After tragedy, family continues man’s quest to feed homeless on Lower Wacker

CHICAGO -- He was a lawyer, a devoted Notre Dame fan, a husband, father and grandfather. But at the end of the day, Mike Roche was so much more to a community of people often forgotten, even ignored, in a big city like Chicago.

Roche, or St. Michael as some called him, spent the last 50 years practicing law at the Prudential building. This accomplished litigator spent the last 47 years as a loving husband.

But for the last four years, he committed himself to serving the homeless on Lower Wacker Drive after he was inspired by the actions of a perfect stranger.

On Sunday Feb. 25, Roche was killed blocks from his home. He was walking his dog when he was struck by a car. Just six weeks earlier, he had buried his wife, Kathy.

Roche’s son, also called Mike, had talked to his dad that day.

“He went out to walk his dog, his favorite part of the day,” Mike said “He told me during his walk he would reflect on all the gifts that had been given to him throughout all his life. That is what he would do every day.”

“He loved the practice of law,” Mike said of his father. “Loved the trial work, legal thinking, but that is not who he was at the end of the day. This became in the last five years one of his main passions in life.”

On Thanksgiving Day 2013, Roche woke up to find an article in the Chicago Tribune featured an oral surgeon in the western suburbs who was feeding the homeless on Lower Wacker all by himself. One hamburger, one cup of coffee at a time and all week long. His name was Dr. Pat Angelo. Some call him the “Angel of Lower Wacker Drive.” Roche had to be a part of it and gave his time, his money and himself.

“He said, ‘I want to take a night from you,'” Dr. Angelo said. “'I can relieve you of it and it will do me well.' I’ve never seen such commitment from anyone in my life. In all the years I’ve been going, I was enlightened because I know that the people I serve like me. But I found that they loved St. Michael.”

Now Roche’s son Mike is taking over because it’s what St. Michael would have wanted.

On Thursday nights, Mike goes to visit his dad’s “friends,” as he called them, buying, out of his own pocket, 160 burgers and 80 cups of coffee. More if he needs it.

Mike and his teenage son Jack, who made the deliveries with his grandfather probably a dozen times before, are now learning the Lower Wacker route together from Dr. Angelo.

“He taught me what it means to be a good person and be a good servant of god,” Jack said. “I learned how much he was connected with his faith. He cared deeply about people who were less fortunate.”

Serving the homeless on Lower Wacker Drive, keeping St. Michael’s work very much alive, is an act that delivered as much for the residents who live there as it did for the man from Evanston who called them his friends.

“If he were sitting here right now, he would tell you the true measure of a person is the impact that they leave on others,” Mike said. “Yes, he may have technically delivered the food to the homeless, but they fed him.”

Young Mike Roche said there are probably a dozen plus people already who want to help with Thursday deliveries. He plans to quarterback efforts to make sure Thursdays, St. Michael’s night, is always covered.