Fr. Leo Coughlin began his final journey to the presence of the God he so faithfully served, on Monday January 23, 2017. He died “not with a bang but with a whimper”. His last breath was as gentle as his spirit. Born on Spy Wednesday, March 23rd in Houghton-Le Spring, County Durham, UK to Ambrose and Anne Coughlin, Leo was Baptized in St Michael’s Church on Easter Sunday, a sacrament he celebrated every year on Easter day. This gentle giant came into the world fighting for life. He continued that fight, until moments before he died, while enduring many strokes –related infirmities, indignities and humiliations during the past two years.
Leo was educated at the Jesuit Grammar School in Sunderland where he distinguished himself as a brilliant student in both Academics and the Arts. He was awarded a full scholarship to Oxford and Cambridge Universities but chose instead the Seminary at Ushaw College in the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. Again he distinguished himself in many areas of seminary life, in particular as lead Cantor in both Tenor and Bass for Liturgical celebrations. His gifted voice brought him to the stage, each year playing the lead roles in Gilbert & Sullivan Musicals. His seminary days were also marked with challenges and clashes with the ecclesial authorities, something that would repeat itself often during his priestly life.
Frequently critical of the Institution, Leo loved his Catholic faith, and reverenced “the riches of its treasury” all his days.
He was ordained to the Priesthood on July 15, 1956. Since then he served in 12 parishes. In UK he ministered at All Saints in Thropton, Northumberland, St. Mary’s in Sunderland, Sacred Heart and St. Cuthbert in Amble, St. Aloysius in Hebburn, Holy Rosary in Horsley Hill and St. James in Hebburn.
In 1991 after ministering in his home diocese for 35 years, Fr Leo felt called to explore ministry in other vineyards. His preference was to be a “Worker Priest” in France, a growing movement at that time. His Bishop suggested a less radical option! At the invitation of Bishop John D’Arcy, Diocese of Fort Wayne, South Bend Leo came to USA, on loan, for two years. He was Associate Pastor at St. Mary’s in Decatur Indiana, while also serving as Chaplain at Bishop Dwenger as High School Fort Wayne, before taking a sabbatical in Notre Dame. His desire to work in Team Ministry, led him to Christ the King in Las Vegas in 1993 where he served until 2001; then as Administrator to St. John the Evangelist at Overton / Logandale. There, at 70 years old, he learned Spanish, and fulfilled the dream of parishioners to build their own Church.
On retiring 2008 he assisted at St. Joseph Husband of Mary and Holy Spirit Catholic Churches. During those years he also served as Chaplain to the St. Rose Dominican hospitals until his illness in 2015. His service, availability and care for the sick were hallmarks of his ministry. His love of The Word of God in Scripture was his life’s passion. He loved to quote from the French Diary of a Country Priest: “God will ask His Priests what have you done with my Word”. He honored that question all his days.
Fr Leo served his people with honesty and integrity, humility and kindness. He knew his calling was to continue the mission of Jesus: “to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, set the downtrodden free. . . “. Among his last words were “I think I set people free”. His favorite ways of describing his ministry was “peoplehood”. The tributes pouring in from parishioners and friends from all sectors of society in UK and USA are testimony to the prophetic and courageous, kind and humble priest that Fr. Leo was. It was not surprising that he died in the middle of the International week of Prayer for Christian Unity. His friendships and relationships with people of all faiths were central to his ministry. In 2006 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his ordination, the LDS Bishop of Logandale paid this tribute: “Leo is building a Church here for his people, but he is doing much more important work, he is building bridges between our peoples and our faiths”.
Fr. Leo was a Renaissance man. An artist, musician and writer himself, his love of art, music, literature, scholarship, science, and Religion were expansive. He loved to travel, enjoyed learning other languages, cultures, culinary diversities, religions and traditions. His world view was global. Weeks before he died he talked of learning Japanese. His ministry and his friends crossed all boundaries of race, creed, sexual orientation, financial position or social standing. He saw only the human being, and respected that dignity in each person. His honesty and integrity influenced the disaffected, inspired the seeker, and restored faith for disillusioned youth.
Fr. Leo is mourned by his brother Kevin; nieces Paula (Jim Argo and Jane (Noel) Smith; nephew John (Petra) Coughlin; great nieces Marie, Rachel, Roisin; great nephew Alastair, his longtime friend of 60 years, Dr. Roisin O’Loughlin; the entire O’Loughlin family, and a large circle of friends in UK, Ireland and USA. May his gentle soul and his soaring spirit find peace and joy in The Eternal Presence.
Funeral Services are planned for Tuesday January 31st at Christ The King Catholic Church on Tropicana and Torrey Pines.
Viewing 2.p.m. – 4.p.m. Funeral Mass at 4.30 p.m. Reception following in Parish Hall.
Family flowers only. Donations if desired to Catholic Worker; Catholic Charities, Stillpoint: Center for Spiritual Development.
Family and friends can sign an online memorial guestbook at www.bouldercityfamilymortuary.com.