Brothers share priestly fraternity
By Kay Cozad
FORT WAYNE — Deacons Matt and Terrance Coonan Jr., are much more than biologically-linked brothers. They are now brothers of the faith as well. The two close-knit siblings, the third and fourth of eight children of Terry and Terri Coonan, have recently completed their seminary studies for priestly formation and now anticipate their ordination into the Holy Priesthood on June 11 with Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.
Like the now revered Ratzinger brothers, Pope Benedict XVI and Father Georg Ratzinger, who together celebrate their 60th anniversary of ordination into the Priesthood this year, the Coonan brothers agree that their vocations are a testament to the importance of family. “It will be joyful to make this life gift on the same day,” says Matt.
The seeds of priestly vocation, nurtured by their faith-filled family, were planted early by the “joyful witness of the parish priests” who joined in many of the Coonan family events over the years. Terrence, better known as “Tink,” remembers the family friends as men who lived out their vocations as priests with lots of joy. “They were a good witness for planting seeds,” he says.
But despite the brothers’ fraternal bond and vocation call, each has his own very distinct style and personality. Matt, older by four years, speaks and moves with fast-paced energy, while Tink, though as articulate as his brother, demonstrates a more soft-spoken, gentle demeanor. Both, however, display an exuberant passion for Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith.
When speaking of the differences between the two, both brothers note that they each received their call to the priesthood in very unique ways. Matt, who remained active in youth ministry at his home parish of St. Vincent de Paul, even after his graduation from Bishop Dwenger High School, studied business marketing at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. “I desired to serve the Church, and lead teens to Christ. But I always thought I’d be married and a youth minister at the parish level,” he says, noting that “he didn’t pray about it much then.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree Matt began a career with a local printing company. As he continued assisting with youth ministry, however, he began to understand the importance of the priest in ministry. “I saw the example of the priests, especially with the sacraments. It was an amazing awakening!” he recalls, adding, “It was a clear call from God.” Matt applied to seminary studies in the fall of 2004.
Tink relates that his vocational call was discovered over time. Through his high school years at Bishop Dwenger, Tink prayed fervently for his life direction. “I tried to be open,” he says. Studying computer engineering at the University of Dayton left him feeling unfulfilled. And with his involvement with the local youth group he began to desire something more. “I wanted to be involved in fostering my faith and faith in other people,” he says. His application process to the seminary began in the fall of 2005.
Both brothers entered the seminary in spring of 2005, Matt to study theology at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, and Tink to finish his undergraduate degree in philosophy at Immaculate Heart of Mary College in Minnesota. Those two years of separation fostered growth in self identity for both that led to an even deeper fraternal bond. Matt says, “We communicate all the time, have similar sports interests and mutual friends. But we cherish the time we are separate as well.”
Both men found fraternity at the seminary as well as exemplary religious studies and have recently graduated with a master of divinity degree from the Pontifical College Josephinum. Both men hold a sacred theology bachelor’s degree as well.
Part of their priestly formation involved preparing to be ordained as transitional deacons for the Catholic Church, which took place at Pontifical College Josephinum on April 25, 2010. Both brothers, now deacons, recall the day as one that held great meaning, as Bishop John M. D’Arcy, bishop-emeritus of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, conferred Holy Orders. “We made a life choice on April 25,” says Deacon Matt, “Embracing our vocation with our whole heart. … It will be coming to fruition at the Ordination of Holy Orders.”
Deacon Matt spent the summer of 2010 at Most Precious Blood Parish, Fort Wayne, preaching, witnessing marriages, performing Baptisms and learning from the parish priests. “It was a joy to be there,” he says.
Deacon Tink was assigned to St. Michael in Plymouth, where he gave homilies, officiated at marriages and Baptisms. “Baptizing the first baby was phenomenal! It was a very important thing for me to establish a relationship with them (the parishioners) through the pulpit,” he recalls. “The two priests were supportive. I learned a little about the priestly life and serving God’s people.”
As for the upcoming joint Ordination into the Priesthood on June 11, the brothers admit to being a little nervous, but not about the ordination itself. “We’re not nervous about our vocation,” says Deacon Matt confidently, “but the unknown of what’s to come.” Deacons Matt and Tink Coonan are happy to be home and ready to serve the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
“It’s a new stage in life,” adds Deacon Tink. “I’m very anxious and excited to begin to serve God’s people for the rest of my life.”
