Weather Updates

Took confessions  on Andrea Doria

Rev. Msgr. John V. Dolciamore | Provided photo

Rev. Msgr. John V. Dolciamore | Provided photo

storyidforme: 40758317
tmspicid: 15053101
fileheaderid: 6848852

Updated: December 29, 2012 6:18AM

When the ship carrying him home from Rome collided with another in the North Atlantic, a young priest named John V. Dolciamore heard confessions while awaiting lifeboats.

The new church lawyer put his life before others on the SS Andrea Doria after it was hit late one night in 1956.

He went on to spend 60 more years as a Catholic priest before dying Thursday at age 86.

Msgr. Dolciamore was a respected canonist or church lawyer, frequently consulted to advise other dioceses on matters involving Canon Law, recalled his longtime friend, retired Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Goedert. He set up a Tribunal in the Diocese of Venice in Florida, the office of the church overseeing marriages.

“He’s been an admirable priest, a model priest, hardworking priest, and he was very dedicated to his work in the Tribunal,” said the Rev. Joseph Mol, who was a deacon on his way to becoming a priest when stationed at Divine Providence Parish in Westchester, under Msgr. Dolciamore. “He was a very compassionate pastor.”

A native of Chicago’s West Side, Msgr. Dolciamore graduated from Quigley Preparatory Seminary and the University of Saint Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary, and was ordained in 1952.

After a short stint at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Chicago, Msgr. Dolciamore spent two years in Rome studying church law. In 1956, he earned his law degree.

He returned to the United States with Bishop Goedert, and two other priests on the SS Andrea Doria.

The famed Italian ocean liner collided with another ship the night of July 25, 1956, while the priests, luckily, played Scrabble in a lounge.

The prow of the ice cutter smashed through the wall of the room he shared with another Chicago priest, Rev. Richard Wojcik, Msgr. Dolciamore said during a 2011 interview with a young seminarian.

“And luckily it didn’t come anywhere near the ballroom or where we were playing Scrabble in the card room,” the monsignor said.

The priests went to fetch life jackets from their cabin.

“Father Wojcik went in first. ... He said, ‘Don’t come in here.’ He said, ‘There’s no outside wall. The outside wall is disappearing and it’s just the ocean.’”

A few passengers asked Msgr. Dolciamore to hear their confessions. Then he and the Rev. Wojcik granted a general absolution while awaiting lifeboats.

“People were content to be alone with their thoughts and think of their families and friends and make peace with God in whatever way they could,” he recalled.

Msgr. Dolciamore’s name appears in books about the ship and its rescue. But he told his interviewer, “I just did not want to get involved in the situation again,” he said. “I’ve noticed over the years now that experience has still been with me all the time, not consciously by any means, but every once in a while.”

After returning home, he spent the bulk of his career in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Metropolitan Tribunal, eventually becoming its chief judge, Rev. Mol said. And in the mid-1970s, he became pastor of Divine Providence Parish in Westchester.

Msgr. Dolciamore ended his career as a canon law instructor at the seminary that trained him.

Msgr. Dolciamore, who outlived his siblings, is survived by nieces, nephews and many friends.

A funeral mass will be celebrated Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. at Divine Providence Church, 2550 Mayfair Ave., in Westchester.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.