Paul Coakley Stories
Just a few of our favorite stories of Paul Coakley
*How this project works: Please add your story below using the format. We plan to go through and edit a few of them together later and pick out the best ones to present to Ann and Paul’s family.
by -your name-
How Do You Know Paul-
The guy I wanted to be
by Tim Willoughby
How Did You Know Paul: I went to FUS with him, and he was my household brother
Paul Coakley was one of the first people I met at Franciscan university when I began my freshman year in the fall of 1999. I remember insane/hilarious stunts at the orientation weekend events where this "acrobat" performed these wild skits with no regard for his own safety and no worry that he could fail in front of hundreds of people. Knowing paul now, even if he had, it wouldn't have mattered. The man carried no pretenses and the idea of caring what other people thought probably never once entered into his mind throughout his entire life.
I went on camping trips with Paul, did the outdoors club with him, and roomed with him at Francis hall for a semester. He was the main reason I joined The Brothers of the Eternal Song. During the time I knew him, I never saw him act unkind. I never saw any vice. Never a curse word or a mean one about another person. I really mean never. Not even once. I never knew him to be anything other than a humble, gentle, and incredibly adventurous person. As I write this, memories of him flood back and they put a smile on my face.
When we were roommates, Paul never had a sheet on his bed (mostly because I'm not sure he ever slept there) and his possessions consisted of a bunch of climbing gear and packs and a mountain bike which he stored in our tiny dorm room (always covered in mud). He was never at the dorm unless he was returning from some recent adventure. I almost can't imagine him attending a class, though I'm sure he must have.
I've seen him covered in blood, totally unaware and unaffected by his latest injuries. Usually wearing clothes he had borrowed from my closet!
He was an accidental leader and always reached out to the least of his peers; people like myself who looked up to him so much and hoped to catch a little of what he had.
Purity of heart, love of God, and pure testosterone.... I've seen him climb cliffs then jump off of them, climb the highest trees and sway them back and forth from the very top cutting off branches and throwing them down like a wild animal. I've seen this man take beatings from other household brothers who just couldn't understand why this lunatic was laughing while they did their best to make him stop. On our wing, people would try to wrestle with paul but no one ever won. It's not that he was good at wrestling, and it's not that he ever won. He didn't try to. Its just that he was invincible. I did a ropes course with paul once and he had to jump off a 20foot high telephone pole to catch a trapeze. Since it was too easy for him, he decided to catch it with one hand instead of two and then he proceeded to do 25 pull ups before dropping.
Once, late at night, Paul, myself, and a few other guys climbed the train bridge in Steubenville. Not the level with the tracks but the level above the tracks. 6 inch wide cross beams crisscrossed the tracks at least 100 feet above the water. Paul literally ran across the beams. I can't describe how terrifying and dangerous this was but imagine being a seemingly infinite height above a dark and terrifying river and not having the sense to be afraid! That's Paul. No fear and no use for it. Anyways, after he got bored with that he jumped off into the pitch black Ohio river and swam to shore.
My first time on a dirt bike was with Paul. I would have been scared as hell considering the speed and the trail but there was this trust in Paul's abilities. I always trusted Paul implicitly. His character and strength were always beyond reproach and he was capable of anything.
I don't think these stories do justice to the memories I have of him but his impact on my life was permanent and I have so much respect for him. I consider myself lucky to know him and I will always hold dear my memories of Paul Coakley. Paul was one of the manliest men I've ever known and certainly one of the most saintly.
He will be sorely missed.
God bless him on his journey.
“Can I swing by and grab my handglider?”
by Jessica Norton
How Did You Know Paul: I went to FUS with him
So I felt like I should share a little about Paul in my life. #paulprayforus
I was not the closest to Paul Coakley, I knew him and some times I knew him well but most of the time I just felt honored when I got to share in some of his joy. I met Paul when I was in middle school. My brother was at Steubenville and I went out to visit him. His sister was at school and friends with my brother. Paul went out to visit her and check out the school. The Coakelys and the Gehls became fast friends. Once Paul started at school he would often come up to buffalo for trips. I was so excited when he came (being a high school girl how could I not!) he was always so excited and joyful. He had the craziest ideas of fun things to do and he could make anyone do them. I never felt looked down upon, never felt like I was just tagging a long, I always felt welcome. I never remember him not being joyful. I have gone on camping trips with him, been rock climbing with him, been to the bench, and many other adventures. He had a way of praising God in just living. I wanted to have that sort of trust and joy.
