Friday, March 25, 2011

Bill Coughlin --Rest in Peace

Today marks the passing of a great man, my Uncle Bill Coughlin.

Uncle Bill was born on November 14, 1923, in Cleveland, Ohio, the fourth child of Connie and Cora (Bowers) Coughlin. Bill had three older brothers: Fran (Connie), Jack, and Bob; and a baby sister, Bernice. Bill spent his earliest years between Cleveland and Willoughby and attended high school at Willoughby Union High School. Not long after high school, Bill and his three brothers entered the service, fighting for their country in World War II. Thanks be to God, they all returned home

After the war the Coughlin kids all married. Bill married Mary Catherine (Kay) Smith in 1948 at Immaculate Conception Church in Willoughby. A year later, their first child, Regina (Jeannie), was born--with many others still to come: Jackie, Billy, Tim, Virginia, Joe, and Kelly.

Bill and Kay first raised their family in Eastlake, moving to Willowick around 1960. Bill worked on the locomotives at New York Central, first as a fireman, later as an engineer. I remember the long hours taking trains to Erie and Buffalo and back. At one point I think all my Coughlin uncles (as well as my Dad) worked at New York Central; same for many of my Fitzpatrick relatives. I came this close to working on the railroad myself.

What I remember most about Uncle Bill was his joyfulness. My sister Mary Ellen and her husband Ed, and my brother Denny and his wife Sher talked to Bill the night before he died. And though he was weak, he laughed, joked, told stories, and was himself through and through--right up until the end. Bill was smart, funny, kind--a man of honesty, integrity, and deep-down goodness. No one ever failed to notice the joyfulness and goodness. Bill was a good Catholic Christian all his life. He was all one could hope for in a husband and a father (and an uncle). He, Kay, and my cousins suffered one of the worst tragedies when their son and brother, Tim, died of cancer so young. But it didn't destroy Bill and Kay's faith and wonderful spirit.

Our hearts go out to Aunt Kay, to our cousins, to the many grandchildren and great grandchildren, and to the many friends of Bill Coughlin.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam!

"May he, Uncle Bill, be at the right hand of the Lord!"

Uncle Bill Coughlin

Pictured above is the last photo I took of my Uncle Bill Coughlin--taken at his daughter Jackie's house late summer of 2010 (Jackie is on his left; Joe lurking behind).

Bill Coughlin is one of the greatest men I have ever met. I love him and Aunt Kay, and all his children, my cousins, the way I love my Mom and Dad, my brothers and my sister.

The world will not see the likes of Bill Coughlin again!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Apostles Creed in Irish-Gaelic

Creidim i nDia, an tAthair Uilechumhachtach,
Cruthaitheoir Nimhe agus Talún,
agus i nÍosa Criost a Aonmhac san ár dTiarna,
do gabhadh ón Spriod Naomh,
do rugadh ó Mhuire ógh,
d'fhulaig páis fé Phointeas Píolóid,
do céasadh ar an gcrois,
fuair bás agus d'adhlacadh,
chuaigh síos go hifreann,
d'aiséirigh an treas lá ó mhairbhe,
chuaigh suas ar neamh,
tá ina shuí ar dheasláimh Dé en tAthair Uilechumhachtach,
as san tiocfaidh ag tabhairt bhreithiúntais ar bheo is ar mhairbh.
Creidim sa Spriod Naomh,
sa naomh-Eaglais Chaitliceach,
i gComaoine na Naomh,
i Maithiúnachas na bPeacaí,
i nAiséirí na Colla,
is sa Bheatha Shíoraí.

Above is the Apostles Creed in Irish. We said this prayer at the St. Patrick's Day mass at St. Colman's in Cleveland. The version published in the St. Colman's mass brochure used some older Irish spelling, but the version above looks more standard. Irish spelling is, believe it or not, fairly phonetic and predictable--much more so than English. But the rules are somewhat complicated. I may try to put a rough English pronunciation here soon.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Glorious St. Patrick's Day in Cleveland, Ohio!

St. Patrick's Day 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio--a glorious, wonderful day. At the big Irish mass celebrated at St. Colman's Church on West 65th Street, Fr, Begin said something like this: "We are grateful that God made the first day of spring St. Patrick's Day this year."

It was a warm, sunny day, temperature in the mid 60's (I've spent many a St. Patrick's Day in snow or sleet at the parade, so this was very unusual!). I, along with my brother Jim and two of his kids, Dillon and Quinn, began the day attending mass at the historic Irish church of St. Colman's--a treasure that was almost lost to Cleveland last year when Bishop Richard Lennon tried to close the church in his efforts to downsize the Diocese of Cleveland.

Fr. Dan Begin was the celebrant, helped out by 16 concelebrants (including Fr. Bob Begin, pastor of St. Colman's). Hundreds of people marched into the church to the accompaniment of fifes and drums--most of them from the West Side Irish-American Club. The music at the mass was glorious, with the sound of pipers, piano, and violin. The song selections were the sentimental favorites of Irish-Catholics: "Our Lady of Knock," "All Praise to Saint Patrick," "Danny Boy," and many others. These might not represent the best music created for and by the Irish, but the congregation loved it. We also sang the amazing hymn, "Faith of Our Fathers," and closed with "America the Beautiful." Right before the recessional, the violinst, who was either Sarah Lally Pap or Mary Beth Ions, played a beautiful tune, which sounded to my ear like a lament--possibly the lament O'Carolan composed as he neared the end of his life. How many people packed the church? There wasn't a seat to be found and hundreds and hundreds stood in the balcony and down all the aisles. It was incredible.

One interesting feature of the mass was the Credo, which was spoken in Irish-Gaelic. What was spoken was actually the Apostles' Creed, Cre na nEaspeal (I'll post the Irish text at another date).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"St. Patrick's Breastplate" in Irish and English

Lúireach (Breastplate Of St. Patrick)

Críost liom Christ with me
Críost romham Christ before me
Críost i mo dhiaidh Christ behind me
Críost istigh ionam Christ in me
Críost fúm Christ beneath me
Críost os mo chionn Christ above me
Críost ar mo lámh dheas Christ on my right
Críost ar mo lámh chlé Christ on my left
Críost i mo luí dom Christ when I lie down
Críost i mo sheasamh dom Christ when I sit down
Críost i gcroí gach duine atá Christ in the heart of everyone
ag cuimhneamh orm who thinks of me
Críost i mbéal gach duine Christ in the mouth of everyone
a labhráionn liom who speaks of me
Críost i ngach súil a fhéacann orm Christ in every eye that sees me
Críost i ngach cluas a éisteann liom. Christ in every ear that hears me.

Naomh Pádraig (ca 377) This is the famous prayer attributed to Patrick. This was found on the website

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig Oraibh!

Blessings of the Feast of Patrick on Y’all!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Colin in His Bouncy Chair

Colin at 7 months, bouncing in his chair.

Sullivan Relatives

The above photo shows my grandmother, Margaret Ann Sullivan Fitzpatrick (possibly the first person on the left), my Great Grandmother, Sarah Buckley Sullivan (3rd from left), and my great aunts, the Sullivan sisters. I'll try to get the names in the right order soon.

To me this photo is a miracle. I've never before seen the image of my great grandmother. What is stunning is how much she looked like my Aunt Julia Fitzpatrick Brock and even my Mom, Margaret Ann Fitzpatrick Coughlin. My great grandmother lived from 1860 to 1931. My grandmother lived from 1885 to 1940; my Mother from 1923 to 2003.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Baseball, Family, and Jesus: Coughlin's of 1960's

The above photo, scanned and sent to me by my brother Kevin, shows what life was like in my house and in my neighborhood in the early 1960's. Top left and clockwise, Buster Zylowski, Denny Coughlin, Kevin Coughlin, Jackie Zylowski, Mary Ellen Coughlin, and fine baseball player, Bobby Coughlin. The Sacred Heart of Jesus looks over it all. Tag-team wrestling probably broke out right after this photo was taken.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Poem

The Last Ash Wednesday (February 2003)

After teaching my classes,
I drive over to Kevin’s house
Where Mom now lives after moving from Euclid
Our family home for fifty-one years.

