The night I met Jason Roche he told me the story of how he proposed to his wife. I’m sure it was the most romantic tale being shared that Sunday evening at Crave in the Mall of America. Jason proposed to Maggie through a message in a bottle, writing a love letter in pencil on a distressed sheet of paper and tucking it into a vintage Coke bottle. His mom arranged it on the shore of Cayuga Lake, one of New York’s Finger Lakes, a source of many of Jason’s happy childhood memories. He reminisced about how he and his brother used to make little boats out of driftwood, and Maggie and Jason decided to recreate it right then, with Maggie’s boat launching right next to the bottle that brought tears to her eyes.
I knew right then that Jason had an appreciation for storytelling, expressed both in his personal life and as associate professor of communication studies at the University of Detroit Mercy, and that he would make a stellar coordinator of the SisterStory oral histories that will soon launch there. Here’s what he had to say about the project.
What drew you to this oral history project?
A friend of mine in New York has recorded oral histories with WWII veterans and told me some remarkable stories from that experience. She said many of the veterans opened up and told her things they’d never even shared with their wives or kids. WWII vets are an aging population, and their stories need to be preserved. Catholic sisters are also an aging population whose contributions to society are often overlooked. It’s critical that we captured these stories, as many as we can, to add to our collective body of knowledge.
I was fascinated to learn at the training session [at St. Catherine University] that sisters are often very humble and don’t like to brag about their accomplishments. And many of them are introverts. We as a society have much to learn from what these women have accomplished. This has the potential to inspire other women on many levels, whether or not they choose a religious vocation.
How does this relate to your love of storytelling?
I’m always inspired by hearing stories and by sharing them. As a documentary filmmaker and professor of communications studies at a Jesuit and Mercy university, I see this project as a great opportunity to get my students involved and inspire them to learn the storytelling process of video and film – and to learn from women who have blazed trails before us.
How many documentaries have you made?
I’ve produced and directed six. My most recent documentary, “Stealing Home,” is the story of a group of dedicated volunteers who lovingly maintain the ball field at the site of the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit. It won the “best of the fest” award at the 2014 Freep Film Festival sponsored by the Detroit Free Press and the best-feature-documentary award at the 2014 Detroit Dreaming Film Festival.
I understand you’re still determining which students will create oral histories this fall. Can you tell me more about University of Detroit Michigan and what makes it special?
It’s the only Jesuit Mercy university, sharing the Ignatian and Mercy traditions – which mesh very well, by the way. The university formed in 1990 when the University of Detroit merged with Mercy College. The university does incredible things here in Detroit. We run a medical clinic for low-income clients, our dental school serves 125,000 low-income clients every year, our architecture school offers free consultation to non-profit agencies and has been instrumental in crafting the Detroit Future City plan, an ambitious agenda for re-creating Detroit over the next 50 years, our law school provides free legal aid to undocumented immigrants, homeless people and veterans, our business school offers free tax preparation to low-income locals, our counseling and psychology programs provide free and low-cost counseling, including court-mandated counseling for those who otherwise couldn’t afford it, and we provide countless other services. This school is Detroit’s best-kept secret.
How do you feel about being able to coordinate this unique project?
I’m excited! Our sisters have amazing stories. This is a great project in so many ways. I’m honored to play a part in it.