ALBANY, N.Y. – Over the past decade, Ed Coughlin, OFM, had been a fixture in the stands when the men’s basketball teams of Siena College and St. Bonaventure University did battle on the hardwood for the Franciscan Cup and bragging rights in the Province community. Ed was always seen mingling with fans from both sides of the aisle, often taking good-natured ribbing about his allegiance since he had strong ties to both institutions. This year’s Nov. 12 contest between the hoops rivals was missing his smiles, cheers and enthusiastic spirit, but that didn’t stop students, friars, colleagues, family and friends from reminiscing about the beloved friar – who died on July 30, a week after heart surgery – at the inaugural Br. Ed Coughlin Franciscan Cup Game.
Nearly 6,000 fans poured into the Times Union Center in Albany – not far from the Loudonville, N.Y., campus where Ed had been stationed since 2014 and served as Siena president – to attend the game whose moniker was changed from the Franciscan Cup. It now bears his name as a lasting tribute to all he had done for the values and ideals of Franciscan higher education at Siena and St. Bonaventure.
Siena won the game 78-65, marking its first victory over SBU in four years – and, with it, going down in the basketball annals of both schools as the first to win the cup under its new name. Entering the contest, St. Bonaventure had dominated, winning six of the nine games since the Franciscan Cup series was established in 2010 to up the ante on this friendly rivalry. The first game between the Province-sponsored schools was played on Dec. 28, 2010.
The Franciscan Cup was renamed in honor of Ed, whose death came while he was serving as president of Siena.
From friends, relatives, colleagues and students, and whether someone knew him for many years or just a short time, all seemed to agree that his personality and ideals made the name change of the cup game a fitting tribute.
“It was a surprise to hear that the cup was being named for Eddie, but it was perfect,” said Sheila Coughlin Pingelski, one of his four sisters. “He was not just a basketball fan. He was a fanatic!”
As Spectrum News reported, this year’s cup game was bigger than basketball. It was a chance to honor a man known and respected across the state and around the world.
Photos of many friars, including Kevin, Mark Reamer, OFM, guardian of Siena’s friary, David Blake, OFM, guardian of the St. Bonaventure friary, and Russel Murray, OFM, SBU’s vice president for mission integration, can be seen in coverage of the game by media outlets.
In the Times Union newspaper, Siena Saints head coach Carmen Maciariello spoke about the significance of the game, his first cup contest at the team’s helm.
“For me, it has special meaning,” Maciariello said. “Obviously, he was the president at Siena when I was hired and I had a great relationship with him. Just looking forward to playing in his honor… He was just a great man who embodied everything that Siena represents.”
Before the game, friars from both schools and members of Ed’s family converged at center court as part of a ceremony in which Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, a former president of Siena, described Ed as the “bridge that connects the dots” between St. Bonaventure and Siena.
Kevin said that Ed probably would have been embarrassed to have the trophy renamed in his honor. “He was never one for self-promotion, so I think he’d be a little bit taken aback. Those of us around him still thought it was very appropriate,” the Provincial said.
In 2014, after Kevin was elected provincial minister, Ed was named the interim president of Siena. In June of this year, Ed announced that he was taking a medical leave of absence and that he planned to return to Siena after the summer to complete his term as president.
A Buffalo, N.Y., native, Ed had strong ties to both Franciscan schools. He graduated from St. Bonaventure in 1970 and would later return as a friar, serving many years in various roles, among them vice president for Franciscan mission from 2005 through 2014.
Staff member Lisa Witkowski, who met Ed in 2016 when she took a position at Siena’s communications office, said it was a fitting tribute to rename the Franciscan Cup in his memory.
“He was a beloved son of both Siena and St. Bonaventure, a committed proponent of Franciscan education, and an enthusiastic fan of college basketball,” said Witkowski, who kept the media and the Siena campus informed of Ed’s declining health and his death in July.
“So many others saw those connections as well. Shortly after his passing, suggestions came in from all quarters to rename the cup in his honor,” she added.
Witkowski said that Ed embraced depth in a culture that rewards superficiality, personal connection in an age when hundreds of clicked likes are the measure of popularity, and heartfelt sincerity when truly positive emotion is often scorned or dismissed.
“He led from the heart, the mind and the spirit – an excellent example for all of us as we make choices about how to conduct our careers and live our lives. I will miss him greatly,” she said.
Mark is among many in the friar community who knew that naming the cup for Ed made perfect sense. “In the days following his passing and during the wake, several people came up to me and suggested with great sincerity and enthusiasm that given Ed’s love for college basketball – what an appropriate [gesture] it would be to rename the Franciscan Cup in [his] honor,” Mark said. “Each time, I would smile to myself and think – they don’t know they’re the fifth or sixth or 10th person to think of this idea.
