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This article is about a murdered priest, for James Coyle the software programmer, see Mystic BBS.
Father James Coyle.

Father James E. Coyle (March 23, 1873 — August 11, 1921), a Roman Catholic priest who was murdered in Birmingham, Alabama.

Coyle attended Mungret College in Limerick and the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was ordained a priest in Rome on May 30, 1896, aged 23.

He sailed later that year, with fellow priest, Father Michael Henry, to the port of Mobile, Alabama and served under Bishop Edward Patrick Allen. He became an instructor, and later rector, of the McGill Institute for Boys. In 1904 Bishop Allen appointed Coyle to succeed Patrick O'Reilly as pastor of the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Birmingham, where he was well-received and loved by the congregation.[1] Father Coyle was a Knights of Columbus chaplain of Birmingham, Alabama Council 666.[2]


Father Coyle was shot in the head on the porch of St. Paul's Rectory on August 11, 1921 by Methodist minister and Klansman E. R. Stephenson. The murder occurred hours after Coyle officiated at a secret wedding between Stephenson's daughter, Ruth, and Pedro Gussman, a Puerto Rican who had met Ruth while doing work for Stephenson at his house five years previously and had been a customer of Stephenson's barber shop. Several months before the wedding, Ruth had converted to Catholicism.

Stephenson was charged with Father Coyle's murder. The Ku Klux Klan paid for the defense, of the five lawyers, four were Klan members. The case was assigned to the Alabama courtroom of Judge William E. Fort, a Klansman. Hugo Black, a future Justice of the Supreme Court defended Stephenson.

The defense plea was soon switched from a self-defense to insanity. Stephenson was acquitted by one vote of the jury. One of Stephenson's attorneys responded to the prosecution's assertion that Gussman was of "proud Castilian descent" by saying "he has descended a long way".[citation needed]

Coyle was buried in Elmwood Cemetery.

The outcome of the murder trial for Father Coyle's assassin had a chilling impact on Catholics, who found themselves the target of Klan violence for many years to come.[citation needed] Nevertheless, by 1941 a Catholic writer in Birmingham would write "...the death of Father Coyle was the climax of the anti-Catholic feeling in Alabama. After the trial there followed such revulsion of feeling among the right-minded who before had been bogged down in blindness and indifference that slowly and almost unnoticeably the Ku Klux Klan and their ilk began to lose favor among the people." (McGough - 1941)


  1. ^ Columbia Magazine, Tragedy in Birmingham, Sharon Davies, March 2010, Vol. 90, Number 3, page 31.
  2. ^ Columbia Magazine, Tragedy in Birmingham, Sharon Davies, March 2010, Vol. 90, Number 3, page 31.

Davies, Sharon (Oxford University Press 2010)Rising Road, A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America.

  • Garrison, Greg (August 20, 2006) "Burial site set for priest Klansman killed in '21", The Birmingham News.
  • Beecher, Mrs. L. T. (September 1921) "The Passing of Father Coyle", Catholic Monthly, vol. #12
  • McGough, Helen (August 1, 1941) "Things I Remember about Father Coyle, His Death, Twenty Years Afterwards", Catholic Weekly.

External links

Rising Road, A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America,by Sharon Davies (Oxford University Press 2010)



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