Reimagining Life after 50 Years of Priesthood

Father Anthony Ciorra, Ph.D., Vice President of Mission Integration & Ministry, is leaving Sacred Heart University after 11 years. He was ordained to the priesthood in Mahwah, N.J. at Immaculate Conception Seminary in 1973.

Ciorra has received graduate degrees in pastoral theology, psychology and history. His Ph.D. is in theology from Fordham University.

During his tenure at SHU, he has taught Catholic Intellectual Tradition (CIT) courses. Ciorra said, “I plan on continuing to teach but have not made plans yet. I want to teach a course here and there, here or someplace else.”

“I learn a lot from the students, you teach me. It’s not just what I have to tell you,” he said. “The classroom is a place of hospitality. We welcome the other and everyone is important.”

Sacred Heart’s President Dr. John Petillo and Ciorra attended college together. As for how to describe Ciorra, Petillo said, “One word is difficult since he and I are college classmates. I could choose a variety of settings, but I would think passionate would be the word.”

“He’s very pastoral and he’s passionate about that,” said Petillo. “He’s very much of an academic in terms of Catholic studies and he’s passionate about that.”

Petillo added, “I think his quality of being passionate and his sensitivities as a pastor, I’ve known him many years, many many years, and I think that is one thing that has been consistent for him.”

According to the Sacred Heart University page, he served as Assistant Vice President for Mission and Catholic Identity and Dean of the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University. He has also served as a professor at various institutions.

Ciorra was recently elected to leadership within his religious community.

“Leadership in the community requires more and more of my time in terms of governance and travel,” said Ciorra. The community is located on multiple continents and in many countries. He already has trips lined up in the new year.

“I call it reimagining, not retirement. I don’t believe in this whole retirement idea because I have a lot of things on my plate,” said Ciorra.

Getting Covid-19 was the catalyst to Ciorra’s decision to depart his role at SHU. In his weeklong absence, the mission office presented David Brooks with his honorary degree, held a dinner in Brooks’s honor and hosted a virtual conference.

“I had total and absolute confidence in the staff that is here. I wasn’t in the least bit worried that things were not going to get done. That enabled me to recognize, because the staff is so good, that I came to the decision that week,” said Ciorra. “I have so much love and respect for them.”

“To describe him in one word, it would have to be funny,” said Ami Neville, an administrator in the Office of Mission Integration. “He really makes me laugh on a daily basis. His humor allows people to relate to one another. His spirit, he has a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm. It’s infectious.”

Ciorra and his parents immigrated from Italy. His interactions with the priests and sisters influenced him toward his devotion to priesthood.

“In school, we were 50 to 60 kids in the class and these sisters, they educated us. Now beyond educating us, they cared about us. They gave their lives to educating us and in addition to that they also were opening hospitals because we didn’t have money to get the medical care that we needed,” said Ciorra.

“At that time, the priests were always there for us if there’s something we wanted to talk about or if we were struggling,” said Ciorra. “In that time period, you always felt that you could go to them, so I was very influenced by the priests and the sisters who were ministering to an immigrant population.”

In the same way that the clergy influence Ciorra, he has impacted the lives of many in his 50 years of priesthood.

As for his impact on the community, alumna Kristen Janes said, “Father Tony has led Sacred Heart through periods of growth in every area over the past 10 years. For more than five decades, his knowledge, faith and natural guidance has connected countless community members to their true purpose and passions.”

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