It’s getting harder for her to go out,
So I come to her house,
Burn last year’s palm fronds in the ash tray

And anoint her forehead with the Sign of the Cross.

I find myself unable to utter the ancient words,
“Remember, Woman, from dust thou art,
And unto dust thou shallt return.”

The words are too painful, too real,
The abiding dust
too close.

Then Mom anoints my own forehead,
Again leaving the words unspoken:

No one can ever know . . . .

After the little ceremony,
We both laugh, and Mom says,
“Let’s drink a beer!”

“Not on Ash Wednesday,” I tease.

“The hell with that!” she retorts.
“I’m old enough now to be above the rules!”

We both laugh, and I pop open two beers.
We drink to Mardi Gras and to Lent,
And to the ashes on our foreheads.

[Bob Coughlin
February 21, 2007
Ash Wednesday]

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Skiing in and around Austria: Stubaital and Zugspitze

[Image above is the mountain at the end of the Stubai glacier called "Zuckerhuettl," one of Austria's tallest peaks, on the Austrian-Italian border. Tim Forward and I climbed this mountain.]

In the spring of 1968, my friends and I did some interesting skiing outside of Innsbruck, Austria. One day, Bob Wingerson, Tom Forward, and I (and possibly one or two other guys) went skiing on the glacier on the great Zugspitze, on the German-Austrian border. That day was so warm that we took off our shirts and skied for a while shirtless. Somewhere we have photos of this wonderful day of skiing.

On another day, Tim and I borrowed seal skins from Liselotte Schartner or Caecilia Werth and headed up to the end of Stubaital for an incredible weekend adventure. The seal skins were long, thin skins that fit over the tips of skis and then ran underneath the length of them. Because of the grain of the skin, you could actually walk uphill--and that's what we planned to do--walk up the Stubai Glacier to the great mountain called Zuckerhuettl, one of Austria's highest and most spectacular mountains, right on the Austrian-Italian border.

On the first day of this adventure, Tim and I took a train up to the very end of the Stubaital (Stubai Valley). From there, we hiked uphill for many hours until we came to one of the mountain huts that exist all over the Austrian alps. This place might have been called a hut, but it was really a substantial structure that could accommodate maybe 20 or so guests, sleeping on Matratzen placed one next to the other. The hut even offered simple meals--and, of course, beer! Someone had to port all these things up the mountain (or maybe there was some sort of utility lift that moved the food, beer, and other supplies up to the hut). So Tim and I spent the night there (probably for about a dollar) and then left early the next morning to climb up the glacier to the top of Zuckerhuettl.

It was a perfectly clear day as we climbed up the mountain. The seal skins worked perfectly, and after a couple hours we reached a ridge that we couldn't ski over. We took off our skis, climbed over the ridge, then proceeded with our journey. The sun was really totally unfiltered, with no clouds, and it reflected off the snow. Tim and I were smart enough to wear tinted ski goggles--but not smart enough to wear any kind of sun screen. It hadn't entered our minds. And Tim, with his fair skin, would pay a price for this later.

After another couple hours hiking up the glacier, we arrived at the foot of the final "horn" (as in Matter-horn). The peak of Zuckerhuettl was a very steep glacier-carved horn, and we had to climb the last 100 yards or so by foot. So we removed our skis, and began the last difficult climb. If I remember correctly, there was a rope that we could grasp on this last trek.

After 15 to 30 minutes, we arrived at the top of the great mountain, and looked over the entire Stubai Valley, the vast glacier, the many peaks. Looking down the steep south slope of Zuckerhuettl, basically a cliff hundreds, maybe thousands of feet in length, we looked into Italian territory.

Tim and I were at the top of the world!

