This week I attended the funeral for one of my professors, John Kevin Coyle. We knew him as Kevin, he taught Church history and the PhD seminar in my first year (among other courses in the Theology department). He used to always call me Francis, and coming from him it felt like a term of endearment so I never complained. He always seemed happy and content (never anxious or impatient), even the Friday before his passing we chatted in the hall and he seemed like he'd had a long week and was looking forward to the weekend. I do not think anyone knew it would be his last.
Two things will always stick with me about Kevin, both come from my first experience with him in the undergrad programme taking his Early Church History course. Prof. Coyle had given us free range to find topic for our research papers. As a neo-Pentecostal and a bit of a trouble maker I thought I'd look at the role of the prophet in the early church. When I presented the topic he got me to follow him into his office and there dug out a single article on the decline of the ecstatic prophet in the early church. He told me that I needed to interact with this article - and he was right. I was struck by how he knew exactly where to point me so that I could actually move beyond my preconceptions about the early church. It was a brilliant move on his part - I'm not sure if he realized how that would foster a hunger in me to dig as far beyond my preconceptions as possible. It also taught me the joy of research - and this has served me well throughout my academic work.
The second thing I will always remember is seeing Kevin in the library with a stack of student essays - diligently bringing books out of the stacks to check the work. This was a common sight for me in my ten years at Saint Paul, Prof. Coyle in the library with a stack of research papers. This was a man who cared about academic excellence. To be honest it also scared the crap out of me, I knew that any mark I got from him would be what I deserved. Kevin set a high standard for me to follow - I hope I do his memory proud.
I am going to miss our chats in the halls. Prof. Coyle was a fixture at Saint Paul, always around in the "rarified air" (as he would call it) of the third floor. It is not going to be the same without him.
[In the picture Kevin is the second person from the left, wearing his trademark jeans no doubt.]