One of my favorite memories was when I was a senior in high school. My parents were out of town for a conference and I was home alone. It was Friday morning and I was getting dressed for school when the phone rang. "Hi Jessie! It's Paul" I can still hear it. He was hoping to drive up to buffalo that night and get his hang glider out of my parents barn.... Because who doesn't have a hang guilder. He wanted to know if he and a few others could crash at our house for the night. I said maybe and quickly called my parents and asked them if Paul could spend the night with a few other guys. Since it was Paul they had no problem at all.... It's Paul!! Let me tell you, I felt like the coolest girl in the world that day, my parents were out of town and I was having 3 college guys stay at my house! I knew it was because Paul was such an amazing guy. Honest, true, good, respectful, and everything a good man should be. They came and I had a blast with them. Paul was like a big brother coming home and was very happy to see me and I was even invited to go rock climbing with them the next morning.
Paul had a way of making everyone feel special. His joy was contiguous and his laughter memorable. I feel truly blest to have known him. I know he is in Heaven praising God and going on all knew adventures. I hope that when my children grow up they meet someone like Paul. And as they do crazy things I hope and pray that Paul Coakely is ready to catch them if they fall.
by Scott Cruess
How Do You Know Paul- Household Brother at The Franciscan University of Steubenville
One of my first memories of Paul was he and Phil Constanzo (the other half of the “PC2”)
at my Freshman Orientation at The Franciscan University of Steubenville, flying off
the stage in a grocery cart. Soon after, he devised a “Joey Coup Lord’s Day” out in the
woods that concluded with Paul “levitating” by jumping out over a cliff connected to
a rope system that he had hung over the branch of a tree (St. Joseph Cupertino is our
Household Saint, known for levitating in the presence of the Eucharist). I later watched
him shimmy about 40 feet or so up the truck of the tree in order to untie his rope system
There was also the time that he and Phil convinced me to help them steal all the shower
curtains out of my own dorm. I got caught trying to get the last shower curtain out, but
Paul and Phil strung the rest of the shower curtains across the road near the Cafeteria with
the words “Live the Franciscan Way” across them (At the time their dorm, St. Francis, had community showers).
While other college students were out drinking, Paul took anyone with a taste for
adventure hiking, camping, cliff jumping, rock climbing, canoeing or any other number
of random outdoor activities. He took me snowboarding for the first time, and in true Paul fashion convinced me to go right to the top of the mountain with him almost before I even knew how to strap on my board. Of course, he also stayed with me the whole day while I slid and tumbled down the slopes, though I am quite sure that he would have much rather spent the day with his more experienced friends who had come along on the trip as well.
During Christmas break one year, Paul invited me to go on an overnight snow-shoeing
expedition in the Sierra Nevadas. I was excited, but had my doubts that I would be able
to convince my Mom that snow camping was such a good idea. Her response surprised
me though; she let me go because she trusted Paul and his Guardian Angel. So off we
went into the High Sierras with little more than a map and a prayer... and an out-of-
tune mini guitar on which Paul and our friend Mike Eck played the one song they knew,
“Free-Falling” as we trudged through the snow. My boots were not even remotely
waterproof, and the zipper broke on my sub-par (as opposed to sub-zero) sleeping bag
that night. I ended up sleeping between Paul and Mike in a small pup tent in an attempt
to stay warm. In the end, we all woke up cold, but far from miserable the next morning.
After breakfast, Paul tried to use bacon grease to waterproof my boots after breakfast, which in the end probably just turned me into bear bait, but we made it back alive, and I wouldn’t trade that experience or time spent with Paul for anything.
On another adventure, a group of Brothers (our Christian Fraternity at Steubenville) went
up to Algonquin Provincial Park in Canada for few nights. We had a few canoes full
of guys, and were planning on paddling out to an island up in the more isolated area of
the park. A few of the guys had to leave early, so Paul and I paddled back with them
to where the cars were parked, dropped them off, picked up our friend Ben Gehl’s car
that had broken down on the way up, and then turned around and started paddling back
to meet up with the rest of the group. At one point, Paul looked at the map and found
a “shortcut.” The shortcut ended up taking us across a beaver dam, through a swamp
and then on a cross-country portage up a steep embankment through the middle of the
woods, but we did end up making it back to the camp, and may have even shaved off a minute or two.
After graduation, a group of us decided to take a little road trip from Ohio to Alaska, by
way of Arizona, cramped in the back of Paul’s Toyota pickup truck. We stopped at the
Grand Canyon, played the nickel slots in Las Vegas for a few hours in the middle of the
night for free drinks, crashed our friend Dominic Polito’s week-long bachelor party for a few days switched out the pickup truck for his parent’s 12-passenger van in California, and headed up the coast to Alaska, where we ate at a restaurant that was in an old bus, walked on a glacier, hiked along a ridgeline to get a better view of Mt. McKinley and saw a variety of wildlife, including bear and moose, sometimes a bit too close for comfort. Alaska may have been the destination, but the entire trip was an adventure. Come to think of it, pretty much any time you spent time with Paul, was an adventure!
