Msgr. John J. Miller
Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Msgr. John J. Miller

Msgr. John J. Miller, 80, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Fairless Hills for 18 years and an expert in Catholic liturgy, died Friday, Dec. 1, of lung cancer at Villa St. Joseph in Darby.

At the time of his death, he had been in residence at Immaculate Conception Parish in Jenkintown for two years.

His longest ministry began in 1989, when he was appointed pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in Bucks County.  In 2007, he was named the church's pastor emeritus.

He was remembered fondly by family, parishioners, and clerics, particularly Auxiliary Bishop Timothy C. Senior, whom he mentored and who presided at his funeral Wednesday, Dec. 6. The two men were close friends.

In a lengthy tribute posted on CatholicPhilly.com, Bishop Senior wrote that Msgr. Miller "was a great mentor to me and many other priests as well."

"Everyone loved him," said his sister, Elizabeth J. "Betty" Leonard. "He was good to people."

First and foremost, Msgr. Miller was a priest and carried out that ministry.

"He used to say the best thing we can offer our people is the sacraments well-celebrated," Bishop Senior wrote. "He was a man of prayer and very much a priest in exemplary ways. Visiting the sick and being there for his people was an absolute priority. He was what Pope Francis would call someone who would go out on the margins, whether it was a homeless person or someone who was estranged."

Msgr. Miller's other parish assignments included St. Albert the Great in Huntingdon Valley; Nativity of Our Lord in Warminster; St. John the Evangelist in Philadelphia; St. Martha in Philadelphia; St. Michael in Philadelphia; and Immaculate Conception on Front Street in Philadelphia, which closed in 2011.

For five years beginning in June 1982, Msgr. Miller was dean of men at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He joined the seminary faculty in 1971 and served as professor and director of liturgy in its Theology Division.

He also taught at Bishop McDevitt High School in Wyncote in 1967.

Born in Chester, he was the son of Joseph D. Miller and Elizabeth M. Miller. He graduated with honors from St. James Catholic High School in Chester before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

He studied at the Pontifical Lateran University for six years prior to 1964 and was ordained on March 15, 1964, in Rome by Cardinal Luigi Traglia. From 1969 to 1971, Msgr. Miller studied for, and completed, a doctorate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm, also in Rome.

Msgr. Miller played a leading role in the implementation of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The council spanned the years 1962 to 1965.

"He was on the faculty for 18 years at St. Charles Borromeo, and that was the time of the implementation of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council," Bishop Senior wrote. "There was a lot of change going on, and Msgr. Miller spearheaded a lot of the implementation throughout the diocese. The seminary became a key place for liturgical formation."

An expert on liturgy, Msgr. Miller was the liturgist for the 41st International Eucharistic Congress held in Philadelphia in 1976, and for the visit by St. John Paul II when he was pope in 1979. Msgr. Miller remained active in that field until he was made pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Parish in 1989.

Msgr. Miller was named honorary prelate to Pope John Paul II on May 29, 1991.

Bishop Senior regarded Msgr. Miller as one of the truly brilliant minds in the Philadelphia presbyterate, or college of priests associated with any one bishop.

"He was fluent in Italian and Latin and could speak Spanish, German and French," Bishop Senior wrote. "He understood history and architecture; his knowledge of these things was encyclopedic."

Msgr. Miller's work in liturgy led him into the arts, Bishop Senior wrote. He was an opera aficionado and regular patron of the Metropolitan Opera. Msgr. Miller also supported several artists in Philadelphia who were doing visual art based on the liturgy.

Msgr. Miller is survived by his sister, and nieces and nephews.

Interment was at Resurrection Cemetery in Bensalem.