabibuga was another one hour’s drive from Karap.
While at Karap I got to know the kiaps at Tabibuga. Jack Edwards was in charge, Ken and Lois Logan and Rod Cantlay were also there. Another kiap, Harry Nash, was based at Kol for a while. I got on well with the kiaps and we met on patrol in the bush a few times.
I would go to Tabibuga for a second mass on Sundays and often call in to the kiaps after mass. Tabibuga had an airstrip and businessman Brian Heagney would sometimes fly in at the weekend.
He never came empty-handed, bringing a supply of SP beer and other delicacies. (If I remember correctly, Kevin Cantwell worked with Brian Heagney, and he was married to a sister of Jack Edwards’ wife, both fine ladies from the Yule Island area.)
During this time I also got to know the late Sir Thomas Kavali and the late James Kuru Kupul, both members of Parliament for Jimi. They were political rivals but both fine gentlemen in their own way. Pastoral work took me all over the middle Jimi and my visits to Ambullua took me through Kol and parts of upper Jimi. There was no road to Kol in those times. We walked everywhere.
After a year in Karap I was asked to move, as Bishop Bernarding wanted to give that area to a group of Spiritan priests who had been in Nigeria. So I moved to Ulga in the Nebyler valley and took over the parish from Fr Krimm who was going on leave.
Fr Krimm had a coffee plantation and would fully process the coffee and sell it to Australia. He did not expect me to do the same, he just arranged that I would sell the newly picked coffee ‘cherry’ to Danny Leahy whose Korgua plantation was not far off.
This was ‘Korgua’ Danny Leahy who, together with his brother Mick Leahy and Jim Taylor, was in the first group of outsiders to explore the Highlands. He features in the documentary film, First Contact. There was another Danny Leahy in Goroka - a younger nephew of the older Danny.
I did what Fr Krimm told me. In the coffee season in the afternoon I would load the truck with bags of coffee cherry and drive down to Korgua. Danny Leahy’s workers would weigh it and give me a docket which I would bring to Danny in his house.
Danny was glad of some company. He was a bit deaf and had poor eyesight. He would call me into his office and we would have a drink or two or three before he paid me there and then and I headed back to Ulga. I got to know several of his family and still have contact with many of them.
On Fr Krimm’s return from leave early in 1973, I was appointed Parish priest of Rebiamul with Fr William Ross as pastor emeritus. Fr Ross died on 20 May 1973 and I was officially nominated to take his place.
In 1977 I took a year out from PNG and worked in London with drug addicts. These addicts were all registered and would pick up their legal doses of methadone and other medications. from various clinics. It was a different experience.
In 1978 I returned to PNG and ended up in Hagen again. Then in 1981 I was asked to study Church Law (canon law) and was in Ottawa, Canada, for two years.
In 1983 I returned to Hagen and was there until the end of 1986. From 1987-1990 I taught at the national Seminary at Bomana near Port Moresby before, in 1991, travelling to Rome for doctoral studies. After completing them, I returned to PNG early in 1994.
Coming back to Hagen I was somehow appointed as a community representative on the Hagen Hospital Board and remained on that, and later on its replacement the Western Highlands Provincial Health Authority, until 2016. I was also chaplain at Holy Trinity Teachers College.
Several Catholic dioceses that together had started Holy Trinity Teachers College, had a combined investment in Salamaua Holdings to support the College and I was asked to be their representative on the Salamaua Board (Lae International Hotel). In that capacity, I got to know Sir Bob Sinclair and John Atherton, both very interesting characters.
Attending meetings of these bodies gave me a good experience of government and business boards and was a fine preparation for being appointed Chair of the Board of Trustees of Divine Word Institute in 1998.
In the same year I was involved with the legal drafting of the new 1999 Act for Divine Word University and continued as Chair of Council (Chancellor) when the new Act came into force. I remained as Chair of Council of DWU from 1999 until 2013 when I resigned the position.
Also in 1999 I was also appointed to St Paul’s Parish in Mt Hagen where I remained until 2005. This was a very busy but also a very enjoyable parish.
After helping in various parishes in Mt Hagen diocese for several years, in 2014 I moved to Divine Word University in Madang as Human Resource Director. If all goes well I will finish here in April 2016 and take home leave in Ireland before possibly returning to PNG for a new position.