Written by Pete Sheehan Thursday, 09 May 2013 00:00
Robert Coyle was ordained at the National Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington D.C. on April 25. The former monsignor of Corpus Christi Church in Mineola, at one point, was unsure if he would ever be a priest. Coyle was an altar server at St. Edward the Confessor Church, Syosset, when a visiting priest once asked him if he ever thought about becoming one.
“No, Father,” he politely replied. “I don’t want to be a priest.” He told the priest that he was thinking of becoming a police officer, a lawyer, or a Naval officer.
The priest “asked me to think about it”
Not only did Coyle think about it, but he went on to be ordained a priest in 1991, splitting his time since between ministry in local parishes and as a Naval chaplain around the world.
He had been pastor of Corpus Christi since 2009.
“Corpus Christi is a wonderful parish with rich communities of faith, including several different ethnic communities that have Mass in languages other than English,” Coyle said. The parishioners “bring their faith and culture
Now, the former Msgr. Coyle will serve full-time as an auxiliary bishop for the U.S. Military Archdiocese that ministers to the people in the U.S armed forces and their families in the U.S. and those serving around the world.
“I will serve as auxiliary bishop and vicar for the eastern half of the many bases in the United States,” visiting bases and administering sacraments such as confirmation.
“This came as a total surprise,” Bishop Coyle said with a chuckle. “You don’t volunteer for something like this.”
He was born in Brooklyn in 1964 and moved with family to Syosset. He attended the parish school, St. Edward’s.
“St. Edward’s was a great parish that nurtured my faith. My priestly calling grew” through the guidance and example of the parish priests, especially Father Henry Palmer, pastor at the time and a former Army chaplain in World War II.
He attended Fordham University and entered Navy ROTC before deciding that he was called to the priesthood. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in economics in 1986.
He soon went on to Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington, to study for the priesthood. Commissioned as an ensign in 1988, he began his duties as a reserve Navy chaplain while still a seminarian.
He was assigned as an associate pastor to St. Dominic’s, Oyster Bay, where he served from 1991-96. He went on to St. Patrick’s Church, Glen Cove.
“You learn to be a priest in a parish,” he said. “I’m ever grateful for the parishioners and staffs I ministered with.”
In 1999 he entered active-duty chaplaincy, serving with the Marines in Okinawa, Japan, and later deployed to Southeast Asia as landing force chaplain.
During a three-year assignment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, he went to the Middle East and served in Operation Southern Watch and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The greatest threat was the unknown,” he recalled. “We slept with our gas masks next to our beds while the aircrews flew the combat missions over Iraq.”
Life was not easy, “but any day at sea was no comparison to what the soldiers and Marines experienced on the ground.”
So he did his best to minister to the personnel in the task force, often flying in helicopters to visit other ships and units, talking with “every faith group and those who had none.”
He returned to Long Island from 2003 to 2007 as chaplain for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point.
From 2007 to 2009, he served on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and again deployed to the Middle East in 2009 for Operation Enduring Freedom.
“It is an honor to serve side by side with those who are called to protect our nation,” he said.
“In my new role as a bishop with the Military Archdiocese, I will travel constantly to many bases. I will miss the regular community at weekday and weekend Masses and parish activities,” he said, “but I am happy to serve our Church and our country any way I can.”
—Rich Forestano contributed to this story