Fr. Vincent Zuliani, SDB, died in his room at the Marian Shrine in Haverstraw, N.Y., during the night of Dec. 29-30, apparently of a heart attack. He was 84 years old. (The "official" date of death is given as the 30th.)
Fr. Vince was a Salesian for more than 68 years and a priest for over 55 years. He had belonged to the Salesian community of the Marian Shrine since the summer of 2008, regularly celebrating Mass and the sacrament of Reconciliation at the Shrine chapel.
Fr. Vince was born on February 1, 1927, at the little village of Blessano in the town of Basiliano, near Udine in northeastern Italy, to Paolo and Delfina née Antonutti Zuliani. His formal name was Vinicio, but in the U.S. he was familiarly called “Fr. Vince.” He was baptized within the month in the parish church of St. Stephen. Following the family’s move to Bressa (also in Udine province), he made his first Communion in 1934 and was confirmed in 1935 at the church of Mary Immaculate there. In his religious education classes he already showed the diligence that would mark his whole academic career: highest grades and first prizes in competitions.
One of his childhood friends, Msgr. Francesco Lucis, remembered: “From his infancy people noted in him a particularly reflective personality. He observed everything, gathering into his soul those holy impressions that were preparing him to receive from the Divine Artist the indescribable strokes of grace.”
One of those impressions, when Vince was just six, was the departure of a missionary for India. Others included parish missions, episcopal visits to the parish, the pastor’s silver anniversary in 1937, and a celebration of the feast of St. John Bosco for young people in 1938. By the time he was eight, he already wanted to become a priest, says Msgr. Lucis.
Vince entered the Salesian seminary at Ivrea in Piedmont in September 1938. One of his classmates, Fr. Michele Ceschia, SDB, recalled that during their four years of high school they never went home—“such were the times”—and only once was Mr. Zuliani able to afford to come and visit his son. But Vince found in the Salesian house so much happiness, and so much friendliness from his superiors, that he easily decided “to stay with Don Bosco for good.”
At Ivrea Vince was already noted for his beautiful singing voice, which contributed to the seminary’s church services. Since this particular seminary was intended for future missionaries, he was assigned to study English, with the United States as his intended destination, and he quickly became fluent.
From Ivrea Vince entered the Salesian novitiate in 1942 at Castelnuovo Don Bosco, which on account of the war was transferred within the year to Villa Moglia in Chieri. He professed vows on August 16, 1943. Bro. Zuliani continued his studies first at Foglizzo, then at the Istituto Conti Rebaudengo, a unit of the Salesian Pontifical Atheneum in Turin, earning a doctorate in philosophy (magna cum laude) in 1949. He was then sent to the U.S. to teach philosophy, Latin, and Greek at Don Bosco College in Newton, N.J.—a ministry he carried out zealously until 1975, except for four years of theology studies (1952-1956) at St. John Bosco Theological School in Turin, familiarly called “the Crocetta” after its urban district. At the Crocetta he was awarded an STL degree, magna cum laude. He was ordained by Cardinal Maurilio Fossati of Turin on July 1, 1956, in the basilica of Mary Help of Christians.
Fr. Vince also earned a master’s degree, magna cum laude, from Fordham University in 1960 in classical languages. From 1965 to 1975 he was director of the Sons of Mary Program for late vocations at Don Bosco Seminary. He called these eight years “the best years of my life!” Both his students and the young men he directed have rich memories of him—not only of his keen intellect and demanding teaching style, but also of his love for music and drama, his zest for life, and his personal care for them. He found great pleasure in his books as well as in his weekend priestly services at various parishes in the area: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Boonton, St. Thomas More in Convent Station, and St. Joseph in Lincoln Park.
Fr. Vince left the college scene to become director of Don Bosco Technical High School in Paterson, N.J., in 1975, serving until 1981. From 1984 to 1989 he was director of St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston, and from 1999 to 2005 of the community at the Salesian Provincial House in New Rochelle, N.Y. He was associate pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in Elizabeth (1981-1984, “three wonderful years,” he said) and pastor-director there (1989-1998). In Elizabeth he assisted not only with the sacraments but also with adult and youth religious education and was chaplain for the local Italian Club. From 2005 to 2008 he was associate pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in Paterson, with particular care for the Italian population. He also used his considerable language skills to translate many Salesian works from Italian.
Bro. Bruno Busatto, SDB, served alongside Fr. Vince at Don Bosco Tech and found his director to be “a very good friend” who knew how to support him in the various difficulties of life in community. He adds, “I will miss him much.”
A former Salesian, Bert Cooper, has many fond memories: “He would tell you how important it is not to be a compromising Christian. Fr. Vince had a keen sense of right and wrong and he practiced what he preached. He was always about the business of getting you to do a little more, work a little harder, become a better Salesian. I knew he wanted me to better myself and that to me was the essence of Fr. Vince. Of all the directors I’ve ever had he was the one that influenced me the most.”
Joseph Roalef wrote simply: “Fr. Vince was my Son of Mary director. He was a wonderful priest.”Salesian Father Thomas Juarez wrote: “There was a fire and an enthusiasm in him, determined to make us learn Latin and Greek. Class was like being left in the hands of a drill sergeant, tough but we learned. We called him Fr. Family Spirit because of the energy and excitement he radiated.”
From Australia, Father James Hoe, SDB, wrote: “What a man! Full of life, energy, and good humor. He always wanted the best for you. What a Salesian! Taking personal interest and responsibility that those in his care came to know Don Bosco and learned about Don Bosco by his own example. He was present always: at sport, work, study....
Father John Puntino, SDB, his director for several years at Haverstraw, paid tribute to Father Zuliani’s zeal, calling him “ ‘impulsive,’ and by that I mean he propelled his life without hesitation toward those things which he valued most. He felt deeply about his family, especially about family unity, and remained regularly in contact with his family. He believed strongly in the Catholic faith and put all his energies into learning about it and explaining it to others. He fearlessly raced toward the mystery of life, devouring philosophical attempts to explain it, and equally forcefully serving explanations of his investigations to his students. He deeply loved everything Salesian and charged forward to live it and have others live it to the full. This he did whether in leadership positions, or as a member of provincial chapters, or just as a confrere in his community. Both at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Elizabeth and at Marian Shrine he aimed at creating a warm and joyful family spirit while not neglecting to offer conferences on current issues in the Church particularly in the areas of ethics, Mariology and Vatican II. I am grateful to our Lord for the gift of Father Vince, who challenged, inspired, and guided me both in initial formation and for the few years that I was in the role of his director.Fr. Vince is survived by his brother Gino of Bressa di Campoformido (Udine), Italy.
Fr. Vince's funeral was celebrated at the Marian Shrine on Jan. 3. Fr. Pat Angelucci preached the homily, interweaving the Scriptures with Father's life. He will be buried in Bressa di Campoformido.