Paul showed up to my wedding in Upstate New York with his newly married wife
Ann... in a big rig. That’s right, Paul and Ann got married and spent the first years of
the marriage driving back and forth across the country in an 18-wheeler. That’s Paul... and
that’s Ann! Absolutely perfect for each other and up for anything!
“All men die, but not all men truly live,” famously quoted by William Wallace in the
Movie “Braveheart” could very well have been written about Paul Coakley. Paul didn’t
just “Carpe Diem”... he seized the day with both hands and shook all the joy, all the
adventure, all the love out of it! We will miss Paul here on Earth, but I am sure he is on
to a new, more exciting adventure, and I would not be a bit surprised if, one day, he is the
Patron Saint of Outdoorsmen, Road trips and Extreme Sports!
15 States in 10 Days
by Jason Pohlmeier
Brother of the Eternal Song, FUS Class of 2005
For Spring Break 2002, five Brothers of the Eternal Song piled into Paul Coakley’s’91 Ford Ranger and set out for California. They were Paul Coakley (‘01), Sean Wilson (’01), Eric Harkins (’05), Mike Mason (’05) and Jason Pohlmeier (’05). The truck was a regular cab with a camper on the back. This meant that two could ride in the front with the other three in the back. However, the back was quite luxurious with sleeping bags for padding and a laptop for movies. We gathered outside Francis Hall for a pre-trip blessing. Sean climbed onto the cab and poured a gallon of holy water over the whole truck for good measure. We left Steubenville on Thursday, March 7th at about 10:30 p.m., with the plan of taking a northern route west, driving south along the coast and returning along a southern route. Of course plans are made to be broken!
We passed through a rainy Chicago shortly after sunrise the next morning and were welcomed by the sound of the truck sputtering and stopping as it ran out of gas. We should have known as we piled out into the rain and began to push that our adventures were just beginning. As we got farther west and towns became fewer and farther between, gas remained an issue. At one point in the wee hours of the morning Sean and I sat in the front watching the gauge dwindle while for miles and miles we passed no gas stations. When the needle hit empty we began the rosary. As I began to lead the 5th mystery, I knew we would be okay. Just as we were saying the last prayers a town rose into view, and we coasted to a station. According to Sean, we put 19.3 gallons in the 19 gallon tank.
Our first stop was supposed to be in Rapid City, South Dakota, just long enough to see Mount Rushmore. As you may have guess by now, this did not go exactly as we had hoped. The weather Friday night was not the best. It was the coldest day that that region had had all winter. When we crossed the Mississippi River in Minnesota, it was frozen solid. As we drove through South Dakota the radio reported a wind chill of 40 below. In some ways the wind helped with the driving because it blew the snow off of the road instead of letting it stick. In some ways it did not help, because we realized a window on the camper was broken and the snow was coming in. We were finally within an hour of Rapid City, and again we had not seen a town in quite some time. Nature began to call some of us very loudly. We finally saw an exit with a gas station listed. Little did we know that this gas station would be three miles from the road and closed. We shut off the truck and ran up to the door to check, but it was fruitless. When we returned to the truck, it would not start. We were now broken down three miles from the road in a wind chill of 40 below. We popped the hood and Paul began to fiddle. We tried to start it, and the engine just cranked and cranked. Paul fiddled some more and the truck started better than it had the whole trip. We leaned out the window to celebrate, and Paul was nowhere in sight. Suddenly from the back of the truck comes Paul running and jumping into the truck while exclaiming “I got shocked! I got shocked!” Maybe it didn’t help that he was working with battery terminals while standing waist deep in snow.
We got to Rapid City about 24 hours after we left Steubenville. Even though it was late, we decided to try to see Mount Rushmore. We made our way up the winding road to Rushmore to find that there were no lights on, and we were not able to see it anyway. On our way back down the hill we ran into real problems. The transmission decided to quit working just as we passed through a tiny town called Keystone. It was too cold to try to sleep in the truck. While almost everything between Rapid City and Mt. Rushmore is shut down at this time of year, we got very lucky and there was one hotel open in Keystone. We had the truck towed to Rapid City the next day, but, being a Saturday, no transmission shops were open. Paul, who had much experience working on this truck, pulled the transmission himself, but he could not fix the problem. We had no choice but to wait until Monday.
