Father Anthony Cotta, MM
Born: January 7, 1872
Ordained: June 4, 1898
Died: April 28, 1957
Anthony Cotta was born in Cairo, Egypt on January 7, 1872. He studied at St. Joseph’s University in Beirut and then at the Vincentian College of Antoura in Lebanon. He returned to Cairo to finish his education at the Christian Brothers School in Cairo. From 1887 to 1889 he worked as a clerk for the Egyptian Government. He resumed studies at Antoura in 1889 and two years later went to Parish to enter the Seminary of the Vincentian Fathers. It was here that he met Father Vincent Lebbe and the two future apostles of China became fast friends. His ordination took place on June 4, 1898.
He was first assigned to Madagascar and remained there seven years until illness forced him to return to France in 1905. The doctors advised a temperate climate. Father Cotta, at his own request, was assigned to North China where he had the joy of joining Father Lebbe in his great apostolate. He was stationed at Peking from 1906 to 1910 and was then transferred to Tientsin. He remained there until 1919.
After Armistice he was recalled to France and remained in Paris until late in 1921, when he was assigned to the Vincentian Seminary in Germantown, Pa. At the end of 1922, with the permission of the Superior General of the Vincentians, Father Cotta obtained a year’s leave of absence to come to Maryknoll to teach Chinese. After the year was up, he requested a dispensation from his vows in the Congregation of the Missions in order to join Maryknoll.
His presence aided greatly in the forming of the seminarians along the lines that would encourage love of the people, sympathy for their customs, understanding of their mentality and a desire to master their language. His tremendous interest in photography and his readiness to snap pictures of the seminarians merited the affectionate sobriquet of “Father Foto”. On July 14, 1927 he became a naturalized citizen of the United States and on September 9, 1930 he took the Perpetual Oath of the Society.
Father Cotta’s penetrating article on the defense of the native clergy and the need for Chinese bishops which was sent to Rome gave the arguments that were incorporated in Pope Benedict XV’s famous missionary encyclical “Maximum Illud.” In 1926, six Chinese bishops were consecrated in St. Peter’s by Pope Pius XI. Bishop Philip Chao, spokesman for the six new bishops, wrote to Father Cotta: “Behold your desire, conceived so many years ago, today fulfilled. Our consecration is the fruit of your labors and of the sufferings you have endured across the years.” Two of the Bishops visited Maryknoll on their way back to China.
Father Cotta died on April 28, 1957 at the Maryknoll Sisters’ motherhouse. Father John McConnell administered the Last Rites. Father General, accompanied by Fr. Thomas Malone was at Father Cotta’s bedside shortly before he passed away in his 86th year.
The funeral was held at Maryknoll on April 30, 1957. Father General was the celebrant of the Mass with Fr. Robert K. Sheridan as Deacon and Fr. John R. O’Donnell, Subdeacon. Bishop Raymond Lane gave the final absolution at the grave.