Paul Cioffi, SJ
July 21, 1928 - May 21, 2004
Father Cioffi was born July 21, 1928 in Brooklyn, NY, but early on the family moved to Summit, NJ. Following graduation from Seton Hall High School, he entered the Jesuits at Wernersville, August 14, 1946. After professing his vows on August 15, 1948, he was engaged in philosophy studies at Woodstock College and the final year at Bellarmine College, Plattsburgh, NY. There followed three years of teaching of French language and religion to juniors, 1953 to 1956, at Loyola High School, Towson, MD. He did his theology studies at Woodstock, where he was ordained June 21, 1959 by Archbishop Francis P. Keough. Tertianship was made at Drongen-bij-Gent, Belgium. In 1973, he earned a doctorate in theology from Catholic University.
After a year of liturgical studies at College Saint-Michel in Brussels, Belgium, he was assigned in 1962 to Georgetown University, where he spent. the rest of his life, first as a professor of theology, and then, from 1992, as the Director of the Institute for Pastoral Renewal. In this capacity, Father Cioffi held about 140 seminars for over 10,000 priests and bishops in the U.S and other countries throughout the world. As late as April. he lectured for a week in China. The focus of his ministry, in his words, "was the need for liturgical renewal and improved preaching."
In addition, he was on the staff of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the North American College in Rome. From 1986 to 1988 he was Director of Georgetown's Florence Program in Fiesole. Italy.
One of the great joys of his life was celebrating mass in Copley Chapel at Georgetown University. Originally started in the mid-1980's as a mass for former students and friends, it evolved into a much larger congregation. The Copley Chapel community, under Father Cioffi's leadership, raised nearly $1 million to help the poor.
As further evidence of his devotion to the poor, Father Cioffi encouraged those who attended his mass to pick up and deliver, early each Sunday morning, donated bread to food shelters and others in the District of Columbia who administer to and feed the poor. It is estimated the "bread run," as it is called, delivered over 25 tons of bread each year for about 20 years.
In 2001, Father Cioffi co-authored with William P Sampson, S.J., "Gospel Spirituality and Catholic Worship: Integrating Your Personal Prayer Life and Liturgical Experience" in which he addressed the role of the priest in holiness of life, liturgy, and preaching. For Father Cioffi, contemporary liturgists rarely focused on private prayer, and spirituality rarely focuses on liturgy. He endeavored through his teaching and retreats to help priests to integrate those two dimensions of their priestly life.
In "Gospel Spirituality and Catholic Worship," in his many retreats for diocesan clergy and through his ministry at the Institute for Pastoral Renewal, Cioffi helped priests to get underneath what they are really doing in preaching, presiding, and celebrating the great signs of our redemption. He truly shared his faith, simply saying that living in faith and love with Jesus Christ brings healing, strength, and salvation to priests and to those whom they serve.
One participant in a 2001 Clergy Assembly commented that, "Jesus gathered his disciples often to teach them, to be with them, to pray with them and tell them of his dreams for the kingdom. I think that is what we did in joy, laughter, seriousness, and with deep prayer we kept saying in different ways, God gave me the gift of priesthood and I want to live it fully and deeply in faith and love." Another priest wrote in 2003, "you came at a time we so much needed your brand of faith and spirituality. For me it was an early Pentecost. God bless you."
He is survived by a sister and brother-in-law, Lucille and Bruce McLeod of Holmdel, NJ; a niece, Marie of Takorna Park, MD; nephews, Paul of Lando'Lakes, WI, Robert of Sykesville MD, Bruce of Sudbury MA; and an aunt, Florence Cioffi of Cherry Hill NJ.
Father Cioffi is buried in the Jesuit Cemetery at Georgetown University, just a stone's throw from Copley Chapel.
Tribute prepared by the North American Academy of Liturgy.