August 20, 2006

Possible canonization process for Birmingham priest martyred in 1921 by a Methodist minister who was in the Ku Klux Klan

I have excerpted the following from an article written by Greg Garrison, The Birmingham News, www.al.com, Sunday, August 20, 2006

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The Rev. James E. Coyle, who became pastor of St. Paul's Cathedral in 1904, was shot to death on the porch of the rectory, the priest's house, on Aug. 11, 1921. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery.

The Rev. Richard Donohoe, current pastor of the cathedral, plans to seek Vatican approval for moving Coyle's remains.
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The planned new grave for a Catholic priest killed 85 years ago in downtown Birmingham has been dug next to St. Paul's Cathedral.
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… the possibility of asking for sainthood for Coyle is still in the early stages. Moving the grave will have to wait until that process begins….
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… supporters are still researching Coyle's life to make the case for sainthood.
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The new grave for Coyle has been dug … behind the cathedral. A vault has been placed in the ground, between two brick columbarium walls where parishioners will be able to purchase space for burial of their ashes.
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If Coyle's body is moved, it would be his second re-burial. He was first buried in the old Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery…. Those graves were moved to Elmwood in 1936.
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Minister shot him

Coyle became pastor of St. Paul's Cathedral during a period of rising anti-Catholic bigotry in Birmingham fueled by the Ku Klux Klan.

Future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black defended Coyle's killer, a Klan member, and gained an acquittal based on an appeal to the jury's ethnic and religious prejudice.

Coyle's killing brought Birmingham's religious and ethnic turmoil to a climax in an era dominated by Klan bigotry. The Klan of the time targeted blacks, Jews and Roman Catholics for persecution.

… Edwin R. Stephenson, a Methodist minister who conducted weddings at the Jefferson County Courthouse, gunned down Coyle after becoming irate that Coyle had officiated at the marriage of his daughter, Ruth, to a Puerto Rican, Pedro Gussman.

As defense attorney, Black had Gussman summoned into the courtroom and questioned him about his curly hair.

"Lights were arranged in the courtroom so that the darkness of Gussman's complexion would be accentuated," said an Oct. 20, 1921, newspaper account of the final day of the trial.

Years later Black renounced his Klan ties and became one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Supreme Court. After the acquittal, Stephenson once again was a regular at the courthouse, conducting marriages.

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The "Father James E. Coyle Project" is online.
Click HERE for it.

5 Comments:

Blogger Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...

Hugo Black, however, remained anti-Catholic to the end of his days.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Penitens said...

Interesting. Father Coyle was killed by a Protestant minister.

His current successor, Father Donohoe, was himself a Protestant minister (Episcopalian) before he "crossed the Tiber" and ordained a priest (by the great Pope John Paul II).

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Ellen said...

I've been looking for information about this for some time now, but it seemed to have been washed down the memory hole. I'll be sure to watch this on EWTN.

2:10 AM  
Anonymous Greg the Geologist said...

"Martyrdom" sounded like an apt description until I came to the mention that the minister "gunned down Coyle after becoming irate that Coyle had officiated at the marriage of his daughter. . . ." Was Fr. Coyle martyred for the Faith, or did he get in the middle of a family dispute? Fr. Stephanos, how would this bear on his cause for canonization on the basis of martyrdom?

2:36 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

Hatred of the faith.

The Methodist minister did not gun down his own daughter. That would have been clearly a "family dispute."

The Church recognizes two categories of martyrs:
+ those who died for refusing to give up their faith,
+ and second, those who died in odium fidei (at the hands of persons acting "in hatred of the faith").

3:30 PM  

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