Dr. Joseph William Ciarrocchi, a former priest, author, professor and chairman of pastoral counseling at Loyola University Maryland, died of multiple myeloma on Oct. 22 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Baltimore. The Columbia resident was 66.
Dr. Ciarrocchi was born during World War II in San Francisco, where his father was stationed at the Presidio army post. The family of three later moved to Philadelphia, where his mother died when Dr. Ciarrocchi was 9.
His father remarried, and Dr. Ciarrocchi gained two sisters whom he adored: stepsister Maria Greenwald, who grew up to be a mayor of Cherry Hill, N.J., and was killed in a car crash 1995, and a half-sister, Lucia Lawrence of Lyndhurst, N.J.
The Ciarrocchis settled in New Jersey, where Dr. Ciarrocchi's father worked as an electrical engineer for RCA Broadcast Systems, helping develop technology that improved portable videotaping.
During his high school years, Dr. Ciarrocchi attended St. Fidelis College & Seminary in Herman, Pa., outside of Pittsburgh. He graduated at 17, having skipped a grade early in his education, and went on to earn a master's degree in theology from Capuchin College in Washington.
From there, Dr. Ciarrocchi entered the seminary and was ordained a Catholic priest in September of 1969. He left the priesthood two years later, however, drawn to the idea of starting a family.
He married Tresa Johnson in the early 1970s, and they eventually had five children — two boys and three girls. They divorced about 20 years later, according to his widow and second wife, the former Anne Marie Bolzan, who married Dr. Ciarrocchi in 1995.
While at the seminary, Dr. Ciarrocchi took his first psychology course and "fell in love" with the topic, Mrs. Ciarrocchi said.
He earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Catholic University of America in Washington and specialized in addiction and anxiety disorders. A Bible passage describing how Jesus took compassion on a confused, shepherdless crowd became an inspiration, his wife said.
"That was his motivation, to help people out of confusion and help them to clarity about their lives and to relieve their distress," Mrs. Ciarrocchi said, adding that his mother's early death was a likely motivator.
"He's been very interested in helping to relieve the suffering and pain of others," she said.
The couple first met in 1983, when they were both in other marriages and working at St. Luke Institute in Suitland. Mrs. Ciarrocchi was a clinical social worker beginning her tenure at St. Luke, while Dr. Ciarrocchi was on his way out, becoming the director of addictions services at Taylor Manor Hospital in Ellicott City.
Years later, after each was divorced and Dr. Ciarrocchi had taken a position at Loyola, they reconnected, courted and married. Among his most attractive qualities, Mrs. Ciarrocchi said, was his love of family.
"He was a wonderful father," Mrs. Ciarrocchi said, always reading to his children and grandchildren, who knew him as Pop Pop, and sharing tales of his time in the seminary and the pranks the young men used to play on one another.
Dr. Ciarrocchi joined the Loyola faculty in 1991. Colleagues said he embodied the Jesuit university's focus on caring for the entire individual — "cura personalis" in Latin.
"When you're talking to Joe, Joe is completely focused on you and what you're about," said Amanda Thomas, Loyola's associate vice president for graduate studies.
At Loyola, Dr. Ciarrocchi taught courses in multiple topics, from substance abuse to the psychology of religion. He wrote several books, including a guide on counseling problem gamblers that has become an industry standard, colleagues said.
He was working on a manual to help clinicians integrate religion and spirituality into cognitive behavioral therapy when he died, writing longhand on his trademark yellow legal pads while undergoing chemotherapy.
Former student Debbie Schechter plans to complete the work.
"I've never met anybody in my life who is as brilliant and talented as this man," Schechter said. "His intellectual breadth was phenomenal," ranging from gambling addiction to Russian authors.
Dr. Ciarrocchi was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow, in February 2008, and went into remission for a time after treatment. He was able to teach classes for two semesters in 2009, but grew ill again this year.
He went into hospice care on Oct. 18, and died four days later. His funeral was held Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Columbia.
His wife summed up Dr. Ciarrocchi's life on a memory card: "son, nephew, brother, cousin, student, uncle, friend, seminarian, priest, husband, father, therapist, doctor, professor, author, grandfather, scholar, mentor, researcher, patient, saint."
"That's my husband," she said.
In addition to his wife of 15 years, Dr. Ciarrocchi is survived by his sons Michael and Daniel, of Hebron, Conn., and Columbia, respectively; daughters Laura Ciarrocchi of Ellicott City, Kathryn Wenner of York, Pa., and Jennifer Daly of Reisterstown; and six granddaughters.