Expectations for their ministry? None, they each humbly admit, except to serve the diocese and grow in deeper communion with the Lord. But they say, they will always support each other in their priestly ministries wherever they are assigned. “We’re already close,” says Deacon Matt, “He’s (Tink) one of my closest friends.”
Soon-to-be Father Matt will celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving at 7 p.m. on June 11 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish following his ordination. The following day, June 12, soon-to-be Father Tink will celebrate his Mass of thanksgiving at St. Vincent de Paul Parish at 2 p.m. Both newly-ordained brothers will be present at each other’s Mass of thanksgiving and will enjoy a week together with extended family at a lake in Michigan before beginning their assignments within the diocese.
Coonan family grateful two sons answered God’s call
FORT WAYNE — Walking through the front door of the Coonan home, less than a mile west of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, one will see many concrete signs that a faith-filled Catholic family fills its walls. On one wall, baptismal records framed to commemorate the day each child was baptized. Next to it, a photo family tree gifted by the children to their parents one Christmas and across the room a collage of plaques depicting the spiritual meanings of each family member’s name. The wall, like the faith-life of the family which dwells there, has grown and changed many times, and in many ways over the years.
Terry and Terri Coonan were married 35 years ago at St. Vincent de Paul Parish where Terry has been a lifelong member. The convent and seminary life were not new to either Coonan. At the age of 4, Terri, the youngest of three children born to Agnes and Birdell Jones, saw her older brother leave for the seminary and her sister join the convent. Terry and one of his brothers also spent time at the seminary. Although none of these family members remained in the religious life, Terry understands the priesthood is not an occupation, but a calling — a vocation to be discerned.
Terry was born the third son of 10 children to William “Coach” and Dolly Coonan. Coach explained, “Terry decided to become the ‘father’ of his family, not the ‘father’ of a parish.”
The first of the Coonans to go by Terry, William was the patriarch’s given name.
Young Terry explained, “Dad was nicknamed Terry after New York Giant’s great, Bill Terry. He was a great baseball player at Indiana University, the first athletic director at the University of Saint Francis and the first inductee into their Hall of Fame.”
The father-son pair coached together a good many years at St. Vincent as well. The legendary coach won many titles on various basketball courts over the years, but will be recognized by many, along with his wife and matriarch of the family, as pillars of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and their parish community at St. Vincent.
As a young married couple Terry and Terri set out to get involved in the life of their parish. Over the years, many of their favorite activities have included Marriage Encounter, Small Christian Community, Christ Renews His Parish and assisting with the RCIA program, just to name a few.
Terry described, “The kids grew up knowing that every Sunday night Mom and Dad would meet with their Small Christian Community group called ‘Come Lord Jesus.’ It was not only the couples that bonded during these years, but also the children of the couples.”
Terri added, “Once a month, the adults would sing to the elderly at a nearby nursing home, while the kids colored pictures for them.”
The Coonans attribute their boys’ attraction and empathy today towards the elderly, in part, to this early and regular exposure. “We focused on prayer, faith and action for the foundation of our family life,” Terry summarized.
The Coonans have been blessed with eight children: Patrick, Audra, Matt, Terrence (Tink), Tricia, Katie, Kasey and Tommy, a wonderful son-in-law and three grandchildren. In addition to the ordination of not one of their sons, but two, this spring will mark several reasons for grand celebration — the kindergarten graduation of granddaughter Ashlyn, the first of the next generation to attend St. Vincent de Paul School. And the Coonans just made their final tuition payment after sending all eight children through St. Vincent and then Bishop Dwenger High School from which their youngest, Tommy, will be graduating.
In addition to their Catholic education, the Coonan children have been very involved in athletics and with their parish youth group program, Life Teen.
Tink, four years younger than Matt, was athletically gifted and always included by his older brothers. His strengths were basketball, baseball and his killer flip-throw in soccer, while Matt was an all-conference cross-country runner at Bishop Dwenger and a musically gifted member of the marching band.
Like many siblings, the Coonan brothers are alike in their upbringing but so unique in their personalities and character traits.