It is in dark hours such as these that the Lord sends us a little light. My oldest brother is a priest, and it just so happened that one of his seminary classmates, Fr. Brian Christensen was a priest in Rapid City. I called Fr. Christensen to see if he could help us find a place to stay. He actually had two options for us to choose from, the floor of the rectory or a cabin set deep in the Black Hills National Forest that the diocese just happened to own. He also offered us the use of his car for the weekend. After long deliberation we decided to take the cabin. We hit the grocery store and then made our way into the wilderness. Needless to say this turned into the highlight of the trip. The Saturday that started with a broken down truck in the snow ended with a roaring fire and a Catholic trivia board game we found in the cabin called “Is the Pope Catholic?”
Sunday morning we returned to Keystone where Fr. Brian said mass. More than a few people were interested in our story. After mass he and another family took us to breakfast at a cafe at Mount Rushmore. Fr. Brian then proceeded to defeat us handily in a snow ball fight in the parking lot of Mt. Rushmore. We then returned to the cabin under blue skies and mild temperatures and spent Sunday walking along a frozen creek that ran alongside the cabin and climbing some of the Black Hills. We were able to get the truck fixed Monday for only $37, and we were able to leave by five o'clock. We crossed three states in the next 24 hours and made it to the Coakley’s house in California by six on Tuesday.
We left there Wednesday and headed south through California. Paul and Sean went to visit some old friends and the rest of us went to Thomas Aquinas College. We hit the Pacific Ocean on Thursday and met up again that night to hit the road. We knew some other Franciscan students, including another household brother, Thomas Kosh (’04), were camping in Joshua Tree National Park. We met up with Thomas for some midnight rock climbing at Joshua Tree. We piled back into the truck at about two in the morning.
Around noon Friday we made it to the Grand Canyon. We stayed there for only an hour or so before taking off for Mike Mason's house in Gallup, New Mexico. The plan was to eat with his
family and then continue on to my house in Arkansas before returning to school, but as we got close to Gallup the truck showed signs of more problems. A spindle, bearings, and a rotor were bad, so we were stuck again as the week drew closer to an end. At about seven o'clock New Mexico time Mike, Eric, and I moved our gear into Mike’s car (he was freshman so his car was at home) and headed back. Paul and Sean decided to stay with the truck. We made it back in 28 hours including a two hour stop for mass in Springfield, Illinois. We arrived in Steubenville at about 1:00 a.m. Monday morning. The earliest classes any of us had were at twelve o'clock so we still managed about seven hours of sleep. Paul and Sean got back about nine that morning.
Although we didn't get to do all the things we had planned, we did accomplish our goal of having an adventure and getting back on time and in one piece. Over 10 days the trip covered a total of 15 states and approximately 6,000 miles and provided stories we have shared ever since.
The Welcoming Sprite Man
by Dave Craige
How Did You Know Paul: I went to FUS with him, and he was my household brother
The tent was overflowing with people. It was orientation fall of 2000. After a few skits two energetic students came on stage and began doing a hilarious sprite skit. I don't remember exactly what was, but it had something to do with Phil Costanzo pouring sprite into Paul Coakley's face. Sprite was going everywhere. I think later they also had a skit where Paul was thrown off the stage as well maybe into a shopping cart or something. I just member and being hilarious and the audience loved it. I was so impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the two actors on stage.
Later I would get a chance to meet Paul in person. Sure enough he was jovial and positive offstage as well. In a few days after that I was impressed to see how he generously invited myself and some of my freshman friends to come camping with him. His energy was infectious. His spirit was so welcoming and and positive.
Two years later, I would join the brothers of the eternal song household, Mainly due to Paul's infectious enthusiasm. It was amazing to see how he treated people and how a person can be so positive, so fun, and also so Catholic.
I will never forget that first couple weeks of Franciscan, and the way that Paul welcomed all the freshman including myself. It was truly an incredible experience.
Snowcamping at PC2
by Dean Ferraro
How Did You Know Paul: I went to FUS with him, and he was my household brother
“Coming from SoCal I had no idea about snow camping.”
It was my first semester at Steubenville, Spring 2002 and I found myself hanging out at Francis Hall. Even though I was a Pre-The dorming it in Marian, I felt more comfortable in Francis because the Brothers were some seriously cool dudes... I met Paul, Eric Harkins, MIke Mason, Jake Welp, Thomas Kosh, Dave Craige, Tim and Bryan Willoughby, Scott Cruess(who used to dive on the asphalt in front of Francis to catch Frisbees) and the rest of the Brothers hanging out on the wing or out on the “Smoking Patio” at the end of the wing.
