The Murder of Father Coyle

At Least We’re Here is a blog about a women’s book club that reads books by Catholic Women Authors.  Read more here.

This is not a story about one of our book club books. 

It is about an extremely tragic and compelling story, and hey–it was written by a woman who became fascinated by a many-layered tale of the death of a Catholic priest–so….close enough.

Fr Coyle

Fr. James Coyle at his parish in Birmingham, Alabama. Father was shot and killed by an anti-Catholic sympathizer on August 11, 1921

Father James Coyle was the pastor of St Paul’s parish in Birmingham, AL during a time when the Ku Klux Klan was experiencing a second wave of popularity for its condemnation of Catholic citizens and Catholic immigrants, whom the KKK claimed were plotting to overthrow the United States–together with the pope.

Author Sharon Davies, a law professor who learned about Fr. Coyle while researching a law article, has written the incredible story of the rise of this second wave of bigots, their persecution of Catholics in the South during the 1920s, and the courageous witness and martyrdom of an innocent priest in her book Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America  

This article by Davies from Columbia Magazine gives a summary of the events.  EWTN’s Bookmark Show featured Professor Davies in 2011:

Father Coyle was remembered above all for his persistence in defending his Catholic faith from the pulpit and repeated letters and editorials in the local press.  It was common knowledge among his parishioners that there were threats against his life and yet he insisted on sitting on his porch swing each night after dinner which ended up being the site of his death by 3 bullets from the killer’s gun.

Given the fact that only 10,000 Catholics resided in and around Mobile, almost every one of them must have shown up at Father’s requiem Mass for the “throng was so mammoth–the largest funeral gathering in state’s history,” that the “church itself with its thousand-plus capacity was filled to its limit long before the beginning of the 3:00pm service, and ‘thousands’ more who were unable to enter the hall stood quietly outside in the afternoon sun.”

I came across a “spoiler” while reading some articles online earlier today.  If you’re going to read the book look away now.

Reverend Stephenson, who shot Fr. Coyle in plain view of dozens of witnesses and then basically turned himself in at the Sheriff’s office immediately afterward, was found not guilty of murder after a week long trial.


How Does Marriage Work?

  The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 1604 states that, “Since God created him man and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing love with which God loves man.”

Ideally! Yet we have found in much of our reading as well as in life itself that marriage can be extremely difficult and sometimes seem impossible.  This is because sin, which manifests itself in a “spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation” has entered marriage just a surely has it has entered into creation. (CCC 1606)

Most of us who have been married for any length of time know this must be true

It does become apparent that it is humanly impossible for a husband and wife to “[follow] Christ, [renounce] themselves, and [take] up their crosses” while the marriage covenant remains “indissoluble.”  (CCC 1615)


Wedding Feast at Cana: Jesus turned water into wine

But what seems impossible to us is never impossible to God!

Through the visit of Jesus and His mother Mary to a wedding feast in the town of Cana (John 2:1-11) marriage was raised to a Sacrament: a “confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.” (CCC 1614)

June is the month for marriage

Tons of my friends have had anniversaries this month, and my anniversary is in June (33 years this year).  So the final posts for June will be about marriage; in the context of our book club selections of course! Through the fictional, historical and biographical writings of Catholic women from many cultures and time periods we’ve seen evidence again and again that marriage can be a nightmare or a source of great joy, but either way one or both members have found hope in relying on Christ for their strength.

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand is a Catholic woman philosopher, theologian and author

She has written volumes about marriage (among other topics).  Her essay The Meaning and Purpose of Marriage masterfully continues her deceased husband Dietrich’s “mission of highlighting the role that love should play in marriage.”

Author Alice von Hildebrand: we read one of her many books in 2005

Author Alice von Hildebrand: we read one of her many books in 2005

We read By Loved Refined: Letters to a Young Bride in 2005

It’s a wise little journal packed with letters of advice to a newly married woman from a more experienced friend.  Wives young and old will find a myriad of ways to persevere in love, but be forewarned; you can’t bring your pride.


Over the weekend I’ll post some lessons on marriage from Dr. Hildebrand’s book.

6 Women Saints Who Might Help You

See this post for a video introducing My Sisters the Saints.

