“To be a priest in the atrium of the third millennium is to be a witness of hope to the world, a truth no different than it was in the infancy of the Church when Saint Paul reminded another young priest of his duty: ‘Watch yourself and watch your teaching. Persevere at both tasks. By doing so you will bring to salvation yourself and all who hear you’ (1 Tim 4:16).”







In February of 1979, Fr. Cooper was born in the City of New Orleans into a Catholic, Sicilian family. He is the only child of two very devoted parents: a father who served as a role model and guide and a mother whose comfort, love, and compassion provided a constant source of friendship. His childhood was filled with love and laughter, fond memories of family celebrations and holidays, and the ever-enduring sense of the divine Mystery which encompasses and embraces the whole of life’s journey–the joys and the sorrows, the disappointments and the hopes. As Fr. Cooper notes, “My family has always been supportive of my personal endeavors and continue to provide encouragement and support of my priestly ministry.”

Education has always been an important component of Fr. Cooper’s life. After graduating from local grammar and secondary schools, Fr. Cooper graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2001 with a Bachelor in Business Administration from Loyola University New Orleans before entering Notre Dame Seminary in the fall of that year. In conjunction with his educational studies, Fr. Cooper spent numerous years participating in a variety of community service and volunteer activities including mentoring in the St. Bernard Parish Public Schools and serving as the Director of Volunteer Services for a local nursing home. He has worked as a Congressional Aide for the United States Senate and has served on numerous local and state committees advocating for the welfare of those most marginalized in our society.

It was almost twenty-one years ago that Fr. Cooper began to discern God’s call to priestly ministry. In the midst of college exams, research papers, and university activities, Fr. Cooper felt a “movement of the heart,” an intimate confrontation with the all-encompassing and uncontainable Mystery of Being itself. As Fr. Cooper recalls: “I knew for many years that God had a unique vocation planned for me, but it was not until my college years that I was grasped, shaken, and overwhelmed by that ardent call to serve our Lord as an unworthy instrument of His divine love and grace.” To fully discern his call to the priesthood, Fr. Cooper spent many months in prayer and spiritual direction. “In my heart, I recognized that God was calling me to serve He was calling me to bring forth His love, to shepherd the lost, and to feed those who are spiritually hungry.”

The six years of priestly formation at Notre Dame Seminary gave Fr. Cooper the opportunity to concentrate on fortifying himself, through continuous study and prayer, so as to speak boldly of God, to preach the Gospel, and to journey with his fellow brothers and sisters as they respond to their Baptismal call to holiness. Fr. Cooper served as a seminarian at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Kenner, St. Luke the Evangelist Catholic Community in Slidell, and St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Algiers. He also ministered at the Catholic Charities Community Center, which was previously located at St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church in New Orleans, and He served as a prison chaplain at the Orleans Parish Correctional Facility and as a hospital chaplain at both St. Luke’s Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas. Throughout his seminary tenure, Fr. Cooper assisted at his home parish of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Catholic Church in the Bywater. In December of 2006, Fr. Cooper completed his pre-diaconate internship ministering in St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in New Orleans. “The parishioners of St. Peter Claver taught me what it truly means to be a priest of Jesus Christ, to offer my life as a self-gift to the people of God.…We laughed together we cried together we prayed together we shared our experience of God in Christ Jesus together.” Fr. Cooper was ordained to the transitional diaconate on January 27, 2007, along with four of his classmates.


Fr. Cooper was the only candidate for the Archdiocese of New Orleans to be ordained to the Sacred Priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ on Saturday, June 2, 2007, by his Excellency, Archbishop Alfred Hughes, at the historic Cathedral–Basilica of St. Louis King of France in Jackson Square. Fr. Cooper celebrated his First Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving at Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Catholic Church on the Feast of the Holy Trinity.


