Very Rev Romeo Canon Coia
Born: 28 November, 1912, in Glasgow.
Died: 22 April, 2005, in Dundee, aged 92.
THE seemingly unending stream of parishioners who, over two weeks, volunteered to maintain a 24-hour bedside vigil at the hospital bed of Romeo Canon Coia provided testament to the deep affection in which their dying priest was held.
In this outpouring of love and respect, three-hour bedside shifts had to be shortened to two hours because of the sheer number who wanted to take part. It was a fitting tribute to the man who had served faithfully, and always with a cheery smile, as St Bride’s parish priest for more than 27 years, perhaps the longest serving parish priest in Scotland.
In life Fr Romeo had been a popular priest, not just with his brother priests but with the people he served. In death they paid their respects to their friend. The news of his death spread quickly in Glasgow, where he had served in parishes in Bishopbriggs and St Albert's in the south of the city.
Romeo was the son of Italian immigrants who had left their homeland to find a better life in Scotland. He was born in Glasgow and lived happily with his six brothers and two sisters.
The priesthood was not Romeo's first choice of vocation. After secondary education in St Mungo's Academy, he went to Glasgow University, where he graduated with a first-class hons MA in English. He taught in the Gorbals before switching to Holyrood Secondary, also in the south side of Glasgow, and at that time the largest secondary school in the west of Scotland.
During his studies he worked in his father’s caf opposite the Glasgow Art Galleries and was a popular member of the Italian Club in Park Circus. It was there he met Emilia, whom he married and settled down with in family life. But the happiness of this idyllic loving marriage was to be tragically cut short when Emilia died with her baby at childbirth.
Romeo sought comfort in prayer and looked for guidance in what way his life would turn. He sought solace in the monastic life of the Cistercian monks in their novitiate at Santa Maria Abbey at Nunraw. Also there was Dom Donald McGlynn, whom Romeo had taught at Holyrood, and Raymond Jaconelli, a former pupil from St Mungo’s Academy. Both went on to become abbots at Nunraw.
Romeo eventually decided the monastic life was not his vocation but he knew he wanted to serve God as a priest.
He applied to Archbishop Campbell of Glasgow to be accepted to study for the priesthood to serve in the archdiocese. He was accepted and started his six years' training at St Peter’s College, Cardross.
It was here he earned two nicknames "Peter Pan", because he was older than all the professors, and the "human dynamo", because of his remarkable and seemingly endless energy.
Although old enough to be their father, Romeo was happy to pull on his football gear and mix it on the field with students less than half his age. He was popular with staff and students alike and was eventually voted head student in the philosophy and theology houses at the seminary.
After ordination in June 1959, he was sent to teach at St Mary's College, Blairs, the junior seminary outside of Aberdeen. After four years he was, to his delight, sent to a parish where he could practise his pastoral ministry.
He served in two parishes in Glasgow, Bishopbriggs and St Albert's in the south side of the city. He also represented the archdiocese on the important education committees before being allowed to transfer to the diocese of Dunkeld, where he first had a short spell in the parish at Broughty Ferry before the late Bishop Hart finally sent him to St Bride’s. He remained there for 27 years until his death.
Throughout his life there he was renowned for his energy; it seemed endless as he continually visited his parishioners in their homes. He also regularly visited the residents of St Mary's home for the elderly in the town. Nobody ever pointed out that he was probably older than most of the residents.
He still found time to build a new church for increasing numbers of parishioners, and when parish trips abroad were being planned, he cut out the travel agents and organised it at bargain prices for the parishioners. His family’s home village of Filignano was a favourite destination.
But even with his busy parish life, Fr Romeo took time to relax, fishing with his friend and summer holiday companion Mgr Benjamin Canon Donachie, also of Dunkeld diocese, and Fr John Muldoon of Glasgow, who was also his winter holiday companion.
And if he was not fishing he was golfing. Over the years looking after himself he became an accomplished chef and enjoyed nothing more than preparing a meal at home for a friend.
Last year Romeo went to Japan on holiday - quite an achievement for a man of his age. He enjoyed travelling but never told anyone where he was going until the last minute. This was because he knew his caring parishioners would caution him about making such arduous journeys at his age.
Not only the Catholic community knew him, but people of all faiths and none recognised Fr Romeo as a friend and someone to whom they could turn in a crisis for the advice they needed.
Sadly, the strains of Holy Week this year proved too much for Fr Romeo. He had been given a warning the previous year but this year even a two-week rest in the care of the little Sisters of the Poor in Robroyston, Glasgow, didn’t provide the battery charge he sought. When he went home he was moved into Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, where he died with parishioners and family at his bedside. The dynamo had worn itself out serving God and His people.
At his funeral, Bishop Logan said: "Canon Coia served our diocese faithfully for many years. He will be sadly missed by many of us." Canon Romeo was buried in the family plot beside his wife, in Lambhill cemetery in Glasgow. Parishioners travelled in two coaches from Monifieth to accompany their priest to his place of rest.
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