As part of their Catholic Schools Week celebration, Elk County Catholic High School invited Catholic singer/songwriter Lee Roessler and his band to perform for students on Wednesday afternoon in the school's auditorium. Later that evening, a free concert for the community was also performed by Roessler from 7-9 p.m. at ECCHS.
Prior to Roessler's performance on Wednesday afternoon, ECCHS Campus Minister Fr. Ross Miceli explained to students that the event was possible because of the hard work everyone did in making the winning video in a contest held by EQT Energy in conjunction with the EQT Energy Classic Elk County Holiday Tournament. The school received a check for $500 for producing the winning video.
"We put that money toward this," Miceli said. "So that's what sponsored this, our high school. Of course our St. Marys parishes have all contributed to bring in Lee Roessler and his awesome band."
In addition to Roessler, who performs lead vocals and plays guitar, the band consists of lead guitarist Robbie Barnett, bass player Eric Hockenberry, and drummer/vocalist Scott Gentry. Their set list included songs such as "Where I Need to Be," "Rise and Sing," "Song of Hope," and "Fighter."
Roessler and his band entertained students for roughly an hour, with Roessler taking a few minutes in the middle of the show to share with students the story of how he believed God made a difference in his life.
Roessler explained that, growing up, his parents divorced when he was 2 years old, and his mother remarried a man who had five children of his own. With so many siblings, Roessler recalled that he never felt alone.
"I always felt like I had someone who I could turn to, someone I could trust, someone I could look up to. I'm sure some of you in this room have that special person in your life. Some of you might not, but those that do, you know what I'm talking about," Roessler said.
For Roessler, that special person was his stepbrother Joe.
"We grew up together. It was like the best friendship anybody could ever ask for. He was my brother. We did everything together," Roessler said.
That all changed when Roessler was in seventh grade. Joe was killed in a four-wheeler accident, and Roessler remarked that the loss left he and his family feeling torn apart.
"I went from feeling totally loved and part of a family and never feeling alone to this emptiness," he recalled. "For the first time in my life I felt the stain of loneliness. If anybody here has ever felt that stain, had that loneliness, you know what I'm talking about. It's hard to take."
Looking to fill the void created by the loss of his stepbrother, Roessler began engaging in unhealthy behavior as a means of coping.
"I turned to worldly things. I turned toward alcohol. I turned toward relationships. I thought I could use whoever I wanted and I could do whatever I wanted. I didn't care about anyone. Why should I? I felt like I had nothing. I felt like something was taken from me. I was just looking to feel satisfied. I didn't care who I hurt in the process. I felt like I was nothing," Roessler said.
His grades in school also began to suffer, and he shared with the students one memory in particular that stood out from his time in eighth grade. Roessler recalled that the priest at his school went in front of the class and read everyone's report cards out loud, adding that it did not help his case that the girl ahead of him alphabetically was a straight A student.
"She went before me, straight As," Roessler said. "I had six Fs and one D. The D was in p.e. class."
After reading his report card, the priest turned to Roessler and said something that has stayed with him to this day.
"He said, 'Lee Roessler, you are never going to amount to anything in your life,'" Roessler said.
Looking out into the students listening to his story in the ECC auditorium, Roessler explained that he remembered feeling upset, not because the priest had embarrassed him in front of his classmates, but because he wondered if the priest was right.
Roessler made it out of eighth grade though and continued on to high school. It was then that his life began to change.
"I walked in and the first room I saw was a religion classroom, room 203, and there was a guitar sitting there right in the middle of the classroom," Roessler said.
Looking back on that day, Roessler remarked that the presence of the guitar was not a coincidence.
"I'm telling you, I didn't see it then, but it was not by coincidence. God doesn't work like that," he said.
His religion teacher saw his interest in the guitar and asked if he wanted to come in early on Wednesdays and play worship.
"I didn't know what worship was," Roessler said. "I really hadn't worshipped before. At this point in my life I knew of God, but I didn't know God, and that's a huge difference."
Still, he agreed, and soon found that playing worship music was something that he really enjoyed.
"Every single time I played, that void, that emptiness that was inside of me, started to get filled little by little. There was a little bit of light in the darkness. It was different than what I was used to, because I was used to getting filled and then regretting, getting filled and hurting someone. Now I was just getting filled with something that was sustainable, that was lasting, and that was real," Roessler said.
As he became more involved with religion, the people he hung out with began to change as well.
"God just took out the friends in my life who were leading me to temptation and then he brought friends into my life who would convict me," Roessler said.
However, while things were initially going well, Roessler soon hit another rough spot in his life due to family issues.
"I didn't have a father that was there. I didn't have a father that cared about me at all. I always strived to make him proud of me, and I never did," Roessler said. "When I heard that God is the only consistency in your life, the only constant thing, I realized that I had a father, someone I could call 'father' and not fear he won't love me and not fear that he won't accept me."
Today, Roessler shares his story and his message of hope with individuals across the country.
"I'm a living example of God's love," he said. "I am a living example of a kid who could never amount to anything in their life [becoming] a kid who has a relationship that will last for all eternity."
The students at ECC enjoyed Roessler's message as well as his musical abilities, with senior Vincent Jacob calling him "a very inspirational man."
"He is a very good role model for any age," Jacob said.