Meet Father John Zagarella, who founded Rock the Word, belongs to the Norbertine community at Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, PA. He attended Bishop Norman High school in the 1950’s, run by Norbertine priests. He began exploring vocations while in high school and had many Norbertine priests as teachers.
Seeing that the priests were “a cool bunch of guys” he decided to learn more. Graduating in 1976, he continued to Villanova University, run by the Augustinian priests.
His formation with the Roman Catholic order of Canons Regular of the Norbertines began in the 1970’s. Members of the Norbertine community follow the rule of St. Augustine and lead a consecrated life. When asked why he joined the Norbertine order instead of the Augustinian order, he simply said, “they got me first.” Read more about Fr. John here.
The Norbertines have a strong community life, pray the liturgy of the hours, and celebrate Mass daily.
A unique opportunity arose while he was in the novitiate. A Norbertine priest brought three tickets for an Elton John concert at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. The theater used to be a movie theater but now serves as a small concert hall.
Elton John and Ray Cooper performed a concert. They recorded it and later played it in Moscow. They also released a vinyl recording of the concert.
Father John loves rock music and has callouses from carrying around lots of forty-five records. For him rock music inspires a direct link to God.
The Spirituality Center visitors suggested that Andrew Del Rossi, the Director, start a rock music series.
The series named The Rock The Word 153 has been airing for two seasons. The series has had 50-60 episodes during the last 2 ½ years.
Father John creates two series a year, one in the fall and another in the spring, with 5-10 episodes per season. The fall season ends with a post for Advent and another for Christmas. Father John collects Christmas music too and has many recordings of artists’ Christmas albums.
They asked Father John about the series title, Rock The Word 153. Father John mentioned a Bible story. In the story, Jesus told his followers to throw their net. They caught a lot of fish.
There are 153 kinds of fish in the ocean, representing every kind of fish. This is a powerful link to the hundreds of people of different ages and backgrounds in our world today.
Father John loves classic rock, especially Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, but he also enjoys contemporary rock music. He gave a Day of Recollection for college students using music by Elton John. He hopes to do another Day of Recollection using heavy metal recordings. The actual episodes are unscripted in advance. His mission and spirituality links come naturally.
Viewers often suggest songs for his series, but he doesn’t choose a song right away. Rather, he chooses songs from connections with Scripture, songs that resonate with him. At times, he chooses a song as the Rock the Word 153 session begins.
Father John creates content for Rock the Word 153, including posts and tapes. In addition, he serves the community as a prior, supporting members with their needs and healthcare. He is also responsible for maintaining the abbey, which includes tasks such as landscaping and fixing leaks. As rector, he would be responsible for everything that happens in the Abbey church.
Father John wants to spread his message by visiting local groups and connecting with students in schools and universities. He discusses how God brings joy in daily life. Admiring God’s handiwork in creating a sunset or a rainbow can bring us peace and joy. Rock music brings happiness by helping us explore and value the attributes of God.
Father John discovers God’s presence through different means. He helps us recognize God’s existence in rock music. Additionally, he is now introducing us to finding God in heavy metal music too. Who Knows, Black Sabbath may be one of his future Rock the Word posts.
May the discovery continue!