It might have been a Saturday night in February. We were hanging out in Francis, after getting dinner at the Caf, when Paul came in:
“Hey guys! I have an idea…” Paul said.
Next thing I knew I was running back to Marian to grab a thick jacket, some gloves and a beanie. There was NO WAY I was missing out on this adventure!
Paul and the Brothers decided it was time to go to PC2 and do some snow camping…
We piled into Paul’s beloved Ford Ranger, Josephine, and off we went. The details of exactly where the secret camp spot was are still shrouded in mystery. Or maybe it’s because I was in the back of his truck and couldn’t see out of the camper shell :) The only thing I was sure of was that we were in West Virginia, because Paul pointed out the best places to jump off the bridge that goes to West Virginia, as we were driving across it.
Once we got to PC2, we got a fire started, and out came the hotdogs wrapped in the Pillsbury croissants. They were delicious! “These guys know how to camp,” I thought to myself. We hung out for awhile, under the stars, in the fresh, cold air. I think it was Paul, TK, Mason, Eric, Jason Eck, David, big Nate O’Halloran, Katie Crofford and Katie Beiter and me.
Then the adventure started. There was a recycling plant a short hike away that had these huge piles of wood chips and conveyor belts that went 50 feet into the air. Paul was doing swan dives off the conveyor belts into the piles of wood chips. We climbed into the very highest parts of the building, we started the tractor and tried to drive it around. It was dangerous, it was cold, it was smelly, but it WAS FUN!!! After we had our fill, everything was put back to where it was(the tractor) or at least as close as we could get it…
Paul let me borrow a mummy bag and when I got into it fully clothed, he instructed me on how to use one properly. He said it worked better if you weren’t clothed, your body heat wasn’t trapped by your clothes and the bag would warm up faster and keep you warmer. I reluctantly started taking off my jacket and sweater, thinking this was a prank on a freshman and my pants and sweater would end up in the creek. But, Paul was right, once I ditched my clothes, the bag warmed right up and I slept great.
The next morning, Josephine, got stuck in the woods after Paul decided to go mudding. Once he got her free, he needed to get her back on the road. The truck was stuck in a gully that looked like a big dirt half-pipe with a road on one side. Paul’s idea was to back the truck up on one side of the gully, gas it hard and launch out of the gully, on to the road on the other side.
What looked like a solid idea to all of us, didn’t happen that way. He backed up his truck, stepped on the gas pedal and rode down the steep incline. What we didn’t realize was the soft dirt/sand at the bottom of the gully… it slowed down the truck. As he climbed the other side of the gully to launch out, he didn't have the speed to get out. Instead of making it onto the road, his truck slammed onto the edge of the road, made a loud BANG noise as the frame hit the road, popping open the back of the camper shell, dumping all of the camping gear into the path of the truck as it slid back into the gully.
So now we had camping gear that got run over, a truck stuck in a gully, but I don’t remember Paul ever getting mad or flipping out. He said he would figure it out. At that point, I got a ride back in Dave Craige’s red Audi, bumping some cool euro house music as we sped through the hills of WV.
I know Paul and his truck made it out because I saw them later that night, in front of Francis, ready for the next adventure…
Paul’s love for life was infectious and I’m sad he’s no longer physically with us. He left a great impression on me and I’m thankful to God I got to meet him. Snow camping was AWESOME. I think doing it at his funeral weekend in TN is a fitting tribute.
Homily for Paul
Mass of Christian Burial
Paul Daniel Coakley
24 January 2015
First, on behalf of Fr. Jonah, Fr. Justin, and Fr. Jose – my deepest and most sincere condolences and prayers go out to Paul’s lovely wife Ann, to their children: Christian, Damien, and Caeli Grace; to Ann’s parents David and Susan; to Paul’s parents Joe and Kathy; to his siblings: Christiana, David, John, Matt, Daniel, Katie, and Sarah; to the Brothers of the Eternal Song and to Paul’s extended family and friends. Our prayers are surely with you during this most difficult time.
