Residence director takes stage with band at World Youth Day


Photo provided by James Roman

Playing drums for World Youth Day 2019 wasn’t on Residence Director James Roman’s radar when he ended the fall 2018 semester. Yet when he got a text from a friend in the FOCUS Collective Band with a plea for a drummer, he wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity.

Roman, the second-year RD of Sts. Louis and Elizabeth Halls, said he had played with pianist Ricky Vasquez before but not with the rest of the band from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS).

Originally, musician Matt Maher was supposed to provide the music for the Wednesday of World Youth Day, Jan. 23. When he was unable to, FOCUS, USCCB and the Knights of Columbus brought together the group.

“The majority of the band played at SEEK (earlier in January),” said Roman. “A few members were unable to make it to World Youth Day. Ricky Vasquez, the keyboard player, was in charge of finding musicians. Ricky texted me at the beginning of January, ‘Hey, would you be open to doing it?’ so it was really last-minute, me filling a spot.”

Never having been to a World Youth Day before, Roman said the experience of finding himself in Panama City, Panama, for one of the largest gatherings of Catholic youth in the world was “fantastic.”

The band sent Roman the songs ahead of time, though Roman said he was a little nervous playing with so little practice time. “You learn the (songs) and show up and see how it goes,” he explained. “Thanks be to God it worked out so well. Everyone was so talented, and they’re used to this kind of thing. I’m not really used to this kind of thing, so I worked really hard in preparing the music on my end.”

After arriving late Monday night, Roman and the band spent Tuesday practicing and seeing a bit of Panama City. They took the stage Wednesday as the house band, playing songs to warm people up, transitioning between talks and during adoration in the evening.

The event was called “Fiat,” said Roman, and was a bilingual day retreat for mostly English speakers. It took place at the Figali Convention Center, right on the Pacific Ocean, and featured

speakers and musicians like Bishop Robert Barron and Steve Angrisano.

Roman also had the opportunity to catch up with a friend from his time as an undergraduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville, with whom he used to be in a band. His friend played in a band on Pope Francis’ stage before the pontiff arrived.

Reflecting on the experience during what he calls the “honeymoon” period after its conclusion, Roman is thankful above all else that his boss was willing to let him go for a few days. He remembers thinking, “James, if you didn’t ask, you’d regret it forever.”

Roman was hesitant mostly because he was absent during the busiest time of the year for a residence director: room switch period. However, his resident assistants encouraged him to go, covering room switch period themselves.

“They did an amazing job,” he said. “I love playing drums and I don’t get to do it very often … (so) I’m beyond elated whenever I get to do something like this.”

Roman said he has played the drums since sixth grade, and he was inspired by his musical family, especially his older sister, who played. He also loved watching other drummers at events. “My eyes were always on the drummer,” he said.

Coming to the end of his second year as a residence director, Roman is also nearing the end of his time at Franciscan University. After his wife gives birth to their daughter in April and they finish out the school year, the Romans will be moving to California so that Roman can use his newly earned MBA to work at a freight forwarding and logistics company.

Playing at World Youth Day will be a memory Roman doesn’t forget soon. “I’m grateful to have been able to use my gifts and lead people closer to God, at least for one night,” he said.