Eugenio Pietro Corecco was born at Airolo (Canton Ticino, Switzerland) to Pietro Corecco and Margherita Beffa, on October 3, 1931. His family transferred to Chiasso, where his father was employed on the railroad. When he was twelve years old, Eugenio entered into the diocesan seminary of San Carlo at Lugano, just one month before the premature death of his father. There he completed his schooling. Then he was sent by Bishop Angelo Jelmini to Rome to the Pontifical Lombard Seminary. He studied theology at the Gregorian University. On October 2, 1955, one year before completing his degree, he was ordained a priest by Msgr. Jelmini. The following year he was sent to the parish of Prato Leventina. In 1957 he became a military chaplain.
In October of 1958 he left the parish to begin studies of canon law at the University of Munich in Bavaria, where he attained the doctorate with a “summa cum laude” in 1962. In 1965 he also obtained the licentiate in Civil Law at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). During the years at Fribourg he was an active member of the student association Lepontia cantonale, of which he became the spiritual assistant in 1964. He deeply felt the need that Catholic associations be above all places for education in the faith, and, in line with the orientations of the Council, he turned with interest to the new movements. In this period he met don Luigi Giussani, founder of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation. It was the beginning of a friendship that would last throughout his life, and of the decision to spread that ecclesial experience in the Swiss context. In October of 1965 he went to Lugano as professor of canon law in the major seminary and teacher at the minor seminary. From December of that year he also assumed the office of official on the ecclesiastical tribunal. He continued his commitment with students, occupying himself with Gaunia, an association of Catholic high school students. In July of 1967 he returned to Munich as assistant professor of canon law and in the fall of 1969 he was nominated professor of canon law at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland). Here Fr. Eugenio dedicated precious energy to the development of the presence of Communion and Liberation, which had a stimulating cultural and spiritual point of reference for numerous students, colleagues and friends in the “Gambach house”, in which he had decided to live with some young people and priests. From 1979 to 1981 he was dean of the Department of Theology. Together with Angelo Scola, who today is Bishop Emeritus of Grosseto, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, and dean of the John Paul II Institute for studies on marriage and the family, he started the Italian edition of the theological magazine Communio, whose German edition was started by Hans Urs von Balthasar and by the future cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger. In this period he intensified his scientific and teaching activities: he submitted many monographic essays for publication, participated in conferences and meetings, offered lecture series and courses in various European universities, including the Catholic University of Milan, the Protestant Theological Department of Geneva, and the University of Perugia.
In 1980 he organized the IV International Congress of Canon Law in Fribourg on the question of “The Fundamental Rights of the Christian in the Church and in Society.” At the end of the conference he was elected Vice-President of the Consociatio internationalis studio iuris canonici promovendo, an association which brings together more than 500 scholars and university faculty members of various disciplines of ecclesiastical interest from more than 54 different countries. In 1987, at the Congress of Munich in Bavaria, he became President, and was reconfirmed in this position at the end of the Congress of Lublin (Poland) in 1993.
In 1982 John Paul II called him as an expert to the commission to which had been entrusted the final revision of the new Code of Canon Law, promulgated in 1983. The Pope also nominated him as consultant to the Pontifical Commission for the authentic interpretation of the Code. Notwithstanding his scientific obligations, he took an active part in Swiss ecclesial life as member of the various commissions of the Conference of Swiss Bishops. He collaborated often with the Central Office of Italian Emigration as a theological consultant on issues regarding emigrant Italians and the local churches which receive them.
On May 31, 1986, John Paul II called Eugenio Corecco to the Episcopal See of Lugano; he was consecrated on June 29 by Monsignor Henry Schwery, Bishop of Sion and president of the Swiss Episcopal Conference. He took possession of the diocese on the same day.
Convinced of the existence of a gap between faith and life, his central concern became the rebirth of Christian life through contact with the living and daily company of the Church. He constantly called for the necessity of a new evangelization which he promoted through schools of faith, that is, catechism for adults. He gave particular attention to the spiritual direction of youth: he participated with many young people of the diocese at the World Days of John Paul II, he initiated pilgrimages to various sanctuaries and to the Holy Land, and gave new value to Catholic Action, to which he succeeded in attracting hundreds of boys and girls in the course of a few years. He also confronted the difficult financial situation of the Church of Ticino with determination: he invited the parishes and the priests to form two funds for the support of the clergy and of diocesan activities. At the same time he initiated contact with the government of Ticino for the revision of the civil-ecclesial law, which dated back to 1886, and for the definition of the tax on worship. A joint committee was nominated for these ends. He instituted a diocesan commission for social communications and renewed the administration of the “Newspaper of the People.” In the autumn of 1987 he opened the “Diocesan High School” under the auspices of the College of Pius XII, which he entrusted to the administration of the Salesian Fathers. To help the spiritual growth of the diocese, he encouraged the establishment of new religious communities.
