Wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, at his desk at Toronto’s Salt and Light Television, Rev. Thomas Rosica took a break from wearing his trademark white collar and black clerical clothes that millions of people have seen him wear on TV around the world.
His work clothes were at the dry cleaners, where he had just dropped them off hours after landing back in Toronto from a four-week whirlwind he calls, “the most intense period of (my) life.”
It was clear from the bags under his eyes and his occasional yawns that Rosica still needed to catch up on his sleep. Before sitting down to talk, he took a moment to show this reporter all of the climactic moments caught on camera by the Vatican Photographic Service, including one snapshot of Rev. Rosica and the new Pope Francis merrily greeting each other.
“From the moment I arrived on Feb. 18 until leaving yesterday morning [March 20], we were kept busy,” Rev. Rosica said. “It was an incredibly exciting, exhilarating, moving and exhausting experience. We worked 18 hours a day.”
Rosica, 54, is a Canadian Basilian priest, originally from Rochester, N.Y., and is the CEO of Salt and Light Television in Toronto, a Catholic news agency.
On Feb. 11, Pope Benedict surprised the world by announcing he would resign. On Feb. 13, Rosica received a phone call from the director of the Holy See press office, Rev. Federico Lombardi.
“He said, ‘When are you coming?’ I said, ‘I’m coming with Salt and Light Television. We’ll cover the activities in March when the conclave starts.’ He said, ‘No, come immediately.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Come immediately, I need help.’ So I went,” Rev. Rosica said.
His main duty was in dealing with the English language media at first, including translating for Rev. Lombardi during news briefings. But he soon started answering hundreds of questions for French, Italian, Spanish and German media too. Rosica also speaks Hebrew and Latin, understands Arabic and studied Biblical Greek.
While Rosica says he didn’t anticipate the magnitude of what he was getting into, at first, he is now thankful for the opportunity.
“I viewed all of this as a teaching. I didn’t view it as anything else. It was an opportunity to teach and to offer the good message of the Church,” Rosica said.
During his time at the Vatican, Rosica described the daily routine: mass was held at around 7 o’clock every morning in the Vatican’s crypt or at one of the altars. Following a quick breakfast, his work day began. His days ended around 9:30 p.m., after which he would have supper with colleagues in the Jesuit headquarters, where he was staying.
In addition to daily press briefings, Rev. Rosica was also interviewed approximately 165 times by global media outlets, up until the morning he left for Toronto.
“It was a tremendous privilege and a blessing. I’ve never been astounded by the numbers (of Catholics worldwide). I realized what we were doing, the world was watching,” he said. “And apparently a lot of people in this part of the world watched it on TV because I have 600 emails right now, so I’m trying to go through them, it’s extraordinary.”
A french-language journalist for Salt and Light TV, Charles Le Bourgeois, travelled to Rome with Rev. Rosica when he was appointed as the Vatican spokesperson. Le Bourgeois said it’s no surprise his boss was called because he has spent years proving himself to be a smooth communicator.
“He’s very professional, he knows the Church and Vatican very well because he was the director during World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002. After, he was spokesperson during the Synod about Word of God. After, he had the same role during the Synod of the New Evangelization and now the Vatican called him to say ‘Come to the Vatican because we need you,’” Le Bourgeois said.
Rosica kept in touch with employees back at the TV station while he was working at the Vatican.
“Fr. Tom is an incredibly talented person. Not only is he an amazing person just in terms of his priestly role he has, but as a CEO and as someone who is so deeply connected and so full of information, he’s an incredible resource,” said Cheridan Sanders, a producer at Salt and Light TV.
She chuckled because at one point, station staff were flicking through the channels and saw him on nearly every channel simultaneously.
“It was crazy,” Sanders said.
Alicia Ambrosio, another producer at Salt and Light TV, originally didn’t think much of seeing Rev. Rosica being interviewed on television.
“At first, it was ‘Oh yeah, Fr. Tom, whatever,’” Ambrosio said. But then folks around the world reported they had seen him in many languages.
“And we were like, ‘Wait, so last night he was on CBC, CNN, Spanish Teve, the Portuguese national television station and he’s been mentioned in twenty different articles that we’ve read. Wait, this is huuuge!’ That’s when it started to sink in,” Ambrosio said.
Rev. Rosica continues his full-time commitment at Salt and Light TV and is also head of Assumption University in Windsor.