It is hard to believe that we are here today. It seems like at any moment we should be waking up from this terrible nightmare. I’m still in a bit of a state of shock over it. I’m honored to have been asked to deliver the homily today but I’m really not the right person for this. Yet, who could speak so adequately about such a great person? I tried thinking of words to describe him… I came up with a few: superman, iron man, crazy man! It is descriptions such as these that describe his outlook on life – live it! Don’t be afraid to live. In the midst of all the crazy things he did that would make any mother gasp – Paul taught us never to be afraid to live. Like the time on Sonlife – spring break 2001 – when Paul scaled a palm tree… a palm tree! Then, some of us – me – tried unsuccessfully to do the same! That was also the trip where Paul got a bunch of us to sing happy birthday to Laura Stallings at a BK, including some of their staff. Laura got a free whopper and BK crown… oh, and it wasn’t her birthday! But it was fun! Then there was the time he scaled the 50 ft steel cross on campus… the road trips the adventures… the time he hung off a cliff over Summersville Lake… he was fun! I’ll also forever know the lyrics to George Thorogood’s “Ride on Josephine”, Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” and of course…. “Camper” – all thanks to Paul. He was fun. He was Mr. Outdoorsman. And there are countless stories of him jumping off train bridges, scaling cliffs and jumping off of those too – he turned 3 day weekends into adventures. On spring break 2003, a few of us drove 16 hours from Steubenville to the Gulf Shores to spend the week with Paul. It was Paul who taught a few of us how to properly kayak. He was fun and when you were with him you had fun and you truly felt important to him – you felt loved.
But none of this truly describes his character. When Christiana called me and said that Ann would like me to give the homily, she asked me to pick the Gospel reading. Immediately I thought of the Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel. I asked Christiana: “what do you think?” She replied: “perfect, perfect for Paul.” The Beatitudes to me, and to all of us who know him well, could say truly that Paul was a man of beatitude. The word itself means “blessed” – as we heard in the gospel or as St. Luke puts it: “happy.” Either way, you get Paul. Because the Beatitudes describe how the Christian life is supposed to be lived. That which Jesus teaches His disciples here, and us as well, is that while the 10 Commandments serve as guidelines for the external nature of faithfulness, the Beatitudes are the internalization of those commandments. Thus, no longer is outward observance – mere obedience – adequate for faithfulness. If one is to truly live, the faith has to be internal – it has to sink into the depths of one’s heart, mind, and soul. In other words, to be truly blessed by God, to be truly happy, one must love from the heart. Faithfulness must spring from the very depths of a person’s being. In this way, outward observance is transformed and love becomes a person’s true identity.
This, I believe, better describes the character of Paul Coakley. Love. Paul wasn’t great because he did crazy things. He wasn’t great because he drove the coolest truck ever. He wasn’t great because he drove across country – several times… and with his wife…. In a big rig! While all of that was part of his character it is not what made him great. Paul was great because he loved. And he loved big. He did everything big… he gave 100% - gave his all – especially when it came to love. This is the essence of beatitude – selflessness, self-giving, self-donation… sacrifice. All of which is at the heart of what it means to love. This is what Our Lord taught His disciples, it is what He teaches us now. If we wish for beatitude we must be willing to sacrifice because that is love. Paul understood that, he knew it, and the pages of the book of his life were written after the likeness of the Savior because He loved. Paul was blessed because he loved God. He was blessed because he loved others. He was the most non-judgmental person I have ever known. He never spoke an unkind word – he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. Paul surely had his own faults – we all do – but he truly loved with whole of his being.
I’m convinced that because of his deep love for God, Paul seized every moment of every day. This is how he lived – he really lived. And it is how he teaches us to live – to make each day an adventure and not to fear. If we love God the way he does, we have nothing to fear – not pain, not suffering, not even death. The sadness, of course, is not having him here with us. But don’t we, as Christians, live our faith for this moment? The moment when God calls us home – to our true home. On the day of his birth, God whispered his name… Now on his birthday into eternity, God calls loudly for him again. And I’m sure that when he arrived at the gates of heaven, he greeted all present there with a big bright smile and a hearty: “hi guys!”
Now, I can’t say for sure Paul is a saint. But we know where he has gone. And we know that right now he is in the loving embrace of our merciful God. And I know for sure that he was confident in the reward of eternal life. This is what I believe made him so joyful… “rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.” The quote on Paul’s prayer card sums it up quite nicely. From Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: “You ask me whether I am in good spirits. How could I not be so? As long as faith gives me strength, I will always be joyful.”
Paul, I’m sure, would not be too happy with me going on about him. He was a humble man. He would not want us to feel that we lost him – for the truth is, we know where is going and we know the way there too. His death is not a loss and it is not a defeat. It is a victory – God’s victory and heaven’s gain. We may ask ourselves those burdensome and difficult questions like: why? We may comment on the fact that he was taken way too soon. We may be angry that God seemingly did not hear our prayers. But none of that will help ease our sadness. It will only further plunge us into greater pain and sorrow. On that note… sometimes people give priests weird things that I’m not too sure what to do with. Well, just yesterday morning I was having coffee after Mass and a gentleman, from a parish I have never been to, handed me a piece of paper and said: “this is for you Father, pass it on.” The paper read this:
“Once a man was asked, what did you gain by praying regularly to God? The man replied, nothing… but let me tell you what I lost: anger, ego, greed, depression, insecurity, and fear of death. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is not in gaining but in losing, which ultimately is the gain.”
