|Rev. Edward J. Cooney, aged about 40
FATHER EDWARD J. COONEY (1823-1878) was born in Dooroc, County Longford and studied as a boy at the renowned Moyne Latin School in Longford. (Click here for more about Moyne). He came to the United States at the age of twenty-three (according to Fr. Walsh in "Centennial History of St. Edward's") intent on becoming a priest, and studied for three years with the Lazarus Fathers in Missouri. He then spent two years in New York at Saint John's College, Fordham. He arrived in Providence in 1851 and applied to Bishop O'Reilly, a fellow immigrant from Longford, for admission to the priesthood of the diocese. Bishop O'Reilly accepted him and found lodging for him in the diocesan seminary. He was ordained on July 16, 1853, and assigned to the Cathedral in Providence.
Father Cooney was a man of boundless enthusiasm, infectious zeal and dauntless drive. It soon became clear that this restless, energetic young man could adopt easily a larger field of action. And so he was sent to Connecticut where he became pastor at Stamford and Norwalk. In 1857, he was recalled to Providence and appointed pastor of the new parish of the Immaculate Conception. For twenty-one years he ruled his parish with an iron hand.
Within one year Father Cooney had completed his church; it was dedicated by Bishop McFarland on July 4, 1858. Immediately, he began raising funds for a Catholic school for the children of his parish. In 1862, the Sisters of Mercy agreed to staff the school and to conduct the Sunday School.
By 1864 Irish Catholic families began settling in large numbers in the area of Wanskuck (Indian word for "absolute swamp") in North Providence, just to the north of his parish, to work in the new cotton mill established there. Father Cooney took one look at the size of the mill, the number of employees, and the distance from Wanskuck to the Immaculate Conception Church, and he knew that a mission chapel was needed. His first task was to visit every home and to determine how many Catholics were living in the area. He would then explain his plan to the people, raise the funds, and build the chapel. By 1865, Father Cooney was ready. He called a meeting of all the Catholic residents of Wanskuck and told them of the need and his plan for it. The men and women attended the meeting in great numbers and quickly agreed with Father Cooney that a chapel should be built, and they also agreed to raise the funds for it.
The first Mass was offered within its walls on Christmas Day, 1867. The chapel was named St. Joseph's in honor of the patron saint of the founding pastor, Father Edward Joseph Cooney. This was a custom of the era. It was legally incorporated as Saint Joseph of Geneva" on May 22, 1869.
Later, when Wanskuck was officially made a part of the City of Providence in 1874 a new name had to be chosen since Providence already had a Catholic Church named in honor of St. Joseph. Not surprisingly, Father Edward chose the name Saint Edward. To this day, the full legal title of the parish is "The Church of Saint Edward of Providence, St. Joseph of Geneva, Rhode Island". It is perhaps the only church in the U.S. named with both given names of its founder!
Father Cooney was admired in the entire community and recognized by all as a true pioneer. He was known for his strong will and high standards of conduct for his Irish countrymen, and for his demonstrative manner when called to address an unjust or abusive situation. While his fiery approach may have intimidated his own errant parishioners, the problems were such that no other approach would have borne fruit. He left behind him a fine church, a parish school, and Academy in which the Sisters of Charity taught, a rectory, and a convent. And he left behind too legions of people who had called for his assistance in dealing with bigoted employers, drunken spouses, or rebellious children. In situations like this, Father Cooney was a terrifying man. Armed with an iron will, a deafening voice, and a stout blackthorn stick, he was willing to take care of anyone or anything, anywhere, at any time. The unfortunate objects of his attention in those situations would remember to their dying day his swift and spectacular arrival on the scene: purple-faced, eyes flashing, his voice shaking the walls and his ever-present blackthorn stick vigorously and menacingly flailing the air. And his intermediation was invariably effective! He was immensely respected but also much loved by his parish. When he was unexpectedly taken from their midst in death, the people of his parish were stunned and bereft. His people would miss Edward Joseph Cooney.
