Fr. James E. Coyle Commemoration Day (Part II)
JOHN CARROLL CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL LIBRARY HONORS FR. COYLE MEMORY
John Carroll Ceremony Honors Father Coyle – Shown with the framed portrait of Father James Edwin Coyle and accompanying narrative, now displayed in the John Carroll Catholic High School Library are, left to right, John Wright, Jr., Lee John Bruno, Principal Lee Fisher, Sister Mary Leo, O.S.B., long-time faculty and staff member; and Joy Pinto. Father Richard Donohoe had to leave before the photo was taken.
A simple but significant ceremony held in the John Carroll Catholic High School Library in Birmingham, Alabama on Tuesday, May 11, 2004 recalled that the library in the original John Carroll on Highland Avenue was named in memory of Father James Edwin Coyle. Taking part in the ceremony were Father Richard Donohoe, Rector of The Cathedral of St. Paul; Lee Fisher, Principal of John Carroll Catholic High School; Lee John Bruno, representing his grandparents, Nancy Bruno and her late husband, Lee Bruno, who gave a generous gift for the present Library; Joy Pinto, representing her husband Jim Pinto, Jr., Director of the new Father James E. Coyle Memorial Project, and John Wright, Jr., longtime Father Coyle advocate. Father Donohoe said the present rectory was built with a gift from parishioners and friends presented to Father Coyle at a reception celebrating his Silver Jubilee in the Priesthood, less than three months before his tragic death. He said he has spent much time in the rectory, keenly aware he is in the midst of Father Coyle’s sacrifice. Father Donohoe announced that Bishop David Foley has given his permission for a Father Coyle Society to be formed.
Let us remember that there is no greater gift than one who is willing to lay down his life for his friends, he concluded.
In his words of welcome, Principal Lee Fisher said he has learned much more about Father Coyle in recent years. He congratulated those who are working to make Father Coyle’s life better known. He said he was happy a portrait of Father Coyle with accompanying historical narrative will hang in the present library to honor his memory. Lee John Bruno said it was Jim Pinto who had brought Father Coyle’s sacrificial life to his attention. He said both his late grandfather, Lee, and Father Coyle, through their Faith and sacrifices, will always be examples of how he wants to live his life.
Jim Pinto, a founder of the Father Coyle Memorial Project Committee and website, who assisted in arranging the commemoration ceremony, was out of the city and unable to attend. He was represented by his wife, Joy. She recalled her husband’s dramatic encounter with the sacrificial spirit of Father Coyle as she read from his prepared remarks:
I had been struggling for over a year, considering a possible return to the Church of my infancy.
The Roman Catholic Church when I came across a Father Coyle Memorial card at the (Alpha/Catholic Horizons) bookstore. I felt compelled to immediately locate and pray at Father Coyle’s grave at Elmwood Cemetery. Within minutes, I humbly stood before the beautifully strong Celtic cross that honors this holy man and his resting place. I prayerfully introduced myself, prayed and gave thanks for his life and asked his intercession that I might know if I should return to the Catholic Church. Shortly thereafter, I laid down my priestly garments and ministry upon the altar of an Episcopal Church and journeyed home to the Church of my birth and baptism the Catholic Church.
It is our hope that the sharing of the life and death of this holy man may promote greater understanding, reconciliation and peace among all of God’s children.
Father Coyle served as Pastor of St. Paul’s Parish in downtown Birmingham from 1904 until he was assassinated on August 11, 1921 on the front porch of the old parish rectory. The designation of a room in the original John Carroll in memory of Father Coyle was requested by the late Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York when he gave $5,000 to the high school’s initial fund-raising campaign. A native of Drum, Athlone, in County Roscommon. Ireland, Father Coyle came to serve his priestly life in Alabama in 1896 shortly after his ordindation in Rome After serving in parish missions in the Mobile area, he served as Instructor and later as Director of McGill Institute until the late Bishop Edward Allen appointed him as Pastor of St. Parish in Birmingham in 1904. John Wright, Jr. read from the narrative beside the portrait of Father Coyle in the framed commerative display now on exhibit in the John Carroll Library. It reads, in part: During the last years Father Coyle served in Birmingham, there existed a regrettable atmosphere of public anti-Catholic psychological and economic persecution, organized by the Ku Klux Klan and a secret anti-Catholic political society called the True Americans.
Father Coyle was unwavering during this tense period in defending the Catholic Church and what Catholics believe. He was shot 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 mortally wounded. May his courage inspire us to love and forgive!
Mr. Wright expressed appreciation to Principal Lee Fisher and Librarian Joyce Sims for their assistance with arrangements for the ceremony.