The respect which he enjoyed in ecclesial circles found a significant confirmation in his participation, as a pontifically nominated member, in the VII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, convened in Rome by John Paul II in October of 1987, to discuss the question of the “Vocation and Mission of the Laity in the Church and in the World Twenty Years after Vatican II.” He made a significant contribution to the work, collaborating in the redaction of the introductory Lineamenta of the debate and taking part in crucial arguments, like the theological nature of the sacraments (particularly in regard to confession), the secular character of the laity, the relationship between institutions and charisms and thus between authority and lay aggregations, focusing on ecclesial movements, on the education of the clergy and on their unity with the bishop.
The pastoral, scientific, and humanistic work of Eugenio Corecco culminated with the foundation of the Theological Academy of Lugano in October of 1992. In this initiative, which matured gradually with time, and which, in its operative phase, found the singular attention and support of the Holy Father, a plurality of motives converged, which well reflect the richness of the personality of the Founder. Certainly at the origin there was the solicitude of the pastor, who desired to bring the important period of the intellectual and human development of the seminarians back to the responsibility of the diocese, returning the seminary to the center of the ecclesial and social environment in which the future priests would conduct their ministry; but there was also the concern of the scholar, who was aware that the work of evangelization, to which all the components of the People of God are called, cannot be separated either from a solid intellectual and cultural preparation, or from a faithful and constant reference to the Magisterium of the Church. And finally there was his human sensitivity, aware of the challenges which arise from the confrontation with secularized environments and values, to which he intended to offer, with the proclamation and testimony of faith, the contribution of the Christian presence, which is more constructive insofar as it is more able to critically grasp the events of its time.
With these motives, the project to institute an academy of theological and philosophical studies in Lugano, open to seminarians and to the lay faithful from different parts of the world, particularly from the Churches of Eastern Europe and from the Third World, immediately found ample favor among the numerous scholars who, sharing the finality and the pedagogical method of that institution, collaborated in the formation of the teaching body. In order to financially support this initiative, in 1991 Eugenio Corecco established the Ecclesiastical Foundation “Monsignor Vincenzo Molo.” With the decree of May 8, 1992, the Congregation for Catholic Education recognized the Institute of Theology of Lugano and approved its Statutes and Order of Studies “ad experimentum” for five years. With unusually abbreviated proceedings, already by November 20, 1993 the Institute was erected as a department with the right to confer doctoral degrees valid for the universal Church. At the same time, in the context of a broad program for the revitalization of philosophical and theological studies, the publication of a series of textbooks of Catholic theology was planned by an international scientific Committee, united under the name of AMATECA and presided over by Msgr. Corecco.
In recognition of his scientific work – whose profound methodological novelty in the study of canon law permitted an emphasis on the theological implications of that discipline by placing the ontological reality of communio at the foundation of ecclesial structures – and also for his pastoral and educational work, the Department of Theology of the University of Lublin awarded him a doctoral degree “honoris causa” in April of 1994.
The first symptoms of serious illness had already begun to manifest themselves in April 1992. After an initial period of remission, the illness became particularly acute in December 1993, inducing the bishop to personally inform the faithful concerning the state of his health. With the serenity of a man of faith, but also with the determination of a character accustomed to dealing with the situations of life, he asked for their prayers and for a renewed ecclesial diligence. He understood that his sickness was a precious occasion of fruitfulness for his pastoral ministry, which he would execute to the very end with that donation of self which had profoundly marked the conscience of his people.
He died in Lugano on March 1, 1995, Ash Wednesday, and was buried in the crypt of the basilica of the Sacred Heart, beside his predecessors. 1
1 On December 16, 1995, the International Association of Friends of Eugenio Corecco, Bishop of Lugano, was founded, from whose bulletin these biographical notes were taken. His Excellency Msgr. Angelo Scola, in the preface, writes: “The aim of the International Association of Friends of Eugenio Corecco, Bishop of Lugano is based on the certainty, fundamental to our faith, that our dear Bishop Eugenio is alive and waits for all of us in the place of eternal repose. Those who had the good fortune to meet him – and they are many: of various nationalities, of various social and cultural backgrounds, of diverse sensibilities – were touched by his person, and desire that his presence, even though removed from sight, might continue to generate, first of all in themselves, but also in the whole Church and in society, that kind of human disposition which they had been able to enjoy by knowing him. With this sure hope, they want to deepen relationships of Christian friendship, according to that breadth of humanity and faith which he taught us during his earthly life, and which had burst forth, most evidently, in the years of the great trial and at the moment of his passage to the definitive life in Christ. The hope is that this patrimony of faith and friendship will not be lost! The Statutes of the Association indicate the scope of this matter, but they are only the riverbed of a free initiative, which, without creating useless superstructures, can make it easier for those who belong to it to carry out their vocation and Christian mission.