Archdiocese mourns loss of beloved director of Office for Conciliation

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ralph Bonaccorsi

Ralph Bonaccorsi, a longtime director for the Archdiocese of Chicago, died April 21 at the age of 80. Bonaccorsi was well-known in the archdiocese for his commitment to victims of clergy sexual abuse and helping communities within the church reconcile conflicts.

He began his time in the archdiocese in 1959 as a teacher at the now-closed Mater Christi School in North Riverside. He taught there until 1966, when he became a consultant for the Teacher Personnel Department in the Office for Catholic Schools. Bonaccorsi directed that office from 1968 to1972 when he then became the director of the Administrative Services Department in the schools office. He held that position until he became director for staff development in schools in 1982. In 1989 he also became executive director of the archdiocese’s Office of Conciliation.

In 1991, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin appointed Bonaccorsi as the first director of the Office of Assistance Ministry. The office works with victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families to help them heal after abuse. At the time the office started it was the only one of its kind in the country.

Mayra Flores, safe environment coordinator for the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, was a longtime friend and colleague of Bonaccorsi’s and said Cardinal Bernardin appointed him to the office because of “his compassion, his sense of sympathy, his value to be present to a person and to hold and honor somebody’s pain with such respect and compassion.”

Bonaccorsi held that position until 2006 at which point he continued as director of the Office of Conciliation, a position he held until his death.

When the Office for Assistance Ministry began it was charting new territory because there was no template for the ministry. Programs and procedures had to be developed but this wasn’t a challenge for Bonaccorsi.

“He wasn’t prideful. He collaborated greatly with people in the system,” Flores said. “But his special gift was being able to connect with people.”

Bonaccorsi became an important advocate for victims of abuse.

“There were meetings where he was the voice of the victim at the table and he was respected for that,” Flores said.

His work with the Office of Assistance Ministry went along well with his work in the Office for Conciliation. The latter was about healing relationships on a parish level.

“He was trying to maintain and preserve relationships while trying to help them resolve their differences,” Flores said.

Chris Cannova, director of the archdiocese’s Department of Human Resources, also worked with Bonaccorsi for many years.

“Ralph served the people of the archdiocese for more than 50 years, beginning as a teacher in 1959. While he left the classroom after less than 10 years, first moving into the Catholic Schools Office, I believe he remained a teacher to those who were fortunate to have called him a colleague and friend,” Cannova said.

Bonaccorsi challenged those around him to care for others with Christ-like compassion, particularly those with whom they were in conflict, he said.

“He did so with great humility, often with too much recognition of his own human failings.”

Flores called Bonaccorsi “passionate” and “funny” and a man dedicated to his family.

“He adored his children,” she said. “He just wanted to babysit his grandchildren all of the time. That was a joy to him.”

He is survived by former wife Lois and his children John, Mary, Rob, Rich, Joe, Jean Sheldon, Jim, Bill, Patty Thompson, Tom, Cathy Layton. His son Michael preceded him in death. Bonaccorsi had 24 grandchildren.