For the first two years, Fr. Cooper served his first priestly assignment as the Parochial Vicar at St. Clement of Rome Catholic Church in Metairie. “My time of service as Parochial Vicar of St. Clement of Rome Catholic Church has certainly been two years of intense grace for me. I have encountered in this parish community a remarkable depth of faith, strongly connected with the apostolic tradition of the Church and lived practically in the lives of the faithful.” While at St. Clement of Rome, Fr. Cooper worked tirelessly to build the Body of Christ to proclaim the prophetic message of the Gospel and to strengthen the various ministries of the parish. He worked closely with the parish’s altar server program, spent numerous hours assisting with religious education and liturgy preparation in both the parish and school, and supported the Life Teen ministry. Fr. Cooper was also instrumental in ongoing parish administration and stewardship efforts. On June 5, 2009, Archbishop Hughes asked Fr. Cooper to accept his second priestly assignment as the Parochial Vicar at St. Peter Catholic Church in Covington. In a statement released to the parishioners of St. Clement of Rome, Fr. Cooper wrote: “Now the Lord is calling me to exercise a new ministerial assignment. And even though I leave St. Clement of Rome with sadness in my heart, I pray that I will arrive at St. Peter in Covington with gratitude and enthusiasm.…God will always provide, even despite our own limitations and inadequacies. For this reason, I am confident that the hand of Divine Providence is directing my course so that I may always be a humble instrument in service to the Lord.”


Upon his arrival at St. Peter Catholic Church in the heart of historic Covington, Fr. Cooper was welcomed with open arms and open hearts as he began his priestly ministry in the earliest Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of New Orleans on the Northshore. In her remarks at Fr. Cooper’s Mass of Welcome, St. Peter Parish’s Pastoral Associate, Ms. Ruth Prats, proclaimed: “Fr. Cooper, what we know is that we are very blessed to have you. We also know, because it has been evident since you have arrived at St. Peter Parish, that God has blessed you abundantly. You are immensely gifted. We see it in your preaching, in your caring for God’s flock (His sheep), and in your desire for excellence in everything you do as a priest…We welcome you to St. Peter Parish as our Parochial Vicar with open doors to our Church and open doors to our hearts. And we say to you as your parish family, thank you for your ‘yes’ to the call to the priesthood, and thank you for your ‘yes’ to serve us as our shepherd. May God hold you always in the palm of His hand.”


Fr. Cooper’s role as Parochial Vicar at St. Peter Catholic Church involved a diversity of sacramental, ministerial, and administrative responsibilities. Fr. Cooper collaborated very closely with the parish staff and directed many of the parish’s ministries and committees. He worked extensively with the Parish School of Religion, Youth Ministry, Office of Marriage and Family Life, and Vocations Awareness. Fr. Cooper was also integral in the life and ministry of St. Peter Catholic School as it pertained to Catholic identity and academic excellence. Many of the parish’s new initiatives were spearheaded by Fr. Cooper including the redevelopment of the Parish Bulletin and Website, the creation of a new CRE position at St. Peter Catholic School, and the continuing refurbishment of the church’s sanctuary. Fr. Cooper also strived to bring beauty and grace to the liturgical celebrations of the parish.


On April 14, 2012, Archbishop Aymond asked Fr. Cooper to accept his third priestly assignment as the Parochial Vicar at St. Ann Catholic Church and National Shrine in Metairie. In a statement released to the parishioners of St. Peter Parish, Fr. Cooper wrote: “Reflecting upon the fact that our Lord will not leave me here to see to completion much of the wonderful work that we have begun together in His Holy Name, I am reminded of the words of St. Paul: ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers you are God's field, God's building’ (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). My heart is full of gratitude to God for letting me be His coworker in His wonderful field of St. Peter Parish, especially in the care of souls and the promotion of a number of grace-filled projects and initiatives-particularly in the revitalization and transformation of our parish school.”


In her remarks at Fr. Cooper’s Mass of Farewell, St. Peter Parish’s Pastoral Associate, Ms. Ruth Prats, end the festivities by noting: "Fr. Cooper, three years ago, we opened wide the doors of our Church to you as our Parochial Vicar. Now it is time for us to say farewell. We say our farewells now with hearts 'as they say' 'filled to the brim' with thanksgiving.…You will be remembered for not only reverencing our foundation of traditions but building on those traditions with things anew. How do we count the ways that we have grown because of your leadership? There are so many. We may not know the number, that’s not important, but what we do know is that we hold all of them dear to our hearts and most importantly, it is in the mind and heart of God. Fr. Cooper, your name is now written on the pages of our parish’s history and written on our hearts, the heart of all of us who have journeyed with you over the past years. You have added to our story and now you are forever a part of it-a story that will span the many generations to come. There is a song of thanksgiving in our hearts because you have been in our midst....The root of the word goodbye means 'God be with you.' And so instead of saying goodbye, we say as a parish family: 'God be with you.'"


