Saturday, December 1
Fr. James Coyle, Martyr of Alabama
Coyle attended Mungret College in Limerick and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was ordained a priest in Rome on May 30, 1896, aged 23.Query: why is this man not been beatified?
He sailed later that year, with fellow priest, Father Michael Henry, to the port of Mobile, Alabama and served under Bishop Edward Allen. He became an instructor, and later rector, of the McGill Institute for Boys. In 1904 Bishop Allen appointed Coyle to succeed Patrick O'Reilly as pastor of the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Birmingham, where he was well-received and loved by the congregation.
Assassination and aftermath
Father Coyle was shot in the head on the porch of St. Paul's Rectory on August 11, 1921 by Methodist minister and Klansman E. R. Stephenson. The murder occurred only hours after Coyle officiated at a secret wedding between Stephenson's daughter, Ruth, and Pedro Gussman, a Puerto Rican who had met Ruth by doing work for Stephenson at his house and had been a customer of Stephenson's barber shop. Before the wedding, Ruth converted to Catholicism.
Stephenson was subsequently charged with Father Coyle's murder in an Alabama court. The Ku Klux Klan paid for the defense, a team of five lawyers (four of whom were Klan members). The case was assigned to the courtroom of Judge William E. Fort, a Klansman. Hugo Black, a future Justice of the Supreme Court (who would become a civil rights champion), defended Stephenson.
[B]y 1941, two decades later, a Catholic writer in Birmingham would write "...the death of Father Coyle was the climax of the anti-Catholic feeling in Alabama. After the trial there followed such revulsion of feeling among the right-minded who before had been bogged down in blindness and indifference that slowly and almost unnoticeably the Ku Klux Klan and their ilk began to lose favor among the people." (McGough - 1941)