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The John Carroll University community mourns the loss of Reverend Donald B. Cozzens, former Writer in Residence and professor in the Theology and Religious Studies department. Fr. Cozzens, 82, passed away Thursday, December 9th due to complications of pneumonia as a result of COVID-19.  


Fr. Cozzens’ tenure at John Carroll University began in 2002 as visiting professor of Religious Studies. In 2004, he was appointed as Writer in Residence. He would go on to publish four books while serving in that position. 


Born May 17, 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio, he knew he was destined to be a leader in the Catholic Church from an early age. In an interview with American Catholic, Cozzens stated he wanted to become a priest "from the first day of the first grade." 


Cozzens earned his Bachelor of Sacred Theology from The Catholic University of America in 1965 and was ordained on May 22nd of the same year in St. John Cathedral in Cleveland. 


His first assignment was as Associate Pastor at St. Christopher Church in Rocky River, Ohio in 1965. He started his career in academia in 1971 serving as a Chaplain and Co-chair of the Department of Religious Studies at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio. 


Furthering his education, Cozzens earned a Master of Arts from the University of Notre Dame in 1973 and a Ph.D. from Kent State University in 1976. He developed a passion for writing while earning his graduate degrees and published his first article in 1974. 


Cozzens started his first of many faculty appointments in higher education in Northeast Ohio at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. He taught at the private Catholic college from 1979 until 1989 before moving on to other local universities and colleges to teach Theology. 


Cozzens was passionate about teaching the faith, and in 1996 accepted a position as President-Rector and professor of pastoral theology at Saint Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in Wickliffe, Ohio. Cozzens continued to write while educating future clergy members and published his first book The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest in 1997. 


Fr. Cozzens’ writing sometimes addressed issues within the church and drew criticism. Colleagues say his intent was not to draw attention to those problems but to help solve them.   Dr. Ed Hahnenberg, Breen Chair in Catholic Theology at JCU, says he was inspired by those efforts. 

He was courageous in his ability to address problems within the Catholic Church, but always did so in a compassionate way, driven by his love for the church and the priesthood.

Dr. Hahnenberg and Fr. Cozzens’ remained close following the latter’s retirement in 2016. He describes his former colleague and friend as “genuine, kind and caring while epitomizing integrity as a priest, a professor, and a person.”


Father Cozzens was very active in the JCU Campus Ministry during his time at the university. John Scarano, director of Campus Ministry, says Fr. Cozzens’ personality made him a perfect fit for the department.


Don was one of those people who tended to attract students. Many were caught off guard by his willingness and eagerness to learn from young people. He exhibited both grace and complete attentiveness to another that easily conveyed the sense that he was listening and interested in them as a person.

Fr. Cozzens continued his commitment to the church and JCU during his retirement. He regularly presided over Monday’s noon Mass in St. Francis Chapel on Campus. He was also active in The Church of Gesu services and would frequently fill in for pastors at the Church of St. Dominic in Shaker Heights.


Father Cozzens’ was unwavering in his commitment to faith, education, and serving others. His life’s work both as a priest and educator has left an indelible impact on both the JCU and Greater Cleveland community. Father Cozzens fueled that work through his love of the church, priesthood, and an insatiable thirst for learning. 



Funeral service details updated 12/14:

Friday, December 17th - 3:00p.m. Vespers service at the Church of the Gesu,  2470 Miramar Blvd in University Heights,  followed by calling hours until 6:30p.m.

Saturday, December 18th - 11:00a.m. Mass of the Resurrection at Gesu followed by a reception in the Muldoon Atrium of the Dolan Science Center at John Carroll University.