Terri shared, “Tink is very laid back while Matt is more gung-ho. It is fun now for Terry and I to compare them to different priests we know commenting that Tink is more like Father So-and-So and Matt like another. We knew there was something special going on with Tink (who, at the time, was a sophomore studying engineering at the University of Dayton), but it was Matt who threw us the curve ball,” she continued.
Matt stayed in town while earning his business degree and had a huge passion for working with the young and serving in a leadership role with the Life Teen group and planning the semiannual retreats.
Terri marveled, “He just came home one night and told us he was going to the seminary. And he added, ‘don’t be surprised if Tink goes with me!’”
Looking back, both parents felt that being apart the first two years of their schooling enabled the boys to create their separate identity. Recently when both boys were honored at their alma-mater all-school assembly, one stuck to the five-minute speech limit and one did not. Matt took the microphone out into the students, while Tink stayed behind the podium.
Terri summarized, “The boys are both so very different with very different amazing gifts and strengths.”
Terry and Terri credited the prayers of the boys’ grandparents as making a huge impact in the lives of their children. “Mom (Dolly) is a prayer warrior,” described daughter-in-law Terri. “She has been responsible for praying daily for vocations in our parish for many, many years.”
She is also responsible for making the vestments both boys will wear for their first Mass.
The two senior Coonans have taken their assignment very seriously and have been reaping much success from their parish. But they insist it has been Terry and Terri who have done an exemplary job of creating a home that would foster and encourage vocations.
Other instrumental figures in the faith-life of the Coonan boys have been priests like Father Mark Gurtner, Father Joseph Gaughan and Msgr. John Kuzmich.
“I remember clearly what Father Mark said to me upon his arrival at St. Vincent when the boys were just in grade school. I introduced myself and said we had four sons. It was nothing short of prophetic, when he simply stated, ‘You must give two,’” the teary-eyed mother recalled.
Another memory dad Terry won’t forget is after Matt came up with an idea to start a Wednesday night ministry life group and Msgr. Kuzmich predicted, ‘There will be many vocations come out of this.’”
Terry added, “We have been very blessed with priests who have been great models of how vibrant and faith-filled priest life can be.”
All of the siblings will be present at the ordination, along with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and many other extended family members and friends from near and far.
“We are all hyped up and very excited. It will be a big bash and just beautiful,” younger sister Katie envisions.
Nearing the final semesters of her elementary education studies at Marian University, Katie explains, “Being in a transitional stage in my life, Tink and Matt are very inspiring examples to me of how they have sought out God’s will for their lives and not their own.”
She feels that Matt is the goofy and lighthearted one of the bunch who is instrumental in drawing the family together. Katie has followed Tink’s path in sports while looking up to his godly example among his friends.
Tommy, who was only around kindergarten age when his brothers were still living at home full-time, feels ‘very blessed’ to have both Tink and Matt joining the priesthood. Early memories of sharing a room with his older brothers include that Tink was addicted to video games and Matt liked Metallica.
When asked what they were feeling about the upcoming “wedding,” as Terry refers to the ordination event, Terri shared, “We are really still in shock. Since the diaconate, it has really started to hit us. Our parish is crazy nuts about this all and it is so cool that our boys belong to everyone here (St. Vincent) now.”
Both Coonans were cautious along the six-year journey but were thrilled when “Matt told us at the diaconate, ‘This is it. There is no turning back now. We are giving ourselves to Christ for the rest of our lives,’”
But Terry pointed out, that ‘proud’ might not be the right word to use. He said, “Yes, we are very proud of the boys, like we are all of our children, but grateful might be a more appropriate description.”
Terry humbly admitted, “We are full of gratitude. We are grateful to God for calling the boys. We are grateful to the boys for answering the call. And we are grateful to the community for supporting them.”
He continued, “There have been so many praying for them. One family with all daughters even ‘adopted’ them when they went to the seminary and has sent them monetary gifts during their journey on a regular basis. Another family has set their cell phones to chime at 6:11 each day to remind them to pray for the Coonan brothers who will be ordained on 6/11 (June 11). Others have caught on and many now stop to pray when their cell phones ring.”
It has been an incredible journey for the Coonan family and the best is yet to come.