He is also much loved and remembered to this day in Ireland, and the story of the gravestone he sent to Ireland for his parents' grave is now legend. Any Cooney travelling from America today to Drumlish will be made most welcome as "Father Edward's niece (or nephew)". The gravesite of Fr. Edward's parents, John and Mary is still well marked and easily located in the parish of Killoe in Durroc, thanks to the massive granite monument Fr. Edward had carved after his mother's death in 1859. A recent photo of its plinth stone engraving is at right. Note the following poignant couplet inscribed there to the memory of his mother; "We came to see and take our leave, we have not seen you, we saw your grave." Back in the Diocese of Providence, he was also beloved by his fellow clergy and recognized as the finest of teachers for his assistants. His devotion, his enthusiasm and his zeal brought out the best in those he would lead.
In his early 50's, his health began to fail, and with his bishop took a restorative trip in late summer 1978, back to Ireland and to Rome. Upon docking in Cork, he undoubtedly proceeded north to Longford and Dooroc to visit his brother John and his family at Cornhill. One can imagine the impression he made on his young nephews Mark and Pat, then nineteen and sixteen respectively, as he told of the need for priests to minister to the Irish in America, and of his experiences there. Mark and Pat would both later be ordained for priestly service in America. The trip seemed to help Fr. Edward's medical condition for a time, but shortly after his return to Providence, he was stricken and died on Thanksgiving Day, 1878. He was celebrated for his forceful way and strong opinions as well as for the kind and genial response to the needy of his pastoral flock. Newspaper accounts of his funeral record that his parish was quite devastated by his sudden and unexpected death. Here follows an account of his funeral which appeared in the Providence Weekly Visitor newspaper of December 8, 1878.
FUNERAL OF REV. EDWARD J. COONEY
From the Providence Weekly Visitor, December 8, 1878
THE LATE FATHER COONEY
LAST TRIBUTE OF AFFECTION
SAD AND MOURNFUL SCENES
THE BEREAVED CONGREGATION IN TEARS
Funeral Oration by the Right Reverend Bishop
The funeral of the late Rev. E. J. Cooney, pastor of the Church of the Immaculate Conception in this city, whose death on Thanksgiving day was announced in our issue of last week, was celebrated on Saturday, 30th ult., at the church he had built by his untiring labors. The congregation among whom he had labored for the last twenty-one years, and a large number of others, a far greater number than the spacious church could contain, assembled to assist in paying the last earthly tribute to the beloved priest and to take one last look at his familiar features.
It had been reported that the services at the church would begin at ten oclock, and long before that hour the church was crowded to its utmost capacity, and a large crowd of people were outside unable to gain admittance. The doors of the chapel opening into the chancel were thrown open and the chapel itself was crowded with a dense mass of people. The vast crowd was very orderly, but so great was the crush that the large number of policemen and ushers had great difficulty in keeping a passage open for the clergy.
Habiliments of Woe.
The church was clothed in all the habiliments of great sorrow. The altar was dressed in black, the white of the candles and the white borders of the altar cloths making the effect more complete. The chancel walls were draped with black and white mourning, the pillars were also draped, large festoons of black crape extending from pillar to pillar, and black and white crape extended along the walls, hanging in festoons on the windows. The front of the gallery and the organ was also draped in black and white crape.
was placed in front of the altar railing. It was heavily draped in black and on top rested the casket in which the body of the deceased clergyman dressed in full vestments, with the birretta on the head, and a silver chalice in the hands raised in the attitude of prayer. The head was sufficiently elevated to be seen by the congregation and as they looked upon the familiar features of their deceased and beloved pastor, emotions of sorrow and regret pervaded all present. The scene indeed was truly affecting and the impressive ceremonies added to the deep solemnity of the occasion. The deep silence was unbroken save by the voices of the officiating clergymen. All seemed wrapt in the solemn service for the dead, all seemed anxious of taking a last look at the feature of him, who for nearly a quarter of a century had faithfully, unceasingly, watchfully ministered to their spiritual wants.
At half past ten the procession of clergy entered the sanctuary and took seats, some within the altar railing and others around the catafalque. The services began by the solemn chanting of the office for the dead, the chanters being Rev. T. F. Carroll, North Easton; Rev. D. Driscoll, Valley Falls; Rev. N. Rivers, Natick; Rev. J. A. Gleason, Valley Falls.
After the chanting, solemn requiem high mass was celebrated in the presence of the Rt. Rev. Bishop Hendricken, who was seated upon the episcopal throne, with the Very Rev. James Hughes of Hartford, and Rev. A. Ciampi, of Georgetown, D.C., as deacons of honor. The celebrant of the mass was Rev. M. McCabe, of Woonsocket, assisted by the Rev. Dr. Wallace of St. Michaels as deacon, and Rev. J. Harty of St. Michaels as sub-deacon. Rev. J. K. Beaven, of St. Michaels, first master of ceremonies, and Rev. J. A. Finnegan, of St. Edwards, second master of ceremonies.
At the close of the mass, Rt. Rev. Bishop Hendricken ascended the steps of the altar, and delivered the following:
Very Reverend and Reverend Brethren, and you my beloved children:
We behold a strange scene around us - the Church deeply wrapped in mourning, a vast assemblage of people, a large number of priests. We hear the solemn peals of the organ and distinguish the funereal strains that are heard only when some one has passed away. It is not exactly the father of a family; nor have we here to celebrate the obsequies of some tender mother who has left her little ones all alone on the hearthstone. It is for some higher purpose that we are gathered together this morning, to celebrate the funeral services of the father of the flock and to sympathisize with the bereaved and
Father Cooney was born in Longford, Ireland; in Longford, a place where almost every family has given a member to the church of God. Several years before his ordination he came to this country. For many years before he left the place of his birth he had conceived a desire of devoting himself in the ministry to the service of Almighty God, and the salvation of people. Beginning his classical studies in the College of Fordham, he read his theology under the immediate direction of the Rt. Rev. Bishop O'Reilly, to whose memory I bow down with the utmost respect and reverence. While he was preparing for his ordination, I was preparing for my own ordination in the College of Maynooth. The Bishop of this diocese passing on his way to Rome asked me into this field of labor. Having consented, I was ordained by him, and on his arrival here in the chief city of his diocese in the month of July, he raised to the priesthood
Your Beloved Father.
On my arrival here in this city, it was my good fortune to be acquainted with Father Cooney for several months in the Cathedral. There I learned to value and appreciate his worth, to admire his fervent way and to try to copy after his great piety. He was sent shortly to other fields of labor bordering on New York, and the Rt. Rev. Bishop seeing that he was the man for the place, selected him to build up this important parish and this important church of the Immaculate Conception.
What monument need he have than this church that he has erected in co-operation with you? What monument need he have than these various buildings which have grown up around you as if by magic? - this school house, the pastoral residence, this beautiful convent to which he invited and brought those angels of Charity to soothe you when sick, and take charge of your little ones with so much tenderness.
When he came here this place was sparsely inhabited. There were houses scattered here and there, the field was rough and uncultivated; the place was entirely uninviting, but his hope was in success and he met with success. The field has flowered. He has left it like a smiling garden, for it is now one of the most important, one of the most pious and devoted parishes in the Diocese of Providence.
For Twenty-one Years
he labored in this mission. You thought him as strong as the oak that would require rude blast to tear it from its foundation. He appeared to be in the best of health, if you regard the works that he had performed and was still continuing to accomplish. But my beloved friends, insidious sickness had long undermined that health, and many a work he performed when the will alone carried him through, when the body was scarcely able to bring him to the work before him. And we wonder that he died so suddenly; that he is not still around. We think that a long sickness should have preceded his death, but a long sickness uncomplainingly has really preceded his last moments; for though his death was gentle as sweet slumber, though his death was as the fall of a leaf in the summer breeze, yet it was not unexpected by those who knew him intimately. Nothing will continue always. The most valuable machinery will wear out, the strongest heart will grow weary, everything that is earthly is subject to decay and this body could not last forever.
A True Priest
Father Cooney was a priest in the true sense of the word. I never met a clergyman who had a nicer sense of ecclesiastical authority. I don't believe that in seven years - near seven years that I am now in this city with you - he ever absented himself a single night from his parish without having previously come to me and reported the matter. He never wished to be away from his parish. His whole heart was here and it was only because I assured him that his life would be prolonged, in all probability, for the edification and salvation of many and for the greater glory of God, that he consented to take the last voyage which he made to Europe. I had the pleasure of being with him as far as Cork. There I parted with him. He enjoyed good health during the journey. It was his intention to visit the holy places; to kiss the ground on which the Saviour of the world had walked; to enter the garden of Olives and there pray to the Saviour of mankind on the spot in which he sweat great drops of blood; to sit and meditate where the Son of Man was crucified. But at that season of the year it was impossible to make that journey. He contented himself with going as far as Naples, and I met him myself in Rome, which city he was preparing to leave as I entered it. He was then after receiving from the Supreme Pontiff
A Blessing for his Labors
and a blessing which he asked - the richest blessing of all - a blessing for the flock that was committed to his charge. Oh my beloved brethren, if you had spoken to him just then as he had come away from the Holy Father, if you had heard him say as he said to me: how he had received this blessing, with what joy would you see him impart the news while his heart beat with the prospect of again meeting you here; the attachment to him perhaps could not be greater than it is, but certainly it would not be less. He got the great privilege to impart to you the Papal Benediction, but this he was unable to confer because of his sickness.
Father Cooney was a true priest of God. No person need point him out to you as a clergyman. I had an example of that when I was in Cork. We were staying in the same hotel. He went out one day to take a walk, to wander along the banks of the Lee, to hear alone by himself the sweet music of
The Bells of Shandon
and view the beautiful hills of his native country. But he returned shortly after and said, "It is impossible for me to go; everybody knows me; they're all putting their hands to their hats; I am a stranger here, and I don't want to be distinguished above others." It was no use; he carried the priest around with him wherever he went.
He recognized God as the one who called him to the sacred ministry, as the one who had chosen him; not that he chose God; he acknowledged always with becoming submission to the Divine will, that he was called by God. He looked upon himself, in certain measure, as an ambassador from on High. Ite, docete, go, teach, he recognized as words addressed to himself. I appeal to you, my brethren, if he was ever slow to preach and teach the doctrine of Jesus Christ; if he did not try to bring you all to a stronger faith, to a more practical Christian life. As an ambassador, he was sent to bring souls into the Church, and I suppose he must have baptized and covered with the robe of baptismal innocence more than five thousand souls in this parish. He was sent to bless your marriages. How many have been married in his presence! How many couples has he not blessed! He has been with you in your sickness.
Rich and Poor Made No Difference to Him.
He made no distinction whatsoever. He regarded but the souls of the faithful that had been committed to him. He copied after St. Augustine, and though he may not have had the faith of that great and holy man, he aimed at it. He sought to rid of all abuse the limit of the parish placed under his jurisdiction, as another Borromeo. He was kind and gentle, and suave in his manners to everybody who approached him, seeking by kindness to bring souls to God, taking as his model St. Francis de Sales. And, oh, with what zeal he went through the highways and byways! With what care he picked up those stray waifs scarcely distinguished from the mud in which they were rolling around, and washed them and took them to the kind Sisters to be educated, like another St. Vincent de Paul.
Beloved brethren, I have in his death, sustained a serous loss. As you loved him as a father, I loved him as a brother, as a sincere friend, as an uncompromising priest, as one who always appreciated everything that had relation to religion.
But He is Dead!
And this will be said of us all here, priest and people. Some day or another the announcement will be made "he is dead". Some day or another the sable carriage will come around for us, and all that is mortal will then be carried to the grave and hidden in the ground. But his sprit still liveth and will be carried, I trust, by angels up on high. He is dead. All that is mortal is but transitory. Life is short indeed, no matter how many years man may number. Life is short. It passes like a cloud, like a shadow over the wall, passes faster than a dream, faster than a train; down the current of life we are driving along, now hurt by obstructing rocks, but still moving onward until we are
Lost in the Ocean of Time.
My beloved brethren, we will all die. Hence the necessity of preparing ourselves properly for that dread moment, since it is inevitable that death will come upon us at last. O let us not put off to the last the preparation so necessary... And the priest above all, is more responsible and has a stricter judgment to pass, and he must lead a proper and better life than those whom he is guiding, because in the pinnacle of high heaven on some day I and the priests around me, and all those living on earth will have to account strictly for the flocks committed to our charge.
Let Us Remember Him
It is difficult to be so pure as to pass from this world immediately into the presence of the glory of God. Thus, my beloved brethren, it behooves us in this case, to be pious towards the dead. I need not ask you to be pious in praying for the repose of the soul of your dearly beloved Pastor. I am sure you have remembered him since you heard the mournful news, and, I am sure you will still remember him. You ought to remember him because of the many years he has labored among you, of the many cares he has taken from your hearts, of the many tears he has dried up and of the consolation he has given you. He has been so kind and indefatigable in his labors amongst you that it would be worse that ingratitude to forget him. May his memory ever be in your souls. He will not forget you. He is gone from your midst here, but standing at the portals of heavens gate, he will yet welcome you as you pass from this world to another. O may the souls that he has been the instrument of saving welcome him into the heavenly kingdom! As there is a communion between you and him, a communion between the faithful here on earth and the happy souls predestined of God to eternal life, pray then for him. Remember him, because he has been indeed a kind father to you. Teach your little ones to lisp his name. Look around and you will see monuments that he has built up that will never fade.
There is nothing so pleasing as gratitude, and if he could rise up from the casket in which his remains now rest he would ask you to be grateful to his memory. What gratitude can you show him that will be most pleasing to him? It will be that of remembering his instructions and putting in practice the Christian life of which he has given you an example; it will be that of remembering what he has been saying to you for many and many a year. That you may grow in the faith, that you may increase in piety, that you may live holily, justly and piously; and that you and he, when a few years are over, may meet together in the kingdom of Gods glory.
After the sermon, the final absolution was pronounced by the Rt. Rev. Bishop; concluding the religious services at the church.
The following is a full list of the clergymen present:
Rt. Rev. T.F. Hendricken, Bishop of Providence; Very Rev. L.S. McMahon, D.D., Vicar General, New Bedford, Mass.;Rev. Farrell OReilly, Rev. P.P. Carlin, Rev. W. Stang and Rev. A.P. Gaboury, Cathedral; Very Rev. J. Bapst, S.J., St. Josephs; Rev. C. Hughes and Rev. J. Harty, St. Patricks; Rev. J. Murphy, St. Marys; Rev. J.J. McCabe and Rev. J.C. Walsh, St. Johns; Rev. Dr. M.A. Wallace and Rev. J.K. Beaven, St. Micheals; Rev. M.M. Clune, Assumption; Rev. J.A. Finnegan, St. Edwards; Rev. Philip Grace, D.D., Newport; Rev. P.F. Doyle, Rev. James Smith and Rev. C. Dauray, Woonsocket; Rev. W.J. McComb, Cranston; Rev. T. Berkens, Rev. P.G. Delaney, Rev. F. Tuite and Rev. H.F. Kinnerney, Pawtucket; Rev. M. Fitzgerald, Central Falls; Rev. Wm. Pyne, Ashton; Rev. Wm. Halligan and Rev. James Daly, East Greenwich; Rev. J.V. Brennan, East Providence; Rev. C.J. Rogers, Bristol; Rev. M. McCallion, Warren; Rev. J.A. Couch, Phenix; Rev. D. Driscoll, Valley Falls; Rev. N. Rivers, Natick; Rev. W.H. Bric, Rev. James OSullvan, Rev. John OConnell, Rev. J.E. Gormley, Rev. John Kelly, Rev. James Masterson and Rev. T.F. Briscoe, Fall River, Mass.; Rev. E.J. Sheridan, Rev. H.J. Smythe, Taunton; Rev. Edward Mongan and Rev. Owen Kiernan, North Attleboro; Rev. T.F. Carroll, North Easton; Rev. E.E. Norbet, Somerset; Rev. Andrew J. Brady, Sandwich; Rev. A.J. Ciampi, Georgetown, D.C.; Rev. Edward J. OBrien, Norwalk, Conn.; Very Rev. James Hughes, Rev. M. Tierney, Hartford, Conn.; Rev. Lawrence Walsh, Waterbury, Conn.; Rev. M.T. Kelly, Windsor Locks, Conn.; Rev. A.J. Teeling, Newburyport; Rev. J.J. Gray, Salem; Rev. M.J. Masterson, Peabody, Mass.
