Father Joseph L. Coffey, 58, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia serving as an active military chaplain with the U.S. Navy since 2001, is one of two priests named an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, Jan. 22 by Pope Francis.
Also appointed an auxiliary bishop was Father William J. Muhn, 61, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and a former military chaplain.
Concerning the appointments, Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy Broglio said the pope “looked with pastoral solicitude on the global Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and recognized the need to assure adequate care for the 1.6 million faithful entrusted to her. I am delighted that both candidates have accepted to serve in a new way. They bring experience and deep pastoral solicitude to their new role.”
In a statement, Archbishop Charles Chaput said the announcement “marks a moment of great joy for our local church. This appointment by the Holy Father continues a long and generous tradition of episcopal service to the Universal Church by priests from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It also demonstrates Pope Francis’ confidence in Bishop-elect Coffey, who has served with faithful devotion for many years.
“As Bishop-elect Coffey prepares to begin his episcopal ministry, I offer him heartfelt congratulations on behalf of the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I’m confident that he will carry out his duties with great energy, compassion, zeal and fidelity, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will strengthen him as a successor of the apostles.
“Archbishop Timothy Broglio and all of God’s people in the Archdiocese of Military Services, USA are receiving a gift from the Holy Father in the person of Bishop-elect Coffey.”
Bishop-elect Coffey is the middle of the nine children of the late Dr. William Coffey and the late Roseanita (Schubert) Coffey of St. Matthias Parish, Bala Cynwyd. He attended the parish school followed by Archbishop Carroll High School, from which he graduated in 1978.
He graduated from La Salle University, with a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, in 1982 with a bachelor’s degree in English and French.
After college he worked first as an elementary school teacher, then as a ski instructor in Switzerland and finally in the automotive field in Germany and Belgium.
Actually, according to his brother Jim, he was selling automobiles to members of the military, which may be the genesis of his desire to become a military chaplain after he realized his vocation was to the priesthood.
He entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary at age 30 and while at the seminary, with the permission of Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, he entered a U.S. Navy Chaplain Candidate Program and became a member of the Navy Reserves.
Father Coffey was ordained May 18, 1996 by Cardinal Bevilacqua at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. At that time, it was his wish to become a full-time Navy chaplain, but Cardinal Bevilacqua requested he wait five years. In the meantime, he served as parochial vicar at St. Katherine of Siena Parish, Philadelphia.
During this period, he also had various secondary assignments including spiritual director of the Legion of Mary’s Holy Family Curia in Northeast Philadelphia; U.S. Navy Reserve chaplain; archdiocesan Department of AIDS Ministry, and member of the archdiocesan Council of Priests.
He was released for full-time military service in the Navy in 2001 and served in various assignments around the country, abroad and at sea, ministering to both sailors and Marines who also come under the Department of the Navy.
This included two year-long tours aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and a year-long tour aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
Father Coffey’s service was such that he was named Navy Chaplain of the Year in 2004. Perhaps his most hazardous assignment was the year he served with a Marine assault battalion in Afghanistan 2011-2012, where on Christmas Day he celebrated five Masses at various locations.
He has earned numerous military awards including the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal with two gold stars, the Navy Achievement Medal with two gold stars, the Navy Sea Service Medal, the National Defense Medal, the War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the NATO Service Medal, three Battle E Ribbons.
Over the past 17 years of active duty he has risen to his current rank of Captain (Select), serving in Cape May, New Jersey; Camp Pendleton, California; St. Louis, Missouri and most recently San Diego, California.
Of his being raised to the office of bishop, Bishop-Elect Coffee said, “I am humbled and honored to have been chosen by the Holy Father, Pope Francis to assist Archbishop Broglio in his duties as the chief shepherd for the AMS. I am extremely grateful to my three shepherds from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, Justin Cardinal Rigali and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who gave me the necessary permission to serve on active duty in the U.S. Navy Chaplain Corps for these last 17 years.
“I have been so blessed to have had two loving parents who gave me the gift of life and sharing the Catholic faith with me and a very large extended family. I have tried to share that with the good people of St. Katherine’s Parish as an assistant pastor and the sailors, marines and ‘coasties’ that I have served with as a priest chaplain.
“I am grateful to the many priests who have shared this beautiful calling to the priesthood with me, who have led by holy example and who have shared the adventures of life and the priesthood with me. I pray that I will serve the Lord and the military well in this new responsibility, and I ask for your prayers for me and be assured of mine every day.”
Bishops-elect Joseph Coffey and William Muhn will be ordained bishops by Archbishop Broglio at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation.
Father Coffey is the second Philadelphia priest and U.S. Navy chaplain to be named bishop for the Military Services. The first was Father John J. O’Connor (1920-2000), later Bishop of Scranton and Cardinal Archbishop of New York.
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