Photo courtesy of Saint Vincent Archabbey

Father Cornelius P. Chang, O.S.B., 91, a monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, died Friday, November 25, 2022 in New York City after a brief illness. Father Cornelius was serving in the Archdiocese of New York at the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary. He served in New York since 1962, concurrent with his professional activities as a scholar and teacher, at Columbia University, where he was director and pastor of the Korean Catholic Apostolate for the Archdiocese. He established the Korean Catholic Apostolate in response to the need for regular bilingual sacramental and liturgical service, and the ministry included Sunday School classes for adults and children, adult catechetical and sacramental instruction, and retreats. He ministered to several hundred families of first and second generation Korean-Americans, as well as to overseas students.

Father Cornelius was born November 20, 1931 in Seoul, Korea, a son of the late Louis P. Chang and Helen (Soh) Chang of Seoul. He was one of eight children, including Louise, Pius, Paschal, Mary, Peter, Philip and Paul.

He attended Seoul National University from 1950 to 1952, when he came to the United States. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Saint Vincent College in 1956. He made simple profession of monastic vows on September 8, 1957, and solemn profession of vows on September 8, 1960. He received a master of arts degree from Saint Vincent Seminary in 1962 and was ordained a priest June 3, 1962, by the late Bishop William G. Connare of Greensburg.

Father Cornelius’ solemn profession of vows was made the year Brother Norman Hipps, O.S.B., came to Saint Vincent as a freshman in high school. Brother Norman recalled that “he did his best to teach us American male teenagers the art of calligraphy. We all had special pens, even the lefthanders. We were not Cornelius’ best students, but one of my classmates at least learned to write neatly.”

After his priesthood ordination he was sent to Columbia University to pursue graduate studies in the history of art and architecture. At that time his father, Lous Chang, having moved from Korea to Pittsburgh, served as an artist- in-residence at Saint Vincent for a number of years. His work intended “to dissolve barries between East and West, tradition and modernity … he stressed the similarities between art and ideas from disparate origins and encouraged his students to not favor conventions of the past over those of the present.”

Brother Norman noted that “This was to become the life and work of his son, our confrere Cornelius. I believe he saw art as a means to facilitate connections not only between people of disparate origins, but of the values to which we aspire. With his faith, he recognized that art, in all of its manifestations, holds together difficult truths, conflicts and our greatest longings.”

Father Cornelius earned the master of arts (1965) and Ph.D. (1971) in the history of art and archaeology from Columbia University. His studies at Columbia were fully funded as a Fellow of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation at Columbia University and by the Clawson Mills Research Fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which he held from 1963 to 1969.

In 1971, upon receiving the doctorate, he was immediately appointed to the graduate faculties of Columbia University, where he spent many years as professor and director of graduate studies in the history of art and archaeology in China. He also served as summer chaplain for several years at Columbia. In 1979, immediately after the Cultural Revolution, as the U.S. and China moved closer to normalize relations, he was named a delegate to the first U.S.-China Arts Delegation, consisting of 30 American specialists in education, culture and the arts invited to visit cultural institutions and to assist in China and restoration efforts there.

A personal invitation followed, extended by the Ministry of Culture of the Chinese government, which led to his appointment in 1980, through the U.S.-China Arts Exchange of Columbia University, as the first visiting professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing since the Cultural Revolution. This appointment afforded him the opportunity to live in China for two years at this time of profound transition. During his years there in the early 1980s, under the auspices of Columbia University, he initiated the restoration of academic programs, planned and developed curricula, and secured the procurement of slide collections and research materials in Eastern and Western art for the Central Academy of Fine Arts. He introduced Chinese graduate students at the Central Academy in Beijing to the latest methods of art historical analysis. His lecture courses, taught in Chinese, were published by the Academy.

Consistent with his interest in transnational dynamics in Chinese culture, he conducted research and lectured in both Chinese and English at numerous archaeological sites in China including Datong, Luoyang, Xian, Yangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Lanzhou. He lectured at archaeological institutes connected with important remote culture sites in Central Asia along the ancient Silk Route, such as Dunhuang, Urumqi, and Turfan.

In addition to his activities that took him to the Far East, he was also Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. S. Dillon Ripley with whom he traveled to Korea and Japan where he arranged and coordinated discussions with Prime Ministers Choi Kyu-ha and Ohira, and leaders of business and cultural institutions, successfully promoting the establishment of its museum of Oriental art in Washington D.C. in 1979.

In the course of his travels in the Far East, he studied and worked with master artists and calligraphers in their native setting where he learned the vanishing techniques of paleography and calligraphy according to the ancient tradition. His students became professors, museum curators, and collectors of art in the United States, China, Japan, Korea and Europe.

Fluent in Chinese, French, Japanese and Korean, he published and lectured extensively in North America, Europe and Asia on a range of subjects of historical and contemporary interest including lectures delivered at the Colloquium on Comparative Aesthetics at the University of Toronto, before the Yale University Faculty Seminar, at the College of Fine Arts, Seoul National University, and at the Korea Forum of Columbia University.

He organized and chaired panels on Chinese art and gave lectures at the largest professional organization for Asian studies in the world, the International Congress of Orientalists (ICO), sponsored by UNESCO in Mexico City in 1976 and at the 33rd International Congress of Asian and North African Studies (ICANAS, formerly ICO) in Toronto in 1990. Most recently, abroad, he organized and chaired the panel on Chinese art at the 35th ICANAS held in July 1997 in Budapest, Hungary, where he lectured on the subject: Eighth Century Buddha Statue of Sokkuram in Korea and its Prototype at the Mahabodhi Temple in India: Roles Played by the Chinese and Korean Traveling Monks Hsuan Tsang and Hye Ch’o.

In midst of this professional and academic work, Father Cornelius became pastor of the Korean Catholic Apostolate for the Archdiocese of New York. For three generations he instructed, baptized, arranged for confirmation, married, listened to, counseled, celebrated. In the days before his services at Saint Vincent Archabbey, funeral services were celebrated in New York City in both Korean and English by Monsignor Robert Robbins, a good friend of his. As he came towards the end of the gospel, Monsignor Robbins read: “Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’”

As he read this, a lady in the front pew impulsively replied audibly with energy and enthusiasm, “I DO!” What a marvelous tribute to her faith and to the faith nurtured in her and her community by Father Cornelius’ ministry. His priestly ministry to Korean Catholics was very important to him and no less filled with accomplishments than those in the arts. He was relentless in his ministry to the people of God, Baptizing, instructing in the faith, First Communions, First Reconciliations, Confirmations, weddings and funerals. And celebrating Mass so that we could delight in His Body and Blood, true food and true drink.

Father Cornelius was so much more than a scholar; he was an authentic minister to his people. In all those endeavors too, he brought people to God and God to the people. Now may he rest at the eternal banquet foretold by the prophet Isaiah, and promised by Jesus Himself. May he be raised on the last day and live forever, where our God is simultaneously the host, the chef, the meal and the LIFE of the party.”

A wake service was held on Friday, December 2, in the Archabbey Basilica, following the viewing. A concelebrated Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Saturday, December 3, with the Rite of Committal in the Mary Mother of Mercy Mausoleum Chapel and interment at Saint Vincent Cemetery.

We ask for your charity and customary suffrages. It is consoling to know that every monk of our monastery offers three Masses for the repose of Father Cornelius’s soul, and that he will be included among those confreres for whom all professed monks of our Congregation offer Mass monthly.


+Martin R. Bartel, O.S.B. Archabbot
Saint Vincent Archabbey Latrobe, Pennsylvania