Taunton author Robert Roche writes fascinating
book about 1917 events in Fatima, Portugal

By Kenneth J. Souza

TAUNTON, Mass. — The first thing that is readily apparent when first meeting Taunton author Robert Roche is that he has a knack for storytelling. And that innate ability to weave a captivating tale is on full display in his new book, “The Bullet in Mary’s Crown: The Story of Our Lady of Fatima.”


This thought-provoking new volume, published by Stillwater River Publications of Rhode Island, is a treasure trove of information for those who, like Roche, have grown up hearing about the 1917 apparition of the Blessed Mother to three shepherd children in Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal.

“The first half of the book is the story of Fatima, and the three shepherd children,” Roche recently told The Anchor. “And what the little girl in Portuguese called ‘secrets.’ But we would call them prophecies. The third secret she did not want to reveal because the third prophesy was that a priest in white was going to be shot and killed.”

That third “secret” of Fatima was ultimately made public in June 2000 and it is considered by many to be a prophesy of the May 13, 1981 assassination attempt on Pope St. John Paul II — which also happened to be the 64th anniversary of the first Fatima apparition.

In his fascinating book, Roche purports that the fact that Pope St. John Paul II survived may have been a miracle in itself.

“They kept his body alive for five hours on the operating table,” Roche said. “Wait a minute ... nobody is on the operating table for five hours! They had to remove all of his intestines. After that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger ran everything for the next several years because St. John Paul was running all around the world. But did anybody ever see him eat a meal? Nobody saw him eat a meal on those travels — just Holy Communion at Mass — because he had no intestines.”

Roche said he can’t confirm this assertion because the former pontiff’s medical records have been sealed for 50 years.

“About 25 years have gone by, so I won’t live to see them, but you will,” he said. “And you mark my words, it will come out that he had a very unusual surgery to keep him alive. When they took him off the life support system, his heart did start again. And he was three months in the hospital and then three months recuperating and then he suddenly starts tooting all around? All of those things are part of the story.”

The title of the book adorned on a cover that Roche refers to as “Blessed Mother blue” refers to the bullet removed from St. John Paul II that was sent to Fatima and melded into the silver crown on the state of the Blessed Mother at the iconic shrine.

The second half of the book contains a lot of information that Roche “picked up along the way” while doing research on Our Lady of Fatima.

“For example, the Church only approves of 82 appearances of the Virgin Mary every 100 years,” he said. “She appears once or twice someplace and does something very important, and the Church approves of them. But between you and me and the world, the Blessed Mother is here almost every day talking to somebody, getting somebody out of trouble. So the people who see her, and where, is in a chart in the second half of the book. So this little book contains 140 pages of material that you can’t get in 20 other books.”

The book chronicles Marian apparitions right up to the most recent one in Ocean City, N.J. witnessed by a sick woman from South America.

“They had to send her up to the U.S. for a special surgery,” Roche said. “And when they got there, the doctor said there’s nothing we can do. And she prayed to the Blessed Mother and that night the Blessed Mother woke her up and said: ‘Come on, get out of bed.’ And she did!”

A retired organ-builder who founded the Roche Organ Company, Roche has been a lay brother of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) since 1957. Although he still occasionally dabbles in tuning or restoring organs, he spends much of his time now traveling to and from the Azores and Portugal. It was during one of these trips that he was inspired to delve deeper into the Fatima mystery.

“In the summers when I was on vacation, it’s only a two-hour flight over to the mainland, and I’d stay with the friars and then I would rent a car and drive up to Fatima and I started snooping around and asking questions and taking pictures,” he said. “So, I wound up accumulating information that I never knew before.”

When his sister, Joanna Roche Alden, learned that he was doing research on Fatima, she suggested he put it together in chapters, which eventually ballooned into 140 pages. Along the way, Roche was assisted and guided by his sister; a former student and friend who was also a self-professed atheist; his godson who has a degree in geography; and his former pastor, Father William Rodrigues, who is now pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Orleans.

“So I had four proofreaders,” Roche said. “They all said: it’s good. Why don’t you get it published? I had to have a priest for one and an agnostic for another, and then two academics looking at the structure. So you’ll find that the book is much better than it should be. And I get all the credit!”

Roche wasn’t sure the book could be sold to a publisher until he met with a representative from Stillwater River Publications in Pawtucket, R.I.

“I had lunch with her and she said, ‘Did you bring it with you?’ I had it on a (thumb drive) and she put it into her computer and gave it back to me and said it was all downloaded,” Roche remembered. “Then she asked: ‘What color do you want the cover to be?’ And I said ‘Blessed Mother blue.’

“About a week later, I got this package in the mail with the initial proof. I found a few things that I wanted her to arrange a little differently on the page. I wrote all of those things down and then I sent it back to her. Then she sent me another one that looked more like this final version.”

Roche characterized his book as “great bedtime reading” and said he wanted to shape it more like a novel than a non-fiction account of the apparitions.

“At the end of each chapter, there’s a paragraph that sums up the chapter and (teases you to want to) read the next chapter,” Roche said. “My sister got a kick out of that, because she knew exactly what I was doing. I wanted to hold your attention.”

Although he’s written for and contributed to technical books about organ-building, this is Roche’s first published work as a solo author. It took a lot of time to research and write, but he’s proud of his efforts.

“You have to think about who’s going to read this and will they understand what I’m trying to say? And I wanted kids to be able to read it, not just grown-ups,” he said. “When you’re an unknown author, you have to pay for the typesetting, the design, the layout — you’ve got to pay for everything. And I have to sell about 700 or 800 more of them just to recover my costs.”

Roche hopes everyone’s one takeaway from the book will be learning the difference between faith and knowledge — and it’s something he’s adamant about sharing.


“In Fatima for example, the kids came home and they had agreed between the three of them that they would never tell anyone what they saw,” Roche said. “But the little girl, St. Jacinta, just couldn’t wait for her mama to come home so she could tell her. So her father said, my little girl is very bright and she has never said a single lie in her whole life. She never has exaggerated anything. They certainly must have seen something and she said she saw the Blessed Mother, so we better go see what’s going on because there is always the possibility it could be an evil spirit that they’re seeing.

“So the following month, about a dozen or so people went with the kids. Now they did not see the Virgin Mary, but they saw things. Every time a bigger and bigger group went and they all saw things — they saw the sun start to get weak and then they saw clouds swirling around the small tree and they saw what looked like snow. You would grab it and it wasn’t there, but just glowing. And then on the last appearance on October 13, there were about 30,000 people — but some say it may have been as many as 100,000 — and that’s when they all saw the Miracle of the Sun.”

Despite all these witnesses, Roche said some people still don’t believe.

“That’s because faith is a gift, and there’s no way you can prove it,” he said. “Some people never get the gift, and I don’t know why. See, if I prove something to you, then you don’t have to fake it anymore, right? You have knowledge. That’s the difference between faith and knowledge.

“St. Paul said: when you go to Heaven, you lose your faith. You lose your hope. You don’t have to hope anymore, because you’re there! You don’t have to believe in God, you’re talking to Him. Love is what lasts forever. There’s faith, hope and love, but it’s the love that lasts forever. So everyone that has a beatific vision, they lose their faith because they don’t have to believe anymore — they know! That’s the difference between faith and knowledge.”

Copies of Robert Roche’s “The Bullet in Mary’s Crown” can be ordered directly from the author, or online at www.stillwaterpress.com.

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