Photo credit: Amber Montgomery

Photo credit: Amber Montgomery

Catholic woman and author Colleen Carroll Campbell is, among other things, a blog writer for the New York Times and Washington Post.  She was a speechwriter for George W. Bush and is host of EWTN’s Faith & Culture show.  She authored The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy.

I’ve barely finished 30 pages of My Sisters the Saints, and I’ve already choked up a couple of times.  Author Campbell has written a book based on an idea that I love:  a small number of women saints, through their writings, have influenced a young woman’s growth in wisdom, maturity and holiness through the years, a growth that moved beyond the “pat answers offered by both secular feminists and their antifeminist critics.”  Campbell has done a fantastic job of reconstructing those years and their joys, sorrows and challenges.

The 6 Women Saints who helped Campbell can help you too:

  • St. Teresa of Avila, a “trailblazer [whose] single-minded focus on God’s will led her to embark on adventures and undertake risks”
  • St. Therese of Lisieux–The Little Flower, who inspired social justice activist Dorothy Day (we’ve read both St. Therese and Dorothy Day!)
  • St. Faustina–Sister Maria Faustina of the Blessed Sacrament–who helped Campbell make a terribly difficult decision through the counsel,” ‘Jesus I trust in You’ “
  • St. Edith Stein--aka Teresa Benedicta of the Cross–a brilliant philosopher and a Jewish-Catholic convert who wrote on the nature and value of women and femininity
  • St. Teresa of Calcutta–Mother Teresa (and another author we’ve read)–whose “tortured missives [the Dark Night of the Soul] helped me realize that I was experiencing shades of what mystics like John of the Cross describe as the darkness of faith: the challenge of clinging to Christ when it feels as if he has forgotten you”
  • Mary the Mother of God, whom Campbell came to know more deeply and lovingly through her sufferings

A Catholic woman author who recalled the inspiration and consolation given to her by other Catholic women authors is an ideal theme for a group of 10 women reading Catholic women authors!

We’ve read a huge number of books, both fiction and non-fiction,  that include stories of the help of saints.  I’d love to discuss which saints helped us through our struggles and why at the meeting for My Sisters the Saints.

Which saints seem especially chosen for the rough parts of your pilgrimage through this life to Heaven?

The Next Book: Waiting for the Apocalypse

Waiting_for_the_Apocalypse10 Women Reading Catholic Women Authors are currently reading Waiting for the Apocalypse: a Memoir of Faith and Family, by Veronica Chater which we’ll discussing in January.  What a superbly written story!

I am a couple of years older than Ms. Chater.  She and I are both cradle Catholics, meaning we were born into a Catholic family and were baptized in the Catholic faith as infants.  There the similarities end.  Yes indeed they end.

You see…. Veronica Chater’s family the Arnolds, starts out looking “normal,” headed by a “strong and handsome” California Highway patrol officer dad, the “prettiest mom I know” with her “sharp green eyes that don’t miss a trick from behind her cat-eye glasses,” and 5 brothers and sisters who all cram in to a green ’64 VW Beetle for the daily drive to St. Mary’s school.

Then the “smoke of satan” otherwise known to history as Vatican II begins to blow through the Church, and Lyle and Marty Arnold and their children find themselves part of what they believe is an invalid Mass in a “declining American” Catholic Church.  So they become one of the “remnant” of faithful Catholics who go to extraordinary measures to avoid the Novus Ordo Mass and the Vatican II Church.  In the Arnolds’ case that means packing up and moving to Fatima, Portugal, the one place on earth “Where our Lady promised the dogma of the faith will always be kept.”

I think I was in almost as much shock as they were due to what they found in Portugal because of the fantastic story crafted by Ms. Chater.

She wrote the memoir as an adult but is able to smoothly project little 7 year old, little 10 year old, and little 12 year old “Ronnie” into each time period with an authentic voice.

I’m enjoying this book, and as I move along I am able to bring up memories of my life in a post Vatican II world and Catholic Church for comparison.  We grew up only 1200 miles from each other, we saw the same news of war, race riots and moon landings, and we even ate the same twinkies & macaroni and drank the same kool-aid but we experienced two different worlds.

More about this book and Veronica Chater after the book club meeting in January!