Father Coughlin celebrates golden jubilee

MAULDIN — A former Trappist monk who later became a popular pastor in the Diocese of Charleston celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on Aug. 22.

Hundreds of the parishioners he has served for the past 20 years honored Father Howard L. “Bud” Coughlin, pastor emeritus of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, at a Mass and dinner.

The jubilee liturgy was concelebrated by Bishop Robert J. Baker and seven other priests. Bishop Baker called Father Coughlin “a prophet … sharing the Word with the way he lives his life.”

Coughlin’s colleague and the pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Father Patrick E. Cooper, quoted the evangelist St. Paul when thinking of what Father Coughlin’s tenure has meant to the local people of God. Paul said that the first requirement of a person of faith is that he prove trustworthy — and Father Coughlin has done just that.

“Fifty years a priest is wonderful testimony to the constancy of Father Coughlin’s service,” Father Cooper said. “In that time, he has ministered to countless numbers of people. May they be his joy and consolation in this life and his glorious reward in heaven.”

Father Coughlin told The Miscellany that he would become a priest all over again if he had the opportunity. Even the troubles the Catholic Church faces today do not deter his faith. He called the sex abuse scandals a sort of “mortification” for priests and other Catholics who might have become too satisfied with their life. “It strips away the extras and leaves us with the basic priesthood, the alteros Christos,” the priest said.

And Father Coughlin knows about the basic priesthood. He served as a contemplative for 21 years, 19 of them at the Monck’s Corner monastery Mepkin Abbey, taking his final priestly vows there.

Then, as the aggiornamento of the Second Vatican Council was beginning to be introduced to the church, he discerned what he called “a second vocation.” In 1968, he was incardinated into the Diocese of Charleston and assigned as associate pastor to St. Joseph in Columbia. Five years later, he became pastor of St. Andrew in Bluffton and her two missions; five years after that, he went to St. Philip Benizi in Lake City for five more years. Then he came to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in 1983.

Father Coughlin has seen many changes in the church since he first entered a Trappist novitiate in 1946, when he was discharged from the Army. He admitted that he misses Latin as a liturgical language, but otherwise he is not enamored of the past. He especially likes the participation of the laity since Vatican II.

“I like the sharing of the Mass with other members of the parish, especially the deacons, the eucharistic ministers and the lectors. This is especially so since this parish grew larger,” he said.

One of those he mentioned is Deacon Dick Murtaugh, who has served with the jubilarian for five years. He learned a major lesson from Father Coughlin.

“He taught me humility,” Deacon Murtaugh said.

Father Howard Coughlin taught many things to many parishioners over a half-century of service as a priest. One of those parishioners, Greg Girard, evoked a sustained standing ovation at the end of the anniversary Mass when he thanked the jubilarian priest for his work in the parish and among Catholic schools.