June 26, 2017 - Born in 1936, Vincent M. Cooke, graduating from Xavier high school, entered the Society of Jesus at St. Andrew-on-Hudson on August 14, 1954 and took First Vows at Bellarmine College in Plattsburgh, NY, on August 15, 1956. After philosophy at Loyola Seminary, Shrub Oak, he taught at Regis High School in New York for two years and had his third year of regency, teaching philosophy at Fordham University. After theology at Woodstock, Md. including studies at Yale Divinity School, he was ordained at Fordham University in 1967 and took his final vows in 1974.
Described as genial, intellectual, energetic and very focused, Fr. Vin Cooke will be remembered for three things: the quality of his contribution to Jesuit higher education, in both his scholarship and the teaching of philosophy; his leadership as an administrator, both as president of Canisius College in Buffalo, NY, and his service as provincial of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus; and finally for his practical financial wisdom. Reportedly his investment skills – which helped his fundraising at Canisius and as assistant to the Maryland, New York and New England provincials advising them in investments – were learned from his own family.
Cooke received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin; his doctoral dissertation was entitled Wittgenstein’s Use of the Private Language Discussion. A fellow Jesuit remarked to him that his dissertation was comparatively short, compared to the fat tomes of so many theses. Vin replied that he knew how to express his thoughts without using unnecessary words and to prove his point by being direct.
The years of Cooke’s leadership as provincial, headquartered in Kohlman Hall, 1978-1984, according to a participant, were years of fraternity among the men running the province, including a world-wide trip visiting the foreign missions with the goal of communicating generous support for the men facing many hardships. Indeed, Cooke was also struck by malaria.
In the footsteps of a previous Canisius president who was gregarious and humorous, Cooke told a Jesuit colleague, his own reign would be “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. Above all, during his tenure from 1993-2006, he set out to raise the college’s academic and admission standards. To fill the seats, the school had been accepting students who did meet the standards. He built several dormitories to attract students from across the country, from Florida and California. He transformed an abandoned church into a 500-seat Montante Cultural Center, renovated Old Main and Lyons Hall with new classrooms and labs.
In all, Canisius completed a total of 24 capital projects worth $150 million. Meanwhile, with raised admissions standards, the college added courses is international business, information systems and digital media arts, and lowered the student-faculty ratio. The average SAT score moved from 958 to 1118. A Buffalo Evening News poll ranked Father Cooke as the city’s second most influential civic leader and the college the second most influential institution.
What did Fr. Cooke do in his spare time? He cheered for the New York Yankees and went fishing off the Sea Bright, NJ, beach at the Jesuit villa house with his friend Paul Dugan, S.J. Later, he named a new building on the campus in honor of Paul’s contribution to team spirit. Vin loved music, attended concerts at the Buffalo Philharmonic and drove to New York City to take in the Metropolitan opera. He learned enough golf to make the rounds with benefactors on a golf course. He treated friends and benefactors to dinner at the Buffalo Club, and he loved to read poetry. Living at Murray-Weigel with his illness, Vin knew that his time on earth was coming to an end.