Fr. Cooper began his assignment as Parochial Vicar at St. Ann Catholic Church and National Shrine on July 1, 2012. In a message to his new flock, Fr. Cooper noted: “There are many good things about a Church parish, many daily, endless heroisms, public and private, deep prayer, everyday mysticism, life-giving nourishment in its great sacramental life and profound and sustaining traditions—all this in spite of our own sinfulness and, at times, our lack of charity.” During his time at St. Ann’s, Fr. Cooper worked in a variety of ministerial capacities, serving the various needs of the people of God.


On November 26, 2012, Archbishop Aymond appointed Fr. Cooper to serve as the Spiritual Director for the Immaculata Regia Legion of Mary for the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana. In a letter addressed to the Legionaries, Fr. Cooper wrote: “As I assume the duties and responsibilities of this office, I write to convey a message of greetings and encouragement. I offer for your reflection the words of our Holy Father of Happy Memory, Pope Paul VI, in a letter written to the Legion in 1965: ‘The spirit of the Legion of Mary, while properly drawing fruitful nourishment from the strong interior life of its members, from their discipline, their dedication to the salvation of their neighbor, their unflinching loyalty to the Church, nevertheless is distinguished and characterized by an adamant confidence in the action of the Blessed Virgin. Recognizing in her the model, the guide, the joy and the support of all its members, the Legion of Mary, by its eloquent activities, helps us to understand how much the apostolate must draw its inspiration from Her, who gave Christ to the world, and was so closely associated to Him in the work of redemption.’” Fr. Cooper completed his service as Spiritual Director for the Immaculata Regia on May 15, 2018.


On April 6, 2013, Archbishop Aymond announced that Fr. Cooper would be appointed as the sixth Pastor of St. Benilde Catholic Church in Metairie, Louisiana. In a statement released to the parishioners of St. Ann Catholic Church, Fr. Cooper wrote: “While this announcement calls forth a variety of emotions, as it means I must leave all of you, the good people of St. Ann Catholic Church and National Shrine, I do want to thank Archbishop Aymond for his paternal solidarity and for his confidence in me by requesting that I accept my first pastorate….My heart is filled with gratitude to God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon me, and I renew my commitment to serve the faithful entrusted to my pastoral care with total fidelity and paternal charity.…How can I adequately say goodbye? Probably the best way is simply to express concisely what I have been trying to do over the past 10 months—to be completely empty of self (to avoid the temptation to see myself, instead of Christ, as the protagonist in the works of pastoral charity), so that Christ Jesus—and He alone—can shine through me towards you. And please know that you, for your part, have been a ‘transparent window’ of Christ for me.”


Fr. Cooper began his assignment as Pastor of St. Benilde Catholic Church on July 1, 2013. In a letter to his new parishioners, Fr. Cooper wrote: “Lord it is good to be here. With these words on my lips, I begin my ministry as the pastor of St. Benilde Catholic Church. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has lead me, according to His holy and divine will, to this wonderful parish family to serve as your priest and pastor–to truly be a good shepherd for His flock.…My heart is filled with gratitude to God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon me, and I renew my commitment to serve each of you with total fidelity and paternal charity. Considering the weighty responsibilities of being a pastor, I am more than ever conscious of my own weakness and of my total dependence upon the help of divine grace, in order that I may fulfill worthily and generously, with every ounce of my strength, the responsibilities which will be mine. I count upon the continued intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Communion of Saints, and the prayers of each of you as I enter into this next chapter of my priestly life and ministry. With my few talents and gifts, I pledge to you, with all my heart and energy, to make this journey of faith with you and for you.” Fr. Cooper ended his reflection with this prayer: “I place my whole heart, together with the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, into the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, I am confident that I will find the zeal and wisdom which I will need to carry out the new responsibilities confided into my hands.”


On Sunday, July 14, 2013, Fr. Cooper was installed as the sixth Pastor of St. Benilde Catholic Church by The Most Reverend Dominic Carmon, S.V.D., Retired Auxiliary Bishop of New Orleans. As Archbishop Aymond’s personal representative, Bishop Carmon reminded the faithful of the importance of praying for and collaborating with their new pastor. As Deacon Cliff Wright announced at the beginning of the liturgy, “Today, St. Benilde Parish gathers to celebrate the Liturgical Installation of Father Cooper as our pastor. The Church teaches that pastors are the closest coworkers of the Archbishop entrusted with the spiritual and temporal care of the Local Church through the ministries of teaching, sanctifying, and governing. A pastor is charged with the well-being of the parish community and enables it to be in communion with the Archbishop and through him, with the Church Universal. The pastor is appointed by the Archbishop to be his representative among us, to celebrate the sacraments, to teach the Apostolic Faith, and to give witness in that charity which binds the Church into one communion of the faithful. Bishop Carmon, after consulting with the clergy and laity of the archdiocese, Archbishop Aymond has chosen Reverend Father Robert T. Cooper as the new pastor of St. Benilde Catholic Church. I now have the pleasure of presenting him to you and to the people of this parish.” To which Bishop Carmon responded, “My dear friends, because Archbishop Aymond is aware of your pastoral needs and is confident of Father Cooper’s qualifications for the office of pastor, he has asked me to express, in his name, his pastoral concern for the people of this parish, and he commends Father Cooper to you as your new pastor.”


