UBC assistant professor Samuel Rocha performing at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Vancouver. His new album reflects the impact Saint Augustine has had on his life. Photo by Agnieszka Krawczynski/ B.C. Catholic

Professor sets St. Augustine to music

By  Agnieszka Krawczynski
  • October 26, 2014

RICHMOND, B.C. - An assistant professor at UBC has fused his interest in blues, jazz and Mexican folk music to create a harmonious discussion on one of his favourite saints.

Samuel Rocha, an assistant professor of philosophy of education at the Richmond, B.C. university, recently released a CD that pays tribute to his admiration of St. Augustine.

“The story he tells of himself in the Confessions is something of an everyman story,” said the longtime musician.

“It is a memoir, a developmental account of the human person, an original philosophical text, and more. Not many saints have had such a profound impact that extends beyond the sacred and into the secular.”

Titled Late to Love, the CD was inspired by St. Augustine’s 13-book autobiographical work, Confessions, completed in 398 AD.

Rocha was introduced to guitar at age five by his father. His music combines blues, gospel, jazz, R&B, funk, neo-soul and nujazz (a type of electric-jazz fusion), and incorporates his Mexican roots and academic background.

“I see that culture changes through song, through story, through person-to-person contact, and through being willing to meet someone on their own ground, and then show them how the ground they are standing on belongs to God. That’s become in some sense my ministry,” Rocha said.

“I definitely haven’t heard anything like it before,” said Maureen Wicken, after a recent concert in a Vancouver parish. “His genre of music defies definition, but he calls it soul.”

She said his music is shaped by his Mexican background, evangelist father and academic studies.

While singing about Confessions or teaching philosophy of education at UBC, Rocha doesn’t shy away from tough questions.

“When I talk about Augustine with someone, it’s rarely because I want him to come to church with me. It’s because I think he’s actually interesting,” Rocha said. “Does that lead them to God? We don’t know that. But who knows?”

The professor/musician balances the intellectual with the creative. Rocha earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, received his Master’s in education at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, and his PhD in philosophy of education at Ohio State University.

“For Augustine, the human person is not principally a thinking person, an intellectual person, even a rational person. The person is first and foremost a person who was brought into being by love, and so Augustine, the great intellectual, nonetheless was the great defender of the heart,” he said. 

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