|Fr. James Coyle. Credit: Starquest Media|
Onward to today's glimpse of the past: the 1921 murder of a Catholic priest in Alabama. (I figure it's close enough to Florida.)
I'm a history fan and I knew nothing of this incident until a couple of weeks ago. The American Catholic History podcast did an episode about the killing of Father James Coyle. Find the show and episode on your favorite podcast platform or listen via the Starquest Media website.
In a nutshell, Fr. Coyle was gunned down by a Methodist Episcopal minister who was angry because his daughter had converted to Catholicism. And had then married a man who was Puerto Rican. And that Fr. Coyle had performed both the baptism and the marriage ceremony.
Pastor of the cathedral in Birmingham, Fr. Coyle wasn't even 30 years old yet. This being 1921 Alabama, the minister was acquitted at his trial. Apparently he and his court system cronies were all members of the locally powerful Ku Klux Klan. Wikipedia says the Klan even paid for the minister's defense.
But there's a brighter side to this sad story. People reallly were shocked. I mean, Fr. Coyle was sitting on his front porch and the angry minister strode up and shot him in the head. The anti-Catholic sentiment that was heavy and strong in that time and place started to wane slowly - very slowly.
Pockets of anti-Catholicism remain, even now, but nothing like in the past. I went to a non-Catholic funeral a few years ago in a small town in Florida. The Penecostal pastor refused to shake hands or look me in the eye as we filed out after the service. He'd seen me make the sign of the Cross during the service.
That was one person, not an entire congregation or denomination. But you have only to look around for a few seconds to see the division that separates people today. I'm firmly in the camp that extends a hand and wants to sit down and talk. I just buried my parents' cremains a week ago after a COVID-induced delay of many months (years in my mother's case). I'm reminded that life is short. And that love is what matters.