It was a great privilege for Fr. Cooper to have Bishop Carmon preside over the Rite of Installation of the Pastor-Elect. As Fr. Cooper noted in his opening remarks: “Bishop Carmon was the first pastor that I served under as a seminarian he was the one who vested me at my priesthood ordination and now he has come to extend his blessing and friendship as I begin my first pastorate.”


During the homily for the Mass of Installation, Fr. Cooper spoke to his new flock about their mission as a parish family, as the pilgrim people of God: “As we gather in this beautiful parish church, we witness a ceremony that is different from other rites of passage or the mere “passing of the baton” to a new chief executive officer. This is an event that affects all of our lives throughout this parish. The recognition of a new pastor for this parish family is truly meant to be an awakening to the Gospel—an awakening that stirs devotion and love, honor and service to Jesus Christ—the focal point and the only true constant in our lives. The apostolic nature of the Church ensures that the priest/pastor doesn’t come alone, nor does he come of his own accord. As God has given this grace, the priest comes in the name of Jesus Christ. He is sent by the Chief Shepherd of this local Church and supported by his brother priests who guarantee with him the authentic proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the faithful. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, as your pastor, I accept not simply the care of property and buildings, the balancing of the budget and the upkeep of temporal services. As your pastor, I accept something much more significant: the call of Jesus Christ for the care and support of your immortal souls in His name. This is not a task I assume lightly, nor do I think for a moment that you would expect me to.…I hope that today, we can make a commitment to help each other in building the Kingdom of God here at St. Benilde Parish–to encourage one another and to strengthen each other in faith, hope, and love. May your prayerful support and my hope in Jesus Christ fill my heart with compassion, allowing me to draw near to all those who suffer and allow me to bind up the wounds of those who are hurting and build bridges with the alienated as I serve Christ as His disciple and a friend to all–to truly be the good Samaritan. As I am installed as the sixth pastor of this parish, I realize that my ministry does not end here rather it begins here. I come to you no genius, and with limited talents and abilities. Everything I’ve learned, everything I know, and everything I have, I will give to this ministry, because all of you—the people of God—deserve at least that much. And until the day when the Lord either calls me to another assignment or to judgment, I will seek to serve you with the whole-hearted love of Jesus Christ. So that together, we may love the Lord our God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor, (especially the ill, the dying, the lonely, the downtrodden, the hopeless) as ourselves! This is the path to holiness this is the pilgrimage to eternal life! As Jesus says in the Gospel: ‘Do this and you shall live.’”


In August of 2016, Fr. Cooper was elected by his brother priests to serve as their representative to the Presbyteral Council for the East Jefferson Deanery. In August 2018, Fr. Cooper was elected as Chairman of the Presbyteral Council of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Fr. Cooper also serves on the New Orleans Provincial Council.


On March 16, 2019, Archbishop Aymond announced that Fr. Cooper would be appointed as the second Pastor of Divine Mercy Parish in Kenner, Louisiana. In a statement released to the parishioners of St. Benilde Catholic Church, Fr. Cooper wrote: “I pray that, in my time with you, I have followed the example of St. John the Baptist and simply pointed the way to Christ for you, so that you can experience the power of His love and mercy, that you can make Him the center of your life, and that you can know the joy that He longs to give you. If by the grace of God, I have been able to do this, then I can know that, whatever the future may bring, I have faithfully responded to His call.…Over the past six years as your Pastor, I have cultivated a deeper appreciation for St. Paul, and part of that is because, just as he tried to preach the Gospel to the gentiles, I have tried in a shamefully poorer way to do that here at St. Benilde Parish. Since he is the saint that I am still striving to be, my only affinities with him are in his love of the Master, and his love for his people. That love was evident at Miletus when he said farewell to the elders he had summoned from Ephesus as he was embarking for Jerusalem. ‘And when he had spoke thus, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they all wept and embraced Paul and kissed him, sorrowing most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they brought him to the ship’ (Acts 20:36-38). I am only going to Kenner and not to Jerusalem however, I do kneel like St. Paul as I prepare to leave, with happy tears of thanks for having been among you.”