“The naming of the cup was natural and so obvious,” continued Mark, who was with Ed during his hospital stay. “Who else had such profound affection for both provincial institutions of higher education, combined with a love of basketball?”
Mark recalled that in 2014, Ed was planning to drive with him and Julian Davies, OFM, to SBU for the cup game, but it was the same day that he was unexpectedly named the permanent president of Siena College.
“He decided it [would be best] to stay at Siena – probably a good call, especially since Siena won the game,” he added. “We not only took the cup, but we took Bonaventure’s vice president for mission,” Mark said.
At the game, Ed’s nephew held up a sign that read: “Br. Ed loves Bona’s more,” recalled Mark, a 1983 graduate of Siena. “I don’t know if that was true, but I do know Ed sincerely loved Franciscan higher education because of what he received from it and the difference it made in his life. One of his favorite scriptures passages was – ‘What you have received as a gift, give as a gift.’ Ed certainly instilled his passion and love for Franciscan education to all who came in contact with him,” added Mark.
Great Friar, Great Friend
“Br. Ed was an amazing man, a great friar and great friend,” Larry Anderson, OFM, campus chaplain at Siena College, said in an article in The Evangelist newspaper soon after Ed’s death. “Our hearts are broken, but our faith tells us that he is at peace with God at this time.”
Pingelski, who graduated from Siena in 1985, said she and her family were overwhelmed by the reactions that people expressed about their brother’s death and the impact he had on their lives.
“We started to understand while Ed was in the hospital how global his reach was,” she said, recalling a prayer service held the Friday after his surgery. “That day, people all around the world – in Ireland, Italy and [across] the United States – prayed for Ed at the same time. It was amazing and so heartwarming.”
She continued, “I’ve realized that everyone has their own story and their own connection to Ed. I’ve also learned that the tone of the school has become more personal, thanks to him. Students and board members spoke of how he had a casual style that they appreciated. I think he developed that style while at Bonaventure. Ed put a human touch on the office of president.”
The Coughlin Franciscan Cup Game was one of several tributes held for Ed after his passing. A Mass of Resurrection was celebrated at St. Bonaventure on Aug. 5 – and on Sept. 17, the Franciscan feast of the stigmata, more than a thousand members of the Siena community came together for a memorial Mass.
The Br. F. Edward Coughlin OFM Endowment to Advance Franciscan Values, established by the Coughlin family – was announced at the memorial Mass. This followed an announcement soon after Ed’s passing that scholarships had been established at Siena College, SBU, and Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School in Buffalo, from which he graduated in 1966.
At a luncheon held before the Mass, students described to Pingelski and her family members the impact that Ed had on them. “We were all very touched by the emotion of these young people,” she said. “We could feel their passion as they told us what Ed meant to them. One even said he was sorry that incoming freshman would not be able to meet Ed. The maturity of these young people was remarkable.”
During the Mass, a video titled “Remembering Our Br. Ed” was played, showing friars, colleagues and students describing their connections to Ed and their memories of him.
“Br. Ed was an ideal type of person to work with,” said John Murray, ’79, chair of the Siena Board of Trustees. “He cared deeply about what other people thought. Br. Ed is the most Franciscan man I’ve ever met – humble, empathetic and sincere.”
“Losing Br. Ed meant losing a huge piece of our college,” said a student in the video. Another echoed that thought: “It feels like we’ve lost the rock in the middle of the community.”
Margaret Madden, Siena’s interim president, observed, “One of the Franciscan principles that’s important is relationship, and I think his relationship with students was really special.”
Other games have been played since Nov. 12 by Siena and SBU – and both teams will continue to play the 2019-20 schedule. But this season there won’t be a game quite like the first Br. Ed Coughlin Franciscan Cup that honored a friar well-loved by the Franciscan communities on both sides of New York State.
As basketball player Elijah Burns said in an interview before the special Nov. 12 game for the Coughlin Cup, “[Br. Ed] was a tremendous person. He led the school in a great direction. He’s truly missed.”
– Jocelyn Thomas is the director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “Bonnies Bow to Siena in Battle for Franciscan Cup” — Nov. 12, 2019, Olean Times Herald
- “Siena men’s basketball tops rival St. Bonaventure” – Nov. 12, 2019 The Daily Gazette
- “Siena President to Leave Office Next Year” – June 26, 2019, Siena website
- “SBU Defeats Siena in Second Franciscan Cup Game” – Dec. 7, 2011, HNP Today