Then we skied down the glacier. It was a long, spectacular ride down the glacier (except for the middle ridge, which again involved a little climbing). After about an hour or so, we were back at the mountain hut. And a couple hours later, we were at the base of the mountain, catching the last train back to Innsbruck.

The next day, Tim paid the price for wearing no sunscreen . His face and lips were badly sunburned. His face looked like a raccoon's (because his eyes were protected from the sun by ski goggles). Somehow my darker complexion saved me from a terrible sunburn.
The sunburn was soon healed and forgotten and Tim and I were left in indelible memories of our trek up Zuckerhuettl.

Friday, March 4, 2011

"Survivor" & Teachers

I don't know who composed this, but I think it's appropriate in light of our governor's attacks on school teachers. It's one of those pieces circulating via email:

Next Season on Survivor

Have you heard about the next planned Survivor show? Three businessmen and three businesswomen will be dropped in an elementary school classroom for 1 school year. Each business person will be provided with a copy of his/her school district's curriculum, and a class of 20-30 students. Each class will have a minimum of five learning-disabled children, three with A.D.H.D., one gifted child, and two who speak limited English. Three students will be labeled with severe behavior problems.

Each business person must complete lesson plans at least 3 days in advance, with annotations for curriculum objectives. and they will have to modify, organize, or create their materials accordingly. They will be required to teach students, handle misconduct, implement technology, document attendance, write referrals, correct homework, make bulletin boards, compute grades, complete report cards, document benchmarks, communicate with parents, and arrange parent conferences. They must also stand in their doorway between class changes to monitor the hallways. In addition, they will complete fire drills, tornado drills, and Code Red drills for shooting attacks each month.

The business people will have to attend workshops, faculty meetings, and attend curriculum development meetings. They must also tutor students who are behind and strive to get their 2 non-English speaking children proficient enough to take the language proficiency tests. If they are sick or having a bad day, they must not let it show. Each day they must incorporate reading, writing, math, science, and social studies into the program. They must maintain discipline and provide an educationally stimulating environment to motivate students at all times.

If all students do not wish to cooperate, work, or learn, the teacher will be held responsible.

The business people will only have access to the public golf course on the weekends, but with their new salary, they will not be able to afford it.

There will be no access to vendors who want to take them out to lunch, and lunch will be limited to thirty minutes, which is not counted as part of their work day. The business people will be permitted to use a student restroom, as long as another Survivor candidate can supervise their class.

If the copier is operable, they may make copies of necessary materials before, or after, school. However, they cannot surpass their monthly limit of copies.

The business people must continually advance their education, at their expense, and on their own time.

The winner of this season of Survivor will be allowed to return to their job, assuming funding is available.

Pass this to your friends who think teaching is easy, and to the ones who know it is hard.

[author of this piece is unknown]

Skiing at Axamer-Lizum (2)

When we (Tim Forward and I, Caecilia Werth, and Liselotte Schartner) were done skiing at Axamer-Lizum and the slope up Birgitzkoepfl (and hiking up the mountain with our skis slung over our shoulders after a run), we had a wonderful shortcut home back to Innsbruck.

From the top of Birgitzkoepfl, you could take a gently downhill slope across the flank of a beautiful mountain called Nockspitze that eventually took you to the Muttere-Alm ski area. This was a long hike that crossed some areas with signs that warned "Lawine Gefahr!" --that is, avalanche danger. When they warned against avalanches in Tirol, they weren't fooling around. If you got caught in one, they would find your body under tons of snow, trees, rock, and mud--in the summer!

After this long cross-country hike, you got to ski down the slope at Mutters, until you reached the street car tracks. From there, it was a nice street car ride back to Innsbruck's Stadtzentrum. And from there, I could walk home to my pension in Schmelzergasse in less than a half hour.

All in all, a wonderful day of skiing!

