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.
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.