June 26, 2017 — Jesuit Father Vincent M. Cooke, former provincial of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus and former president of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, passed away June 22. He was 81.
Born in 1936, Fr. Cooke, graduated from Xavier High School in New York City and entered the Society of Jesus in 1954. During his Jesuit formation, he taught at Regis High School in New York for two years and taught philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. He earned advanced theology degrees from Woodstock College in Maryland and Yale University and was ordained to the priesthood in 1967. He completed a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1971.
Fr. Cooke returned to Fordham to teach undergraduate and graduate philosophy courses from 1971 to 1976 and then became vice provincial for higher education for the New York Province. He became provincial for the province in 1978, serving for six years. His term as provincial included a worldwide trip visiting the foreign missions with the goal of communicating generous support for the men facing hardships. Indeed, Fr. Cooke was struck by malaria on the trip.
He was appointed president of Canisius College in 1993 and served for 17 years. During his time as president, he raised academic and admission standards; encouraged the establishment of new undergraduate and graduate major programs; lowered the faculty-student ratio; and increased enrollment by recruiting students from outside Western New York.
Fr. Cooke described his presidency as "no jokes, low key.” He was a “clean desk man,” with an eye for detail, who would spot a cigar butt on a campus sidewalk and make sure that did not happen again. He built several dormitories to attract students from across the country, and he transformed an abandoned church into the 500-seat Montante Cultural Center.
In all, Canisius completed a total of 24 capital projects worth $150 million under Fr. Cooke's leadership. Meanwhile, with raised admissions standards, the college added courses in international business, information systems and digital media arts. A Buffalo Evening News poll ranked Fr. Cooke as the city’s second most influential civic leader and the college the second most influential institution.
After retiring from Canisius, Fr. Cooke returned to New York City to become assistant to the provincial for higher education for the New York Province. Later he served as assistant for strategic planning for the Maryland, New England and New York Provinces. He was a delegate to the Society of Jesus' General Congregations in 1983 and 2008.