Ah, my UPNG alma mater, whatever did your alumni do for you?
More of the buzz from a fly on the wall….

My Story: A half century of service among the fine people of PNG


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.

Fr Garrett Roche SVD and Vice President DWU Student Affairs Ted AlauIn 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.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Dick Gabriel

Fr Garry - Thanks for your contribution to Mt Hagen and PNG as a whole. I am blessed with this inspiring story. May God continue to guide and give you more strength to keep on keeping on.

John Kundil Goimba

Thank you Father Garry for your service to PNG and the Melpa speaking people. We at Rebiamul miss you.

Tom Dom

Great man, great missionary, great work, God blessed your heart

John Malt

After six years, Fr Garry, your story is still inspiring. Thank you for the hard work and contribution to the missionary activities of the Archdiocese.

I wish you were here, you would have written a very good history of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mt Hagen.

Thank you and may God continue to bless you. Kanda oh.

Isaac Noki - Lae City

Fr Garry, as my people call you, God Bless your heart, the heart for my people of the Valley in The Clouds, Hagen.

I was a kid in primary school in Holy Trinity when you shared mass with us, we would speak about your long white beard and would come up with our own stories of how you were related to Fr William Ross and how he passed on the baton to you, ... hahaha... but I get to read this from you and I am amazed.

We were blessed to have men of heart sharing the word of God and changing the lives of our people.

I met Fr Garry in DWU when I was studying FLC in 2017, we exchanged greetings in our Melpa dialect and spoke in Melpa for a while.

He asked me which village I was from and my tribe. Later that day, I had a message from FLC admin that I was to see him at the HR office, as I walked out to go see him, he came around the block and shook my hands and he said, "Happy Birthday".

I was shocked! It was indeed my birthday, my 35th. I didn't tell him that, nor any of my friends and classmates, not a soul with me that day knew, how could he have possibly known?

I was dumbfounded! I couldn't speak. I froze there.

After a minute, I said, "How?", and before I finished, he handed me a piece of paper and he asked me to open it.
I opened the paper, on it was my Baptismal Certificate!

It had my father's name & his tribe, my mother's name & her tribe and our village name. It also had their parents name and the sponsor of my baptism.

It had my date of birth.

I hugged him and said, "Thank you Pater, this is the best birthday present".

Persons like you Fr Garry have touched our lives in many ways in a single moment than a hundred men will in a decade.

You have given your life for a prize that is much higher than anything.

May God guide you to Eternity.

So long Pater, nuim i dti rip itanga.

P J McEvoy

Gary, I’m overjoyed to read your inspirational story of your work in that wonderful part of the world, Papua New Guinea.

I’ve just read it now after my Sunday Masses and it’s made my day. “Well done” is a totally inadequate response.

We haven’t met since we walked those grey corridors of Maynooth, 48 years ago, so I can’t wait to see you at the next reunion.

I guess your amazing, remarkable and outstanding experiences in Papua must have erased all the memories of those days including me! Until I see you, keep well and God Bless.

Wan W Wak

I live in Mt Hagen, Western Highlands Province, and I thank God for Fr Gary Roche. Your services are much appreciated.

Mathias Kin

Thank you for this very inspiring article Fr Roche. You are indeed a great man. I wish you the best of health so that you can continue to serve the people you love most.

Ellina Joseph

Hi you are choosen by God and you are a Great man who brings the Word of God to PNG. Thanks so much.

Kelly Matoli

Fr Garry, I was very inspired to read your lifetime story. You were a Board Member of Mt Hagen General Hospital when I was Director of Finance & Administration from 2001-10.

In those Board meetings I had to present the hospital's financial reports. I never got to ask you about your background then, now through this article I know. Truly inspirational.

Josiah Pup

Father, I still remember that moment when I was in need during my studies at Divine Word University and you helped me in cash to purchase a laptop after mine had been stolen.

You have invested a lot in the people of Papua New Guinea, especially in the Western Highlands Province, both physically and spiritually.

May the Good Lord continue to bless you in whatever things you are doing now.

Jim Bradley

Hi Father Garry remember me Jim Bradley. Hagen 1973 I had the old jeep from the war.

Liam Jones

Garry great to hear you are still with us. Do you remember John Murray? He sent the article on to me.

Well Garry, myself and Joy are still going strong, it must be the great job you did at our wedding in Mt Hagen on 8 January 1972,

I often think of the meals and beers we drank together in that flat above the store in Hagen, I am sure you remember well.

Joy and I came to Canberra late 1972 and have been here ever since.
Look after yourself Garry, would be great to hear from you.

Duncan Logan

Blast from the past. Hi Garry, I remember you from when I was a young fella.

Philip Kai Morre

Fr. Gerry Roche, thank you for great work. I feel that we still need the presence of missionary priests who are mostly with the people doing their pastoral work more than our young local priests. there seemed to be a vacuum and I feel sad when old missionaries died and some went back to their countries.

John Ezekiel

Father, thank you very much for what you did so far. I come from Ambullua parish and when you mentioned Jimi I felt very sorry. I hope you will come back and continue your good work.

Garry Roche

Thank you all for your comments. I should have included accounts of all the mistakes I made, all the blunders and missed opportunities. Many that I know spent less time than myself in PNG but achieved more.

Arnold  Mundua

Truely inspirational story, Fr Roche. My three sons were fortunate to be baptised by you at Piloro church (Fatima parish) in the Dei district in 2011. It was an open air mass that you celebrated with us and my Hagen wife received her first communion also from you after switching from Lutheran to Catholic. It was a moment we never forgot and continue to talk about today after we could not see you in Hagen. Now I know where you are. Thank you, Father.

John K Kamasua

Thank you Father Roche for your beautiful and inspiring story.

I read about Fr. William Ross in the book "Hagen Saga" back in high school.

I think somewhere in the book actor John Wayne is mentioned as coming to Hagen.

Hagen saga: The story of Father William Ross, first American missionary to Papua New Guinea Paperback – 1982
by Mary R. Mennis (Author)

the book is on Amazon.com for those interested.

Diane Bohlen

That is dedication to the people of PNG. He has got PNG in his blood.

Clement Papa

Thank you Garry for sharing your story with us. You have shared most of your lifetime in Hagen and PNG and we are so grateful. In Hagen - we have been most privileged to have you among us.

To the outsider's of Hagen central, Garry is not just a missionary but considered a Hagen man. Garry's knowledge of the Melpa language is significant, and the trace of the genealogy of the tribal and clanic groups around the Melpa speaking groups is just amazing.

For the older generation of Hagen Catholics, Garry is known not as "Roche" but "Ross" having some traits of what the pioneer missionary William Ross had especially his long beard.

Daniel Kumbon

Belated Happy Easter, Fr Roche. Thank you for your service to PNG and wish you a safe trip to Ireland. Your life story is now in print for everybody to see now and in years to come.

J Lummani

Inspirational Fr. Thanks be to God.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)