Retired Swiss Guard visits St. Bernard

From left are Nik Borths, Cole Posey, Anna Beth Guthery, Mary Yohe and Cloe Tombo with Thiery Rock, right. (contributed)

CULLMAN, Ala. – St. Bernard students recently welcomed guest speaker Thiery Rock to campus, where he gave a presentation on his experience as a Pontifical Swiss Guard—the corps of soldiers charged with protecting the Pope.  A native of Switzerland, the 23-year-old recently retired from the world’s smallest army after 28 months of dedicated service and was invited to visit Alabama at the recommendation of the Rev. Kevin Bazzel, a priest of the Diocese of Birmingham who is presently serving in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.

After drawing a chuckle from commenting that his “country is as large as the Birmingham Zoo,” Rock continued with his presentation explaining the requirements and training that are essential to joining the ranks of the Swiss Guard. 

A Swiss Guard must be a single, Roman Catholic, a Swiss male, between 19 and 30 years of age, at least 1.74 meters (about 5’ 7”) tall, have earned a high school degree or a professional diploma and have completed service with the Swiss Army.

Upon acceptance, guards undergo an intense two-month period of safety and weapon training before moving to Vatican City, where they spend their days guarding entrances and running access checks.

Rock shared a video and spoke about his experiences. Students were greatly impressed with his facility with language—he speaks five fluently—after praying the “Our Father” with students in French.  Prior to ending his presentation, Rock was quick to mention his passion for running after being asked how he spent his free time at the Vatican, leading to an invitation from students for an after-school run on the challenging trails on the grounds of St. Bernard.

From left are Rachael Agnello, Mary Ella Cockerham, Citlally Ramirez, Ava Buckingham, Amy Matinez, Charles Gil, Thiery Rock, Elizabeth Hazard and Kiara Garcia.