Skiing at Axamer-Lizum, outside Innsbruck, Austria

I lived in Salzburg and then Innsbruck, Austria from August 1967 to June 1968, one of 36 guys in the University of Notre Dame's Innsbruck Study-Abroad Program. Recently I was thinking about one glorious day in late winter, probably March of 1968, when I skied with three friends at the spectacular ski area called Axamer-Lizum, about 10 miles outside the city of Innsbruck. My friends and I had skied often at Lizum (as we called it), where the Damenabfahrt (Women's Downhill) ski run from the 1964 Olympics took place. The ski area was at a very high elevation, with lifts going up a peek on one side called "Hoadl," and a lift going up the opposite side of the valley to "Birgitzkoepfl." On the eastern edge of this area was the most spectacular mountain scenery in Tirol--the incredible limestone spires called the Kalkkoegl (see photo above).

On this particular day, Tim Forward and I went skiing with two Austrian friends that we had met in Obergurgl, Austria when we were at a week-long youth ski school. These friends worked at a governmental office in Innsbruck called the "Forstlichebundesversuchsanstalt"--what a wonderful German name!--The Federal Institute for the Experimental Study of Forests--or something like that. These girls were Caecilia Werth (now known as Cilli Kirchmair) and Liselotte Schartner). Someone had jokingly warned us Americans never to invite an Austrian girl to go hiking (you'll end up on an exhausting day-long hike!); they should have warned us never to go skiing with Austrian girls. Because Caecilia and Liselotte couldn't afford to buy lift tickets. We spent the entire day hiking up Birgitzkoepfl and skiing down that slope--over and over again. We felt like we were the first people in the history of the world to ski that slope without ever buying a lift ticket (by American standards, the lift tickets weren't all that expensive; by Austrian standards of 1968, they were pretty dear).

[More coming!]

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How Long does It Take to Become a College Professor?

Because there's so much talk about getting ridding of teacher unions and getting rid of tenure, I thought I'd like to write briefly about what is involved in becoming a college professor.

In short, it's a long and difficult process (not unlike many other professions). After the 13 years of K through 12 schooling, a future professor must get a bachelor's degree. That takes 4 to 5 years (increasingly, it's taking 5 years unless you know from the very beginning what you are going to major in). After getting a bachelor's degree, a future professor must get a master's degree. There are a few programs that can be done in maybe a year and a half (3 semesters), but more typical is two years, possibly even 3 years.

After getting a master's degree in some fields, you can begin to teach in college (but you probably wouldn't be competitive for a job). At my college, a typical English-professor search yields about 150 applications. Normally, only those with a Ph.D. in hand or someone who is "ABD" (All But Dissertation on the doctoral level) has a shot at getting an interview. We might interview 5 of the original 150 applicants; only one will get a job offer.

A doctoral program in English typically takes 4 to 7 years. After all the doctoral course work and comprehensive exams, the doctoral candidate must write a book-length dissertation--and then defend it before a committee of experts.

This whole process has taken from 10 years of college study to about 15 years. A person receiving his or here doctorate can easily be mid 30's when the doctorate is conferred (or much older!).

At that point, it would still be difficult to win a professorship. Most people then go into a period of part-time teaching, often at multiple colleges--for incredibly little pay. We have adjunct (part-time) professors who work at Lakeland Community College, John Carroll University, and Cuyahoga Community College--at the same time. For all their work, they might make less than $10,000 per semester, with no health benefits! This period of apprenticeship is difficult, poor-paying, and almost thankless--with no guaranteed future job.

So after 10-15 years of schooling and several years of part-time teaching, a person might be a good candidate for a professorship at my community college. But to do this he or she would have to go through a multi-level application process that often involves submitting a paper application and curriculum vitae, one telephone interview and two face-to-face interviews. These face-to-face interviews take place in front of a committee of 5 to 8 people and involve answering questions and doing a teaching demonstration.

If, after all that, someone is offered a professorship, that person would have to teach and do the other aspects of a professor's job for 4 to 6 years before being granted tenure. All that time as a non-tenured prof, he or she could be let go--and no reason has to be given (we have seen it happen!).

So all in all, it's a long hard slog to becoming a tenured professor. Good luck getting this accomplished before you are 40 or 45 years old!