August 9th a memorial Mass was held at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in Birmingham, Alabama for Father James Coyle who was murdered on August 11, 1921 . For those who have forgotten….or perhaps never knew….anti-Catholicism, encouraged by the Ku Klux Klan, was rampant in the United States throughout much of the deep south at that time. Father Coyle, a native of Ireland, came to the U.S. and eventually was assigned to the parish in Birmingham.
The daughter of a local Methodist pastor, E.R. Stephenson, converted to the Catholic faith, a fact that enraged her father. When it became known that Father Coyle had secretly married her daughter to a Puerto Rican immigrant, Stephenson approached Father Coyle at the rectory and shot him three times in view of everyone.
The ensuing trial was a sham and Stephenson was acquitted.
The encouraging part of this story is the fact that On February 22, 2012, Bishop William H. Willimon of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church presided over a service of reconciliation and forgiveness at Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham.
Father Coyle is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, a ten-foot high Celtic cross marking his resting place. Plans are underway to re-inter his body near the Cathedral of St. Paul in downtown Birmingham.
To learn more about this courageous priest click here (source for this article).