Courtesy of Birmingham Public Library Archives
Born March 23, 1873
Ordained May 30, 1896
Died for the faith August 11, 1921
Father James Edwin Coyle
A native of Drum, Athlone, in County Roscommon Ireland, Father Coyle was ordained in Rome on May 30, 1896 when he was only twenty-three years old. Later that same year, he came to serve his priestly life in the state of Alabama.
He served faithfully, in what was then the Diocese of Mobile, Alabama, under Bishop Edward Allen. First, Father Coyle served eight years in the Mobile area, initially in parish missions, then at McGill Institute for Boys, first as Instructor and later as Rector of the school. While in Mobile, Father Coyle became a Charter member of Mobile Council 666 of the Knights of Columbus.
In 1904 Bishop Allen appointed Father Coyle as Pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Birmingham, Alabama, the state’s young but largest city and a major steel-making center of the United States. The need for workers in the area mills and mines brought thousands of men to Birmingham from European countries, a large percentage of whom were Catholic.
Father Coyle served as Pastor of the large St. Paul’s congregation for seventeen years until his tragic death in 1921. He brought a dynamic and apostolic spirit to the parish, emphasizing faithful attendance at Sunday Mass and love of the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. Among his duties, he served as Chaplain of Birmingham Council 635 of the Knights of Columbus.
During the last years Father Coyle served in Birmingham, there existed a regrettable atmosphere of public anti-Catholic economic and psychological persecution organized and promoted by the Ku Klux Klan and a secret anti-catholic political society called the True Americans. Father Coyle was courageous and unwavering during this tense and threatening period for Catholics in publicly defending the Church and what Catholics believe.
On August 11, 1921, Father Coyle was shot and fatally wounded as he sat in the swing on his rectory front porch by an enraged minister whose daughter’s marriage to a dark-skinned Puerto Rican Father Coyle had presided over less than two hours before he was shot. He died forty minutes later in the operating room at St. Vincent’s Hospital. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in the history of Birmingham. The shooter, who was also a Klansman, was found not guilty in a trial held two months later. The trial was a travesty of justice.
Father Coyle is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, a ten-foot-high Celtic cross marking his resting place. Plans are underway to re-inter his body near the Cathedral of St. Paul in downtown Birmingham.
Life & Legacy
Join us for the annual Mass to honor Father James E. Coyle’s Life and Legacy.
Fr. James E. Coyle Memorial Mass
Cathedral of St. Paul, 2120 3rd Ave. North
Birmingham, Alabama 35203
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Resources & Merchandise
Get the book Rising Road, a true tale of love, race, and religion in America, by Sharon Davies.
Get the book Killed in the Line of Duty, articles and memories of the life and death of Father James E. Coyle. Released on the 90th anniversary of his passing. Edited by Jim Pinto.
The Father James E. Coyle Memorial Project
Fr. James E. Coyle Memorial Project
P.O. Box 43217
Birmingham, AL 35243
Cathedral Of St. Paul
2120 3rd Ave. North
Birmingham, AL. 35203