Boston native Patrick E. Roche first learned about the supermarket business as a part-time meat cutter at a local supermarket while he studied at Boston College in the late 1940s.
In 1952, he and his brother Bud opened up their own store in Roslindale and wound up launching the regional chain Roche Bros., where Mr. Roche became known almost as much for his philanthropy as his vast aisles of fresh produce and specialty departments.
“He wasn’t a big talker or very flashy,” said one of his sons, Patrick Jr. “But if there was anything he could do for you, he usually did it, without anyone asking.”
Mr. Roche, 83, of Marshfield died May 26 at Jordan Hospital in Plymouth after suffering a head injury in a fall.
He gave millions to nonprofits and favorite causes, including a $20 million donation to the Center for Catholic Education at Boston College in 2010.
“Catholic education was a great gift in my life,” Mr. Roche told a Boston College publication when he and his wife, Barbara (Travers), made the gift.
“When Barbara and I saw the number of Catholic schools that were closing, we wanted to do something,” Mr. Roche said. “BC gave us an opportunity to do so through this center.”
Called the Roche Center for Catholic Education, the center “provides opportunities for professional advancement, applied research, support programs, and outreach for professional Catholic educators to ensure the success and the advancement of Catholic education beyond the 21st century,” according to a statement from the center.
During a funeral Mass yesterday at St. Christine’s Church in Marshfield, a dozen priests and several nuns wearing habits joined hundreds of mourners in marking Mr. Roche’s legacy of looking out for others and his devotion to his faith.
The Rev. Thomas Walsh said he could speak for a long time about Mr. Roche’s generosity, but knew he would “get the look from Barbara and the hook.”
He described the Roches as “people who do not seek out the spotlight.”
Mr. Roche, he said, understood that “happiness does not come from what we have, but who we are.”
“He was a man of justice and compassion who treated those he worked with with kindness, with goodness and humor,” Walsh said.
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, who was traveling to Italy and unable to attend the Mass, said in a statement: “Patrick Roche was an exemplary model of devotion to family, faith, and community. He was also an important civic leader and, with his family, an extraordinarily generous benefactor of the Archdiocese of Boston, particularly our Catholic schools, the city of Boston, and many charitable causes.”
Mr. Roche grew up in Roslindale. He was the son of the late Patrick J. and Elsie Roche, who were both immigrants from County Cork, Ireland.
A graduate of Boston Latin School, Mr. Roche earned his bachelor’s degree from BC in 1951. Decades later, Boston College gave him an honorary doctorate in business administration during its 125th graduation ceremonies.
“He’s probably one of the most generous people you would ever meet,” said family friend Janet O’Connor, who said she worked at Roche Bros. for 43 years. “He was very unassuming. He never looked for anything from anybody.”
Roche Bros. started when the brothers noticed that a sewing machine store was moving and leaving open a location in Roslindale Square in 1952.
“We put $25 apiece into a bank account and called it Roche Brothers; that was it,” Bud Roche said in 2002.
The supermarket gave back to the community as soon as it could, according to the family.
Mr. Roche attributed their philanthropy to his mother. “It’s just the way we were raised,” he told the Globe. “Our mother gave everything away that she could.”
Roche Bros., which also operates Sudbury Farms, opened its 18th store, in Westborough, in 2007.
Among the other organizations Mr. Roche and his wife supported were the Greater Boston Food Bank, the American Ireland Fund, and Habitat for Humanity. At BC, they established the Roche Scholarship Fund and endowed the Roche Chair in Economics.
In addition to his wife and his son Patrick, known as Rick, of Westwood, Mr. Roche leaves his brothers Daniel “Bud” of Needham and the Rev. Jack Roche, who is a Columban father in Rhode Island; his other son, Edward G. of Holliston; and two grandchildren. Burial was in Couch Cemetery in Marshfield.