So what is the gain here? We can all chose to live like Paul… we have been saying it: #livelikepaul. This ultimately means to live like Christ. Paul surely sets the bar pretty high, showing us how a Christian is supposed to live and how one is supposed to die – with arms outstretched in the embrace of the Father.
Wherever you may be at spiritually – high, low, middle of the road – let us all open up the arms of our hearts and accept the challenge to live in greater faith, with a confident hope for eternal life, and with a steadfast, unwavering love – a love that knows no fear, that embraces difficulty, a sacrificial love that is joyful in the Lord and with a love that awaits the reward of eternal life. There, in that reward of a life lived in a love for God, do we pray to meet our brother again. In this sense, we not only say live like Paul… but LOVE like Paul. This is our hope. This is our gain. It is what will make us blessed – happy and joyful in our faithfulness and love for God and neighbor.
Well done, Paul. You have taught us well. You have taught us how to live the blessed life – the good life. May you continue to inspire us and countless others. May your example continue to teach us to be blessed, to love with our whole being. And now, may you enter into that eternal state of beatitude.
By Mary Wilkerson
Hi. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mary Wilkerson, formerly Mary Buckley. I met Paul when we were both 18 year old kids, who thought we were really grown up as Freshman at Franciscan University. Like so many of you, my memory is filled with adventures, faith and unbelievable joy with my best friend. After we graduated from college, Paul lived with my family for a few years on and off. My brother was his best man. My siblings consider Paul another Brother, and my parents consider him another son. Like all of us here, we can’t believe this is real life. Although, there is a part of me that thinks it’s fitting that Paul gets to see Jesus first. And, without an ounce of doubt, I know, right now, my friend is with Jesus. Heck, he’s probably already offered the Blessed Mother a swing dance.
You see, in these last few weeks, as I watched the community come together to #prayforpaul, everyone kept saying the same thing.
“This guy is different”
“This guy is the best”
“This guy show’s people Christ”
And that might be what makes this all so hard.
Why did God take him? How can this possibly be the best way? How does Paul being gone make the light of Christ more obvious? More prevalent? How does any of this make sense?
“And Jesus Wept”
The shortest verse in the bible. I always thought it was one of the most profound moments in Scripture. Because what made Him weep was the sorrow of the community, even though He knew the victory that could come from death. The broken hearts, the faces of disbelief, the accusations of His friends…
“If you had been here, our brother would not have died”
We prayed, dear Jesus, we prayed hard. We believed a miracle was possible. We said together, “Master, the one you love is sick”. How can it be that he’s gone? But then, I think of our Paul.
And his laugh. Oh, that laugh! And I think of his love. Man- he never had a bad thing to say about anyone, and he just may have gotten a little frustrated with me, because, SOMETIMES I MIGHT have had bad things to say about people.And I think of how he loved Jesus. So completely- more than anyone I have ever met. So much so that I often wondered why he’d ever choose to be friends with a big ol’ pagan like me. When I think of how he loved Jesus, I am so happy for him.
Every night, when we were together, he’d say
“Sleep with the Angels” and I would respond, “And rise with the Saints” **
(***sometimes we’d add in And wake with Jesus on your heart***)
My brother pointed out the other night- Paul is ACTUALLY sleeping with the angels and rising with the saints. My friend, right now, with saints and angels. It’s almost too joyful to bear.
Mr. and Mrs. Coakley- a mystery I am unfolding as a young mother, is that my job is to get my children to heaven. The weight of that sometimes cripples me. It’s what I want so badly for the children entrusted to me. And I believe fully- you did it! You raised him to desire heaven first, and now, he gets to be there. But, you raised him SO well, that he worked hard to make sure all of us had a chance to go there with him. And he didn’t do it in words. He did it in action. In a way that’s hard to describe, but picturing his face, smile, laugh and love… THAT’s how he did it.
Annie, Christian, Damian, Caeli Grace and sweet baby Coakley, thank you. Thank you for allowing us to watch your holy family, right till the end. Thank you for saying “yes” when God led you down a road no one expected. Annie, thank you for teaching us what Christian Marriage should look like. Whether that was Paul reminding you to eat when telling a good story, or you saving money on the sly to buy him that motorcycle. Thank you for teaching us how to love, even as you held your beloved and helped usher him into the deepest desire of his heart… the heavenly kingdom.
