Father John T. Coates, 94, pastor emeritus of St. Helena Parish in Blue Bell, died Dec. 11.
Born in Philadelphia, the son of the late Washington and Mary A. (Guckin) Coates, he attended Ascension of Our Lord, James Russell Lowell and St. Helena Elementary Schools and Northeast Catholic High School before entering St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
He was ordained Dec. 15, 1945 by Bishop Hugh L. Lamb at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul and his early assignments were as parochial vicar at St. Mary of the Assumption, Coaldale and St. Eleanor Parish, Collegeville. He then served as chaplain at Graterford State Penitentiary for 23 years.
Father Coates was appointed pastor of St. Helena in 1974 and named pastor emeritus in 1993.
Father Michael Saban was in fifth grade at St. Helena when Father Coates arrived, and he was still pastor when he left for the seminary.
“He knew everybody in the neighborhood, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish, and he would visit them all in the hospital,” Father Saban said. “He was a very good man, and was especially kind to the needy. He was a great example of energy and selflessness. He loved Forty Hours and he loved to sing and urge the people to sing. He was always fixing things; the heater, the tractor, whatever.”
Sister of Mercy Cathe Shoulberg was born in St. Helena Parish and returned as school principal under Father Coates.
“I remember at my interview he told me, ‘I want happy kids, happy parents and happy teachers. We want people to feel welcome,’” she recalls.
Sister Cathe believes Father Coates was the closest person she ever knew to Pope John XXIII in personality.
“It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish; Democrat or Republican,” she said. “I have never seen his ministry to the sick duplicated anywhere. He was incredibly kind and pastoral. He never left a stone unturned if a family needed anything, and might appear at their door with a refrigerator, a load of groceries or a vacuum cleaner.
“With all of this he enjoyed working with his hands, and it could be riding the tractor, splitting wood or even cleaning toilets,” Sister Cathe recalls. “He was incredibly unique.”
Bishop Daniel E. Thomas will celebrate Father Coates’ funeral Mass at St. Helena on Dec. 17 at 11 a.m.
Concelebrants are scheduled to include Msgr. Joseph J. Nicolo, Msgr. Daniel J. Sullivan, Father George J. Szparagowski and Father Saban, who will be the homilist.
Father Coates is survived by nieces and nephews. Interment will be at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Philadelphia.
Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer and a member of St. Leo Parish, Philadelphia.
Help us keep you informed -- CatholicPhilly.com can't do it with youDuring CatholicPhilly.com's fall donation campaign, you have a way to help us deliver the kind of news you need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live. Every household's costs keep rising, and we're no different. We make sure your dollars in any amount go a long way toward continuing our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month. Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can -- a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community.
Make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Or by credit card here: