Happy anniversary, Father Ed

I first met Ed Coyne back in the ’60s at St. Mary’s Church on the East Side of Bridgeport where I went to confession. He was just starting out in his new life as a priest and I was a troublesome youngster.

While I can’t remember what sins I confessed that Saturday afternoon, I remember he wasn’t very pleased and I had to listen to a long lecture. When I pulled aside the curtain to leave, I swore, “I’m never going back to that priest!”

Well, I did and the experience was a lot better in the years that followed. Either he mellowed or I got religion.

Father Edwin Coyne of Milford, who celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination on May 26, always seemed to be a combination of colorful characters like James Cagney and, as his colleague Father Len Kvedas likes to say, Barney Rubble.

After a career in corporate America and the military, he was ordained from St. James Church in Stratford and over the next five decades his religious vocation took him to the prisons, the Peru missions, the armed services, the inner-city parishes, the poorest neighborhoods of Connecticut and rooms filled with addicts and alcoholics, where he always brought the word of God along with counseling, compassion and his characteristic self-effacing humor.

I still remember the time I dragged my youngest daughter to St. Joseph High School in Trumbull for an open house because I had a fantasy that she might give my alma mater a try. Parents and kids gathered in the gym to listen to administrators and faculty members on stage praising the curriculum, the college acceptances, the sports program and school spirit.

When it was the spiritual director’s turn to talk, Father Coyne stepped to the microphone and proclaimed, “Our most important mission …” causing all of us to immediately listen intently.

What was the most important mission? To get them into an Ivy League college? To ensure high SAT scores? To win state athletic championships? To find them dates for the prom?

Then, he bellowed in his best Cagney voice, “Our most important mission is to save their souls!”

“Hmmm,” I thought, “That’s something different.”

It was hardly what we expected to hear. I suspect some parents probably never thought much about their kids’ souls until that point and certainly never considered they might be in jeopardy.

I’ve come to believe, however, that a lot of souls are saved when we least expect it and Father Ed has done his share of work in that area, especially with men and women who understand the despair and suffering caused by their addictions.

Sometimes when the world gets me down, I think of Ed Coyne and a handful of other men and women I’ve been blessed to know, who have integrity, compassion and virtue. They help me remember there’s still goodness out there, and they’re a power of example for the rest of us, groveling in the pursuit of possessions, pleasure, romance and prestige.

I count myself a better person for knowing Father Coyne and I’m pleased to say when I go to him for confession he doesn’t yell anymore.

Happy anniversary, Ed, and many more.

 

Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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