Memorial Mass Planned for Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, SJ

July 14, 2017

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Buffalo, NY - Canisius College lost one of its most distinguished leaders on June 22, with the passing of Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, SJ.  He was 81. Flags flew at half-staff in memory of the college’s 23rd president, who died peacefully from the effects of pancreatic cancer in Murray-Weigel Hall Jesuit retirement home on the Fordham University campus.

On Saturday, August 12 at 9 a.m. in Christ the King Chapel, a memorial Mass will be held for faculty, staff, alumni and friends. Rev. Michael F. Tunney, SJ, rector of the Fairfield University Jesuit Community and former director of Mission and Identity at Canisius College, will serve as the principal celebrant and homilist. 

A Mass of Christian Burial took place in Father Cooke’s native New York on Tuesday, June 27 on the Fordham University campus where he taught philosophy for years. Burial followed at the Jesuit cemetery at Auriesville.

“Father Cooke was bold, visionary, energetic, optimistic and a true leader in every sense of the word,” said John J. Hurley, president of Canisius College.  “He brought me to Canisius in 1997 and we worked side by side in a wonderful partnership for 13 years, raising money, renovating and building buildings and taking Canisius to an unprecedented level of excellence. “

“In his 17 years at Canisius, he charted a whole new course for the college, driven by a vision of Canisius as a top-ranked regional university," adds President Hurley.  "He set an incredible standard, not only in his drive for quality and excellence, but in his personal example of integrity, humility and service to God.”

A graduate of Xavier High School in New York City, Father Cooke entered the Society of Jesus at Bellarmine College, Plattsburgh, NY, on August 14, 1954, and was ordained on June 15, 1967, in the Fordham University Church.  He pronounced his final vows on October 19, 1974 in the Fordham University Church. Father Cooke previously served as a New York Provincial. 

A legendary figure at Canisius, Father Cooke played a crucial role in the progress, prosperity and growth of the college. He came to Canisius in 1993 to replace Rev. James M. Demske, SJ, who served as president of the college for 27 years. He brought with him a reverence for the college’s tradition and strength of its community. Father Cooke soon developed a vision for Canisius to move into the top ranks of regional comprehensive universities. He embarked upon an ambitious plan to enhance academics, improve campus facilities and transform Canisius from a mostly local, commuter college to a regional, residential college.

During Father Cooke’s 17-year presidency, Canisius underwent tremendous and transformational change, both on the physical campus and in the academic curriculum. Some major accomplishments that occurred during his tenure include:

•Comprehensive renovation of Old Main, the college’s first building at 2001 Main Street;
•Renovation of Lyons Hall, the former Mount St. Joseph’s High School building, into a state-of-the-art classroom building and the “gateway to Canisius College;”
•Transformation of the former St. Vincent de Paul Church at Main Street and Eastwood Place into the spectacular 500-seat Montante Cultural Center;
•Construction or renovation of eight major residence hall projects at a cost of $85 million;
•Acquisition of former HealthNow building, which was renamed Science Hall.

Investments in new academic majors under the Cooke administration included bioinformatics, international business, accounting information systems, health and human performance and digital media arts.

The Urban Leadership Learning Community  (ULLC) program was created as an intensive collaborative learning and leadership development program aimed at high school graduates from Buffalo’s inner city. During his presidency, he also unveiled the college’s Employer Assisted Housing Program to encourage faculty and staff to purchase homes in the city of Buffalo near the college.


Father Cooke’s focus on fundraising allowed the college to fund campus improvements and scholarship assistance to ensure all deserving students receive a Canisius education. All told, Canisius raised approximately $150 million during Father Cooke’s tenure, including $30 million for the Imagine Canisius campaign (1995-2000) and $72 million of the $95.5 million raised in the Legacy of Leadership campaign (2005-2012).

With Father Cooke at the helm, Canisius also experienced a spiritual rebirth. He made it clear that the college’s Catholic and Jesuit identity would be at the forefront.  Quality became a way of life at Canisius, or “The Canisius Way” as Father Cooke referred to it.

For his accomplishments, The Buffalo News recognized Father Cooke as the second most influential citizen in the education, cultural and not for profit world, by the Buffalo Renaissance Foundation as the Renaissance Man of the Year and by the Niagara Lutheran Foundation.

In 2010, Canisius bestowed an honorary doctorate on Father Cooke and he received the college's Distinguished Citizen Award.

Please offer prayers of thanksgiving for the life of this great Jesuit and for the repose of his soul.

Canisius is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the nation and the premier private university in Western New York.

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