Annie, your children will know Paul. Because all of us will ensure it. Not just in the way we tell stories, support you, or promise to make your family a priority in our lives. Those are good, but there is more. We will live Annie. We will #livelikepaul. Even when we don’t want to. We will risk adventures, we will live in the moment, we will root our lives in prayer and be kinder to others. And we will know your children, and they will know Paul through us.
I spoke of adventures with Paul, but what I didn’t tell you is I am not an adventurous person. AT. ALL. In fact, I often would be angry at the situations my friend would convince me to be a part of. Questioning outloud why I was friends with him and using colorful words.
If you look carefully- I am terrified
One of these times, we had road tripped to Califronia and Paul had convinced me to climb a cliff to jump off a water fall, because, apparently this is what “Normal” people do for fun. At one point the cliff ridge bent and you had to proceed by leaning your body into the abyss and walking forward. I freaked the freak. BIG TIME. Sobbing, questioning once again why I was friends with Paul. I told Paul I would not go where he wanted, could not go where he wanted. But, there was no way to go back- and so Paul told me, as he often did, to calm down. That he would walk me through it. Told me to hold his hand- put my right foot here, my left foot in this spot. I held on to his hand, and I made it. My friend got me though and I jumped off that waterfall as one of the coolest memories of my 20s.
Paulie- we are gonna need your help to get through this one. It’s scary and we don’t want to do it. But there is no going back- So you beg that heavenly Father, on our behalf, your friends, family, parents, and most of all wife and children- to make this a little less scary. And be near to us.
I’ll miss your guts buddy.
Paul’s Funeral Day
by Maura Pollock Doman
Being at Paul Coakley's funeral today has left me in awe of God and his goodness. In the past few weeks so many of us have felt united to Paul and to Ann and walked this journey with them in our hearts. I don't know about you, but I felt like I just went through a three-week retreat and have come out with an entirely new and wonderful perspective on life and love and death. It is a beautiful day in Tennessee.
The funeral mass was full of friends from all over the country. Paul Doman, Mary Norton and Margaret Martin Theis provided the music for the ceremony and it was incredible. Fr.Jon Reardon delivered a homily that was surely inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jonah Pollock celebrated a beautiful and reverent Mass. Mary Wilkerson absolutely nailed the eulogy. It was the best I have ever heard. Paul is buried right near the home that so many people are pitching in to build for Ann and the kids. Paul loved candy so people were handing out candy at the burial site. There was a palpable joy among everyone here.
Paul's infectious love of life could be felt by everyone today. Ann has been calling this weekend a celebration of life. That is exactly what it feels like. After the burial you could see brothers put on their green shirts head over to the house and get out the tools and start working on building the house. Many of them plan to spend the next few days working hard to get it livable for Ann and the children.
There is so much love here. There were a lot of tears but I would say there was just as much laughing. We were so blessed to know Paul. One thing I learned has uplifted me so much -Ann wrote this in one of her posts but I thought she was talking about something figurative - She said that just before Paul died, after having not been responsive or able to move for 24 hours, he sat up suddenly with his arms outstretched to heaven - then a moment later, he was gone. The room was full of astonished people - They had watched him meet the Lord. What a peace and assurance that has given Ann. Wow.
It is an honor to be here to celebrate Paul Coakley's life
Some additional ideasand notes:
Mike Eck and some of the stories when Paul was in High School. Maybe the one about “the secret dirt bike.”
Phil Costanzo and some of his amazing adventures with Paul
Mary Buckley and the trip to Alaska
Organize the book ideas
In Life | In Love | In Death
From A Little Brother
by Kevin Cruess
How Do You Know Paul?
Household Brother, good friends with John Coakley, Had Paul tackle me during buck, buck.
Your Story:Like all the stories that our household told of Paul, you could hardly believe the things that he did until you were with him, and then, you believed every last embellished detail. I went camping/hiking with Paul only once. We were going to a bonfire and he had us split into a guys hike and a girls hike. The girls went straight to the bonfire and we were very excited to see where Paul was taking us. Of course we ended up at a cliff, and of course he expected us to jump. The big surprise was that there was no water below. We were about to ask what on earth he was expecting when he jumped on this 15 foot cliff and clung to a tree about 6-8 feet from the edge, where we were all standing speechless. After he had shimmied down the tree he called up and asked us what was taking so long. Having no fear is one thing, having a joy for living that goes being fear is what Paul passed on to us lucky enough to spend time with him.
by -your name-
How Do You Know Paul-