Charles Coughlin bigraphy, stories - Catholic priest, radio commentator

Charles Coughlin : biography

October 25, 1891 - October 27, 1979

Father Charles Edward Coughlin (October 25, 1891 – October 27, 1979) was a controversial Roman Catholic priest at Royal Oak, Michigan's National Shrine of the Little Flower church. He was one of the first political leaders to use radio to reach a mass audience, as possibly thirty million listeners tuned to his weekly broadcasts during the 1930s. Early in his career Coughlin was a vocal supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his early New Deal proposals, before later becoming a harsh critic of Roosevelt as too friendly to bankers. In 1934 he announced a new political organization called the National Union for Social Justice. He wrote a platform calling for monetary reforms, the nationalization of major industries and railroads, and protection of the rights of labor. The membership ran into the millions, resembling the Populist movement of the 1890s.

After hinting at attacks on Jewish bankers, Coughlin began to use his radio program to issue antisemitic commentary, and later to support at least some of the policies of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The broadcasts have been called "a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture". His chief topics were political and economic rather than religious, with his slogan being Social Justice, first with, and later against, the New Deal. Many American bishops as well as the Vatican wanted him silenced, but it was the Roosevelt administration that finally forced the cancellation of his radio program and forbade the dissemination through the post of his newspaper, Social Justice.

Early life and work

He was born in Hamilton, Ontario, to Irish Catholic parents, Thomas J. Coughlin and Amelia Mahoney. After his basic education, he attended St. Michael's College run by Congregation of St. Basil, a society of priests dedicated to education, in Toronto in 1911. After graduation, he felt called to be a Catholic priest and entered the Basilian Fathers, and prepared for Holy Orders at St. Basil's Seminary, being ordained to the priesthood in Toronto in 1916. He then was sent to teach at Assumption College, also operated by the Basilians, in Windsor, Ontario.

In 1923 a change in the internal life of his religious congregation led to a major shift in his future. The Basilians were required by the Holy See to change the structure of the congregation from a Society of common life, on the pattern of the Society of Saint-Sulpice, to one which required them to follow a more monastic way of life, taking the traditional three religious vows. Coughlin could not accept this, and left the Congregation, moving to the United States, where he settled in Detroit, and was incardinated by the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1923. After being transferred several times to different parishes, in 1926 he was assigned to the newly-founded Shrine of the Little Flower, at that time composed of some 25 families in the largely-Protestant suburban community of Royal Oak, Michigan. His powerful preaching soon caused the parish congregation to flourish.

References in popular culture

  • Coughlin was mentioned in a verse of Woody Guthrie's pro-interventionist song "Lindbergh": "Yonder comes Father Coughlin, wearin' the silver chain, Gas on the stomach and Hitler on the brain."
  • Coughlin was attacked in 1942 cartoons by Theodor Seuss Geisel, best known for his children's books written under the pen name of Dr. Seuss.
  • Sinclair Lewis's 1935 novel about a fascist coup in the United States, It Can't Happen Here, features a "Bishop Prang", an extremely successful pro-fascist radio host who is said to be "to the pioneer Father Coughlin"..."as the Ford V-8 [was] to the Model A".
  • The producers of the HBO television series Carnivàle have said that the character of Brother Justin Crowe was inspired by Coughlin.
  • In the fictional work The Plot Against America, author Philip Roth uses Coughlin as the villain who helps a pro-fascist government.
  • Sax Rohmer's 1936 novel President Fu Manchu features a character based on Coughlin, a Catholic priest and radio host who is the only person who knows that a criminal mastermind is manipulating a U.S. presidential race.
  • Cole Porter referenced and rhymed "Coughlin" in his 1935 song "A Picture of Me Without You" (in the fourth refrain): "Picture City Hall without boondogglin', picture Sunday tea minus Father Coughlin".
  • Coughlin's influence on American antisemitic organizations in the 1930s and 1940s is referenced in Arthur Miller's 1945 novel Focus.
  • In the M*A*S*H episode "The Bus", Frank Burns claims that during his sophomore year he lost a debate to a Jewish fellow student by the name of Helen Rappaport. The topic of the debate was "Should Father Coughlin become our next President?"
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