Father Cioffi elevates the paten during a Mass he celebrated in De La Salle Hall.
Father Cioffi elevates the paten during a Mass he celebrated in De La Salle Hall.

As Father Ronald J. Cioffi tells it, he began his priestly journey on the road to Jericho when he was ordained 50 years ago. Ever since, like the Good Samaritan, he’s been on that path looking to help the sick, those in need, the stranger at the gates and exhorting the faithful to follow suit.

Retired since 2016, the long and winding journey he first commenced in parishes of the Trenton Diocese in 1969 continues, Father Cioffi said. He celebrates Masses for prisoners, travels monthly to Catholic Worker sites in New York to celebrate Mass and delivers clothing and other items for those in need.

Still very much in touch with Pax Christi, the international organization that works for peace and social justice that he has been active with for years, Father Cioffi also celebrates Mass regularly in the chapel of De La Salle Hall, Lincroft, a nursing home residence on the campus of Christian Brothers Academy, and wherever needed in the Monmouth County area.

“I’m keeping the ministry going,” he said. “In fact, I’m working on starting a blog on Catholic social teaching and how it gives us resources to work for justice and peace.”

Answering the Call

Born in 1941 in Long Branch to Harry R. and Jean Cioffi, he was the second of three sons along with Henry, a longtime councilman and multi-term mayor, and Robert, a professor at Morris County College, composer and pianist.

He reminisced about how his close-knit family, parish and community life growing up provided the framework for all that was to come.

Growing up in a Catholic family and attending a Catholic school at a time when peace initiatives were a major focus of the post-World War II world, and the initiatives of the Second Vatican Council were underway, had a profound impact on him as a teen, he said.

His family’s luncheonette/news stand was a gathering place for many members of the diverse Long Branch community, and as a youth, he eagerly gleaned the insights of “so many people with firsthand experience” of civic responsibility.

As an altar boy at Holy Trinity Parish (now part of Christ the King Parish), his mentors – Father Gerald Celentana, pastor, and Father James Cammisa, parochial vicar – both contributed greatly to his growing interest in a priestly vocation, he said. A graduate of Red Bank Catholic High School, he prepared for the priesthood in St. Charles College Seminary, Catonsville, Md., and St. Mary Seminary and University, Baltimore. He was ordained a priest May 31, 1969, by Bishop George W. Ahr in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

As a parochial vicar, he served in St. Joachim Parish, now, along with Immaculate Conception Church, part of the merged parish of Our Lady of the Angels Parish; St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft, and St. Mary Parish, South Amboy. During this time, he earned a master’s degree in pastoral counseling from Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y., and a second master’s in ecumenics from Princeton Theological Seminary.

In 1977, he became a faculty member in St. Mary Seminary, Roland Park, Md. Upon returning to the Trenton Diocese in 1981, he was named parochial vicar of St. Joseph Parish, Keyport, now part of Our Lady of Fatima Parish. During his long tenure there, he also served as temporary administrator before being named pastor in 1989, serving in that capacity until his retirement in 2016.

Social Concerns

Along with serving the parish, Father Cioffi was also director of the diocesan Office of Social Concerns, where he helped the faithful in the Diocese focus on critical social issues, among them the struggles for farm workers to gain just wages and working conditions, and inviting people to consider the spiritual needs of the families and individuals of the LGBT community.

In an interview with The Monitor when he retired, Father Cioffi spoke of how his years in the Bayshore parish and his work with Office of Social Concerns went hand in hand. Over time, many ministries developed, including an active conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a thriving health ministry and the long-running work of the Parish Haiti Committee to improve life in that struggling nation. He cited his work with the Parish Haiti Committee and participation in the million-plus rally against nuclear weapons in New York’s Central Park while the United Nations held a special session on disarmament as among a long list of highlights of a meaningful life of faith in action.