|May 8, 2013 Chicago IVC Evening of Gratitude - more photos here|
Left to right: Fr. Brian Paulson, SJ; MER, Sheila Smith, Chair BEF;
Christine Curran, IVC; Ed Coffey and George Sullivan
The night was billed as "An Evening of Gratitude" and the Chicago Ignatian Volunteer Corps hosted their annual Mass and Awards program followed by a reception at the Ignatius House Jesuit Community. This would also be the evening when the Joan Lueder Coffey Service Award was publicly announced in the beautiful Madonna Della Strada Chapel at Loyola University-Lakeshore Campus on May 8. A number of Sacred Heart alums attended the event. Click here to read my blog entry dated May 6th for further details on the award.
The following remarks were made by Joan’s husband Ed Coffey on May 8th.
Good evening. It is wonderful to be back in Chicago, and I am honored to be sharing this event with the IVC, their dedicated volunteers, and all of you. I am also very pleased to be joining the Barat Education Foundation and the Alumni Association of the Sacred Heart in establishing the Joan Lueder Coffey Service Award to support and advance the mission of the IVC. I am inspired by the profiles that I have read of each of the recipients of the awards to be presented this evening, and the extraordinary work they have and continue to undertake in service to their communities and the good people that they support on a continuing basis. I hope that the addition of this service award memorializing Joan, a woman who devoted her entire adult life to educating and inspiring others to learn and then serve the needs of their students, families, and the community at large will help to further advance the IVC to serve, educate, improve and inspire those most in need in the Chicago area.
Both Joan and I have family roots on the North Side of Chicago, she in Transfiguration Parish where her family lived when Joan was born, and my parents’ families in St. Jerome, St. Margaret Mary, and St. Henry. My brother and I both graduated from St. George in Evanston, and my sister Ann Murray, a Catholic school educator in the Chicago Archdiocese for 40 years recently retired, closing out her service at Queen of All Saints.
When my beloved Joan died in the summer of 2003, the university newspaper at Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas, north of Houston, where she had been a member of the History Department faculty for 13 years, announced her death in an article headlined “Inspirational History Professor Dies after Eight-year Battle with Cancer.” In a somewhat over the top statement characteristic of many a college student, one student was quoted in the article saying “Dr. Coffey was a teacher who knew everything there is to know about history.” Another commented “She had high standards. She expected a lot from her students, but I’m sure they can look back and say they had the best.” The latter I think was on the mark. She expected a lot but she gave the students the full measure of her knowledge, including that collected not only from study and research related to the course material, but also that gathered from her own travel, and her extensive collections of art and music.
Joan took her inspiration for life and her work first from her parents who sacrificed much to ensure both of their daughters had college educations that their parents had not enjoyed. On a Sunday afternoon in 1961, when Joan and her parents visited the Barat campus and had their first experience with the Society of the Sacred Heart order of nuns who ran the College, the RSCJ’s as we more familiarly know them now, they were greeted and shown around by Sister Burke, then president of the College, but also the chief tour guide. Joan committed to attending immediately, and the tour that lasted perhaps an hour began Joan’s relationship to the spiritual, moral, philosophical, cultural, and personal values of St. Madeline Sophie Barat and the Sacred Heart order that she founded, values that remained with her and strongly influenced her for the remainder of her life.
Joan’s relationship with the Sacred Heart, first fostered at Barat, was further strengthened and enriched as she taught at Sacred Heart schools in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Woodlands in Lake Forest. Her work and really her entire life were always a wonderful reflection of the words expressed by St. Madeline Sophie Barat, who said, “Your example, even more than your words, will be an eloquent lesson to the world.”
Joan’s research and writing focused on French social, cultural, and religious history, consciously chosen because of lessons learned at Barat and the other Sacred Heart schools where she taught. Her book, Leon Harmel, Entrepreneur as Catholic SocialReformer, addressed the practices of a late 19th century French factory owner who was a social reformer and faithful visionary Catholic, far ahead of his time in introducing labor reforms directed at providing workers improved compensation and benefits largely unheard of at industrial facilities in France at that time, and supporting worker pilgrimages to Rome that helped to influence the social teachings of Pope Leo XIII as expressed in his encyclical, Rerum Novarum.
When Joan and I established a speaker series at Barat in the late 1990’s to honor Sister Marguerite Green, Joan’s mentor at Barat, and address issues of social justice and concern, the first speaker was Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, whose lifelong objective has been and continues to be abolition of capital punishment. So moved was Joan by Sr. Prejean’s words that she immediately tried to get her to speak at Sam Houston State, which is located less than a mile from the execution chamber used by the State of Texas Criminal Justice system, by far the most active such facility in the country if not the world. Sr. Prejean was not able to speak there before Joan died, but the annual symposium at Sam Houston State that gathers in memory of Joan welcomed her as its first speaker where she spoke movingly not only of Joan, but the issue of capital punishment, and her mission to eradicate it, to a packed house of people on all sides of the issue.
Even after Joan was ill, she continued her work with barely a pause, assuming along with me responsibility for the eucharistic ministry to the sick and homebound in our home parish in Texas, researching and writing, in the term prior to her death, teaching along with another cancer stricken member of her department a course dealing with death and dying, and completing her book, including carefully proofreading each of its more than 1200 research footnotes. But mostly she remained focused on her teaching, and especially those students who were like her first in their families to attend college, or were minorities, or did not have English as their first language, or were often not blessed with good study habits and did not write or test well.
Let me close by recalling her relationship with one young man in particular. He struggled mightily and Joan spent a great deal of time with him reviewing and rewriting and resubmitting papers. He needed a C on a final exam, and he came in very uncertain of his prospects, but when the results of the test that she always reviewed without reference to student identities were in and he passed, he came to Joan and with tears in his eyes and folded hands, and told her that he made it because of her support, and that of Sweet Jesus. Forever after, he was SJ to us.
Thank you again for the honor of being with you tonight, and may God bless you in doing His work. I know Joan will be smiling as she sees all of us here moving forward and continuing to inspire others as she would, making a difference in the lives of God’s people, especially those deeply in need.