Navy chaplain who prayed outside San Diego Planned Parenthood named bishop

Joseph Coffey, who prayed the rosary on Saturdays while serving as a chaplain at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese for Military Services

Bishop Joseph Coffey, second from left. (image: LIFE Runners)

In 1988, Joseph Coffey was in Germany, selling Japanese cars to American soldiers, and “having a good time, not really not knowing what my future was going to be.”

On March 25, he was ordained in Washington’s Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as an auxiliary bishop for the military archdiocese of the United States, which counts as its members every Catholic on active duty in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

What brought the wandering Coffey back to America so many years ago was a little story in the International Herald Tribune: 500 people had been arrested for sitting in front of an abortion center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in “this thing called Operation Rescue.”

By then, Coffey had been working and traveling around Europe five years — including two months as a ski instructor in Switzerland — and the news of Cherry Hill hit home. It’s just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, where he was born and raised, the fifth of nine children of Dr. William and Roseanita Coffey.

Coffey grew up pro-life. He was 13 when Roe v. Wade passed and his parents explained to their five sons and four daughters the catastrophe that had overtaken America. The family regularly attended the March for Life and pro-life events.

He’d never heard of rescue, though he later found out his sister had been arrested.

“That’s when I knew I had to come back to the States,” Coffey said. “I wasn’t sure why I was coming back or what I would be doing, but I knew I wanted to get involved with that rescue movement.”

Rescue those led to slaughter

Based on Proverbs 24:11–12: “Rescue those being led to death, hold back those staggering toward slaughter,” rescues involved pro-lifers placing their bodies nonviolently between the abortionists and their intended victims, preventing any killing and taking any violence onto themselves.

“I came back [from Europe] on September 1, 1988, and 10 days later, on September 10, which happened to be my mother’s birthday, I got arrested for the first time at an abortion clinic in Delaware with about 100 other pro-lifers from Philadelphia,” he recalls.

“It was very scary at first. The state troopers showed up, they said, ‘You gotta move,’ and we said, ‘No.’ We sang, we prayed, and they literally dragged us across the driveway on the asphalt. It was actually kind of painful,” said Coffey, who is six foot two and 200 pounds.

“We were released a couple hours later. That started my two years of rescuing.”

During that time, Coffey was “arrested about a dozen times” in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, New York, Atlanta, and Delaware, including “one famous Good Friday rescue” when “my mother was arrested with seven of her children in Philadelphia. It was wonderful, really great.”

Coffey’s mother, who died four years ago, “said it was one of the happiest moments of her life.”

His longest stint in jail was a week in Atlanta with several hundred pro-lifers and the legendary Fr. Norman Weslin, founder of the elite itinerant rescue community the Lambs of Christ, who often locked themselves to abortion equipment and refused any cooperation with authorities when arrested.

That week in the Atlanta jail included “Mass, prayers, the rosary, singing,” Coffey recalled. “It was the best retreat of my life.”

But it was another retreat, in the traditional environment of the Malvern Retreat House in southeast Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, that spelled the end of Coffey’s rescuing days.

“I saw a statue of Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane,” he says.

“And that’s where it hit me that I was called to be a priest, at that moment…I was 30 when I entered. I’ve never looked back, never looked back. I’ll be 60 next year.”

While in seminary, Coffey’s life took yet another turn when he was recruited to the military chaplain candidate program.

He remained a reservist, and after five years as a parish priest, he asked Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua if he could “go on active duty as a Navy chaplain, because there’s a great need for priests in the military.”

Coffey was with the Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, for seven months.

“I did a lot of praying, a lot of rosaries and Masses for the troops,” he said. “I was on two different aircraft carriers, the George Washington and Ronald Reagan, as well as shore-based duty.”

“It can be dangerous, but it’s a great place to be a priest to serve the needs of the servicemen and women,” Coffey said. “Pray Mass for them, hear confessions, counsel, and take care of them, take care of their spiritual needs.”

Pro-life witness continues

And although he had to stop rescuing when he entered the seminary, Coffey kept up his pro-life witness and efforts to save women and children from the violence of abortion.

He prayed outside the local hospital on Friday afternoon with a group of seminarians, prayed in front of Planned Parenthood abortion facility before his ordination to the priesthood 23 years ago, and prayed at Planned Parenthood before being ordained a bishop.

And it’s been his “usual practice” during his two and a half years as chaplain at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego “to pray the rosary with some of our sidewalk counsellors and offer support to women in crisis” outside the Planned Parenthood abortion center on Saturday.

“I was there last Saturday for the first time as a bishop,” he said. “I would just encourage other priests to do that.”

Full story at LifeSiteNews.


  1. Deacon Craig Anderson says

    Thanks be to God! The chaplain corps continues to provide the Church with good priests and bishops.

  2. Leadership by example.

  3. What a life…If I can’t envy that, I’ll just have to settle for admiration!

  4. Title needs commas.

    • Sorry, but commas are to be used only if the phrase is not essential to the true meaning of the sentence. In this case, the phrase is the essential part of the message. Take the phrase out of the sentence and it becomes, “Navy Chaplain becomes Bishop.”

      • Thank you for reminding us of that rule. I probably have used unnecessary commas in the past because I forgot it..

  5. Bishop Coffey speaks clearly the truths of the the Catholic faith. The holiness of Jesus is palpable when in his presence. We got a good one here, someone who will lead us to Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.

  6. Ralph Forr says

    I agree about the commas, but what an example. I will bet Bishop Coffey rescued with some of my friends. What an example was his mother for all of her children. May this good man continue to be a good shepard.

  7. I believe David is correct. Commas identify subordinate clauses but, I believe, do not indicate anything about whether the clause can or should be omitted. Commas also separate items in a list.

  8. Very, very inspiring story! We are so blessed to have him, as a bishop in the Military Archdiocese of our Church!

  9. Anonymous says

    A long time ago, I volunteered at a pro-life clinic. It was very hard, as we were forbidden to talk about God or Christian morality, or even to suggest a better way of life! After doing a pregnancy test, if the result was positive— it wasn’t easy to discuss the girl’s life situation, the preciousness of the baby inside her— and all the wonderful, free help she and her baby could receive, for prenatal care, and onward.

    • Anonymous says

      We badly need good churches that teach Christian virtue, and good families that do likewise! And to love and guide kids, raising them with Christian virtues, helping them grow up pure and chaste, with self-respect– ready for a happy and successful Marriage! And free prenatal care and adoption services, for those who make a “mistake!” Outlaw abortion forever!

    • Anonymous says

      In 1960, 5% of all American births were to unwed mothers. By 2015, that percentage was at 40.3%!! Nearly half of all American children born today, will grow up in very difficult circumstances! The churches all need to teach and preach Christian virtue, with love and care, for their people– and help form a Nation of good Christian Marriages and good, solid family homes, once again– with a backbone of Christian love, maturity, and virtue! Children need to grow up with love and virtue, chastity and self-control– and end up in good, solid Marriages—-no more “mistakes!” I am sure Bishop Coffey is helping already, in this important endeavor!

  10. Danijela Brekalo says

    it is so uplifting to know there are priest such as this still in our Church. It is also good to know that the present Pope still has good sense to promote such priests and enrich the Church by them.

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