Fr. Cooper began his assignment as Pastor of Divine Mercy Catholic Parish on July 1, 2019. In a letter to his new parishioners, Fr. Cooper wrote: “As the family of God here at Divine Mercy Parish, it is my hope that we may always have an appreciation for our parish as a gracious gift from God, as a unique instrument of grace in our lives. All of you have something to bring to parish life. Many of you bring talents, not only of a material nature, but also spiritual, ministerial, intellectual and organizational, administrative, and leadership skills. It is as a people that we are called to carry out our mission and ministry in the world. It is my earnest prayer that we may always work together to bring the light and love of the Gospel to a world that desperately needs to see the face of God. As His Holiness, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, so beautifully said in his encyclical letter, God is Love, the essential mission of the Church is expressed in the charge: “Proclaim the Gospel, celebrate the sacraments, and exercise the ministries of charity.” (Deus Caritas Est, 25a). I look forward to working with each of you in manifesting, to the best of our abilities, the Kingdom of God here in this portion of God’s vineyard.”  


The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Like most natives of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina dramatically affected Fr. Cooper’s life and ministry. Due to the enormous extent of flood damage and destruction, much of Fr. Cooper’s immediate family has permanently relocated to other parts of the state. Fr. Cooper recalls not only the destructive power of the floodwaters and the chaos of the evacuation, but also the tremendous task of attempting to minister to so many in need even in the midst of personal loss and separation. “When everything we depend upon, everything that gives us strength and identity, and what we think fulfills us, when all that is taken away, then we discover what is truly important–our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We begin to thank God for the ‘little things’ in life, those we too often took for granted: a warm bed upon which to lay our head, a modest shelter to protect us from the elements, a hot meal to nourish our bodies.”


The Church of New Orleans is very different from the one that existed when Fr. Cooper entered seminary formation. Yet, he notes that the resurrection of Jesus assures us that the tragedies of this life will never have the final say. “I believe that all of us in this local Church have learned that in our biggest and littlest tragedies, especially after the devastation of the hurricanes, in all of life’s setbacks and disappointments, we live in confident expectation that the God who triumphed in the resurrection shall finally triumph everywhere and for all time. The victory of Christ can simply be described as a victory of love in the midst of suffering, the triumph of the Lamb who was slain.”


What does it mean to be a Priest?

Many scholars have concluded that this is one of the most difficult times in the history of the Church to be called to the priesthood. In the midst of an aging clergy, declining vocations, and recent scandals, many wonder if the priesthood of the third millennium can flourish under such complexities. Yet, despite what the skeptics have concluded, Fr. Cooper is convinced that such difficulties will only lead to a renewed commitment to the priestly life and vocation: “I truly believe that this is the best time in the history of the Church to be called to the priesthood, because it is a time when there can be only one reason for being a priest–that is, to ‘be with’ Christ. It is not for perks or applause or respect or position or money or any other worldly gain or advantage. The priest of today is forced to choose whether he wants to give himself to the real Christ, the One who embraced ridicule, rejection, and misrepresentation or whether, with the mistaken throngs of Jesus’ time, he wants a worldly Messiah for whom success follows upon success.” For Fr. Cooper the meaning of priesthood is very simple and yet very profound: “To be a priest in the atrium of the third millennium is to be a witness of hope to the world, a truth no different than it was in the infancy of the Church when Saint Paul reminded another young priest of his duty: ‘Watch yourself and watch your teaching. Persevere at both tasks. By doing so you will bring to salvation yourself and all who hear you’ (1 Tim 4:16).”


Thankfulness to the People of God

Over the past eighteen years of seminary formation and priestly ministry, Fr. Cooper has served the people of God in differing roles throughout the Archdiocese. His ministerial assignments have been diverse, and the individuals he has encountered include those of varying ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. From the suburban parishioner in the pew to the inmate behind the prison wall, Fr. Cooper has been graced with the opportunity to be touched and transformed by so many true human relationships. “I thank God each and everyday for all the individuals who have loved me into the priesthood!”


~ Prepared July 2007 updated June 2009 updated August 2009 updated July 2010 updated July 2012 updated April 2013 updated July 1, 2013 August 1, 2013 updated August 9, 2016 updated May 15, 2018 updated September 12, 2018 updated April 8, 2019 updated July 1, 2019.