The Floral Offerings,
arranged by the Sisters of Charity, were numerous and beautiful. A magnificent crown was given by the Children of Mary; a pillow and cross by the children of the Academy of the Immaculate Conception; a cross and wreath by the children of the parish schools, a floral round, with the inscription "Dear Father", by the members of the choir; a cross with the inscription "Oriental Mill" by the employees of the Oriental Mill; a magnificent wreath, with the inscription "My Uncle" by Councilman John P. Cooney; a floral sickle, by Mr. John E. Fitzgerald (Earles Lane). These tokens of gratitude and affection, emblems of the esteem and veneration in which the deceased was held, were displayed upon the catafalque in the church.
Every arrangement was made for the order and convenience of the vast congregation, ushers being in attendance to preserve order and keep a passage open in the chapel for the clergy, others being stationed at the doors to direct the people as they entered and to prevent confusion. The following gentlemen acted as ushers: James H. McGann, E. A. Moran, M. F. Munigle, P. Kenney, John Meehan, P. J. Kilkenney, George Howe, Thomas Kilkenney. The door committee was composed of the following gentlemen: Hugh Bannon, Wm. Duffy, John Rooney, Wm. Canning, Andrew McQueeney, John Kehoe, Bernard McCulla, John F. McLoughlin, James Kelly and John Gilbane.
was very good and impressive, the solos being very finely sustained and the choruses well rendered. The choir of the church was assisted by singers from other churches, about 30 voices in all, under the direction of Prof. Eugene Henri, of the Cathedral. Miss Conboy presided at the organ. The mass rendered was the Gregorian chant, the most impressive of all music. "Rest, Spirit, Rest", solo and chorus, was given at the Offertory, the solo being maintained by Mrs. Pidge. After the Elevation, the dulcit, "Jesu, Miserere,was sung by Mrs. E. Henri and Mr. F. Fox. After the Agnus Dei, the Libera was rendered by Prof. E. Henri and Prof. Hammerel. After the Absolution, "Angels Ever Bright and Fair" was sung by Mrs. Gillian of Pawtucket.
The Funeral Procession.
When the solemn services were ended, the vast congregation passed around the catafalque to take a last look at the deceased. When all had viewed, the casket was removed to the hearse and....(remainder of sentence illegible)...
The Pall Bearers.
Very Rev. L.S. McMahon; Very Rev. J. Bapst, S.J.; Rev. Dr. M.A. Wallace; Rev. M. McCabe; Rev. P. G. Delany; (name not legible...)
Immediate Relatives of the deceased
The Children of Mary
The member of the Congregation.....in carriages and on foot
At the Grave,
the last services were held. Every head was uncovered and the large assemblage of sorrowing priests and people took a final farewell of him whom they had so solemnly and sorrowingly borne to the tomb. The Rev. clergy chanted the "Benedictus", the casket was lowered into the grave and all present turned away with a heavy heart, regretting the death of the honored priest but feeling that their own loss was his gain.
On Last Sunday
a large congregation was present at each of the masses. The church was still clothed in mourning and a feeling of sorrow was upon all present, many even being in tears. At 7 oclock mass, Rev. Father Deady paid an eloquent tribute to the deceased which moved his hearers to tears. Rev. Father Grace officiated at 9 oclock mass and also at high mass at half-past ten; at both services he preached an eloquent sermon in reference to the death of the beloved pastor. At the high mass the service was probably the most affecting of all. It was at that mass, but only two weeks before, that Father Cooney had last addressed his congregation on a subject to which he had given great attention - the education of their children in Catholic schools, and to many the earnest words of the deceased priest seemed ringing in their ears. As Father Greeley feelingly and eloquently referred to Father Cooneys death nearly all were in tears, and when, at the end of the sermon, the congregation knelt in prayer for the repose of his soul, the silence was unbroken, except by the low sobs of many whose feelings could not be controlled.