By Kathy Gibbons
TRAVERSE CITY — People across northern Lower Michigan are remembering Bishop Patrick R. Cooney as a man of deep faith with a collegial, down-to-earth style.
The retired leader of the Diocese of Gaylord died Monday at the age of 78.
"He always talked warmly of Gaylord and his 20 years he spent in what he called 'God's country,'" said his brother, Rev. Mike Cooney.
Patrick Cooney headed the 21-county region that is the Diocese of Gaylord for nearly two decades. Retiring in 2009, he moved to the Detroit area to be near family as he dealt with health issues. He passed away Monday at Beaumont Hospice in Royal Oak.
Bishop Bernard A. Hebda, who succeeded Cooney, said Gaylord's bishop emeritus was living near St. Peter Parish in Mt. Clemens where his brother is a pastor.
The bishop continued to say Mass at his brother's church and returned periodically to northern Michigan to attend various diocesan events. Failing health prevented him from coming Oct. 6 when the Diocesan Conference Center was rededicated and renamed the "Cooney Conference Center" in his honor, however. It was Cooney's vision to relocate the chancery offices adjacent to St. Mary Cathedral so they could stand together as the center of the diocese. The center was built in 2000 under his direction.
Hebda said Cooney will be remembered as much for his leadership in the Catholic community as for his ability to connect with people.
"He had a wonderful Irish wit and was so willing to talk to people and really listen to people," Hebda said. "I'm always amazed as I go throughout the diocese at the people who say, 'Please say hi to Bishop Patrick, he'll know who we are for sure.' And he always did, whether it be a waitress in a restaurant or a security guard in a hospital. He took time for everyone."
Born in Detroit in 1934, Cooney attended Sacred Heart Seminary College and went on to the Gregorian University in Rome, specializing in theology. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1959, returning to serve as assistant pastor at St. Catherine Parish in Detroit in 1960. From 1962 to 1969, he served as assistant chancellor of the Archdiocese of Detroit, after which he was appointed director of the Department of Worship. Cooney retained that position until shortly after he was ordained as a bishop in 1983. He served as the rector of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit from 1977 to 1983.
It was during those years in Detroit that Sister Katherine Murphy, a teacher in the Detroit area then and now of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Traverse City, first met him.
"As far as liturgy was concerned, he was really top notch," said Murphy.
Former Gaylord Mayor Gladys Solokis, a member of St. Mary Cathedral Church, said Cooney was "a good representation of the Catholic diocese being in Gaylord."
"He was just outgoing and loving," she said.
Mike Buell, superintendent of Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools, said Cooney placed a high priority on education, too. It's one of the reasons a new chapel at St. Francis High School was dedicated in Cooney's honor.
"He was just a warm, caring, thoughtful guy with a kind of spiritual presence that's hard to articulate," Buell said. "He was first rate."
In addition to his brother, Bishop Cooney is survived by his sisters, Sister Leontia Cooney, O.P., and Mary A. Cooney.
Visitation begins with the Reception of the Body at St. Mary Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Cathedral, 606 North Ohio, Gaylord, on Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. The rosary will be said at 4 p.m., with a vigil service at 6 and Night Prayer at 9.
Visitation continues on Monday, Oct. 22, at 9 a.m. until the funeral Mass at noon. A luncheon will follow.