Father Coyle relatives visit Birmingham to film documentary on murdered priest for Irish televisio

Posted By: August 17, 2017

By Greg Garrison | ggarrison@al.com — Birmingham News. January 30, 2010 
Father James E. Coyle and his sister, Marcella
Documentary filmmaker Pat Shine of Ireland, 
grandnephew of the Rev. James E. Coyle, is
 visiting Bir- mingham this week to work on
 a documentary about the Catholic priest
 murdered in 1921. Shine’s grandmother was 
a sister of Coyle.

The murder trial was historic, partly because of the role played by future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, who defended the accused killer.

Coyle, who became pastor of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1904, was shot to death on the porch of the wood-frame rectory, the priest’s house, on Aug. 11, 1921.

The Rev. Edwin R. Stephenson, a Methodist minister who conducted weddings at the Jefferson

County Courthouse was accused of gunning down Coyle after becoming irate over Coyle’s officiating at the marriage of Stephenson’s daughter, Ruth, to a Puerto Rican, Pedro Gussman.

As defense attorney, Black had Gussman summoned into the courtroom and questioned him about his curly hair. Lights were arranged in the courtroom so the darkness of Gussman’s complexion would be accentuated, said an Oct. 20, 1921, newspaper account of the final day of the trial. Black gained an acquittal based on an appeal to the jury’s ethnic and religious prejudices.

Years later Black renounced his Ku Klux Klan ties and became one of the most liberal members of the U.S. Supreme Court.

After the acquittal, Stephenson once again was a regular at the courthouse, conducting marriages.

The film will follow Shine’s cousin, Irish singer Brendan Shine, also a Coyle grand-nephew, as he visits Birmingham to learn about the story behind the murder.

“This is very much a personal project, but it’s a brilliant story,” said Pat Shine, a veteran documentary producer in Ireland. He said the 35-minute public TV documentary will air on RTE, Radio Telefis Eireann, on March 28. Filming set for Birmingham included a wedding scene in St. Paul’s Cathedral, the murder scene on the front porch of the rectory and the trial scene.

The Shines have already shot footage in Coyle’s home villages, Athlone and Drum, in Ireland, said John Wright, a member of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church who has researched Coyle and is working with the Shine family on the documentary.

The murder is also the subject of a new book, “Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America,” by Ohio State University law professor Sharon Davies. It’s out this month, published by Oxford University Press.

The wood-frame rectory next to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Father Coyle was murdered. It was later replaced by the current brick rectory.