February 25, 2011

Our New Auxiliary Bishop

Closeness and humor mark the family of Bishop Coyne

In 2002, Rita and William Coyne celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with their six surviving children. From left to right, standing behind their parents, are Maureen, Daniel, Patricia, Christopher, Anne Marie and Brian. (Submitted photo)

In 2002, Rita and William Coyne celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with their six surviving children. From left to right, standing behind their parents, are Maureen, Daniel, Patricia, Christopher, Anne Marie and Brian. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

It’s a humorous story that shows part of the essence of a family—a story from the lifelong competition between Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne and his sister, Patricia, to gain the attention and the praise of their parents.

The challenge was even harder for the brother and sister while growing up since they were part of a family of seven children, with Christopher being the fourth child and Patricia being the fifth.

“Like children do, we wanted praise and a moment or two at the center of our particular universe,” recalls Patricia (Coyne) Silverman. “While I can’t tell you the first time the word ‘points’ was used in a conversation between the two of us, I do know it was at a young age.

“Over the years, as one of us did a good deed or made a good grade, Chris and I would invariably end up in a discussion about the points this would gain us with Mom and/or Dad. If we were unlucky enough to have done something to get in the family doghouse, the other person would commiserate while gleefully tallying the points that would be coming off the current total.”

It’s a competition that has continued into adulthood with back-and-forth changes in momentum until a phone conversation in December altered the scoreboard forever.

“You can imagine my secret delight when Chris called to tell me he was moving to the Midwest,” recalls Silverman, who initially believed that the move would be tough for their parents to embrace. “Unfortunately, he followed the moving to the Midwest part with the ‘I am being ordained a bishop in Indianapolis’ part. All I could think was, ‘What am I supposed to do for points to top that?!’ ”

That story shows the closeness and humor that mark the family of Bishop-designate Coyne, the new auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese.

Then there is the telling story from the mother of the new bishop, a story of immense pride mixed with sadness.

‘He’s the spark of the family’

At 82, Rita Coyne is the parish secretary at St. Barbara Parish in Woburn, Mass., a job she has held for more than 30 years. She and her husband, William, have been married for 58 years. Their family and their faith mean everything to them. She has also always loved the blessing of having her entire extended family close by.

On the day after Christmas, the foundations of family and faith intertwined again as her fourth child drove her to her favorite getaway place for a few days—the family beach cottage in Maine.

“Chris and I were in the car,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Oh, I have something to tell you, but you have to keep a secret.’ After he told me [about being appointed a bishop], I didn’t say anything. I filled up inside. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I was being very selfish. I didn’t want him to go away. He’s the spark of the family. Chris has always made us a part of his life, no matter what parish he is in. Family means everything to us.”

Yet, the pain was soon mixed with pride, especially when she listened to the reaction of her 88-year-old husband to the news.

“Bill’s health isn’t great, but the first thing he said was, ‘Oh, Chris, that’s so wonderful for you. You really deserve it,’ ” she recalls. “I think that’s what we all should have said. Bill just had the right attitude about it. I know Chris will do an excellent job. Whatever he does, he always puts his whole heart in it.”

From trouble to cool and holy

As her son looks forward to becoming an auxiliary bishop, his mother shares some memories of a time when his destiny didn’t seem possible.

“Growing up, he was very mischievous,” Rita Coyne says. “He was always into trouble, little things. On

teacher-parent meeting days, I always went to his teacher first to hear the bad things. Then I’d go to his sisters’ teachers and hear all the wonderful things. He almost got thrown out of Scouts, but a couple of leaders persevered. He’s not Mister Goody Two Shoes.”

But he is a good priest and pastor, she says. And she wanted that quality to shine through when his official photos as an auxiliary bishop were taken.

“He asked me about the photos, and I told him to choose the one with the smile because he loves being a priest,” she says. “There’s not a lot of happiness in the world, and if you can show people that you’re happy, you should.”

Even his sister, Patricia, gives him points for his personality.

“Chris is very good with almost any age group,” she says. “He prides himself on staying current even with the minutia of pop culture, especially as it relates to younger people. Unlike some people our age, he can tell you who SpongeBob SquarePants and Justin Bieber are. The young nieces and nephews love him.

“He’s a little bit of a contradiction in that he likes his solitude, and finds it important, I think, for his spiritual life. At the same time, he is very social, the more-the-merrier kind of guy. He is the party hoster/organizer for the family, the kind of guy that in years past was in charge of the annual sandcastle-building on the beach in Maine, and who recently hosted a 50th wedding anniversary party for an aunt and uncle.”

He is also a “cool uncle,” according to his 26-year-old nephew, Michael Silverman, Patricia’s son.

“I’m amazed at how easily he connects with every age group, especially younger people,” Michael says. “When I was in college, he was invited to speak to the Catholic group on my campus, and [he] came and stayed for dinner afterward, even though it was two hours in each direction out of his way. He has always been great around me and my cousins, taking us to sporting events, movies and concerts. When I told one of my friends that he had been made a bishop, my friend asked, ‘Is this the cool uncle you have?’ ”

‘You are lucky to have him’

All those people qualities will be part of his gift as an auxiliary bishop, family members say.

“He will be very accessible to people,” his mother says. “I think the priests will like him. He believes in them. He believes the parish is where it all starts.”

And here’s one final point from his sister, Patricia.

“I know he has a lot to offer the archdiocese,” she says. “But while he is certainly a learned, spiritual person who will provide leadership, he is also a regular guy. He is your brother, son, uncle, friend—a guy with a wicked sense of humor that you would be happy to spend time with talking about the last book you read, the game you watched or just the state of the world in general.

“I know he’s happy for this opportunity, and I am happy for all of you in Indianapolis because he is really a good guy on so many levels. You are lucky to have him.” †

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