Home Town News
Cherished Memories of a Saintly Man
Written by HOWELL, JOHN
Tue, Jun 06 06
By JOHN HOWELL, The Warwick Beacon
Everyone had a story about Msgr. John F. Cox, but that’s what one would expect for the pastor emeritus of St. Peter’s Church.
On Sunday the church was packed as the congregation, four retired bishops and friends celebrated the 70th anniversary of his ordination.
Msgr. Cox served as pastor of the church from 1969 to 1986, staying on after retirement as a resident until 1997. Now 95 years old, he is living in the home of his late sister in Providence with assistance.
Yet, despite all his years he maintains a keen memory, which exhibited itself on more than one occasion as people gathered around him at a reception following the Mass that included a congratulatory blessing from Pope Benedict XVI delivered by retired Bishop of Providence Louis Gelineau. Bishop Gelineau called Msgr. Cox, who he has known for 34 years, “an inspiration” and that the Pope’s blessing is an acknowledgement of the “whole universal church.”
In a wheelchair and wearing his red vestments, Msgr. Cox said, “I am honored to have you with me today.” He waved and the entire church stood to applaud the man they admire.
Later in the church basement a line quickly formed. Some brought gifts, but many just wanted to share what he had meant to their lives.
“It was a miserable night,” Msgr. Cox recalled as he spoke briefly with Karen Shields. It was 27 years ago that Msgr. Cox wed Michael and Karen, said Karen’s mother, Dorothy McGuinn, and indeed the weather was terrible that night. She remembers it well.
For June Langevin, the mother of Congressman Jim Langevin who was also there to congratulate Msgr. Cox, the man holds a special place in her heart. He baptized her and her brother John, as well as all three of her children.
Peggy Dolan is still in awe how Msgr. Cox knew the names of all the parishioners, not to mention the students at St. Peter’s School. But there is so much more to the man than a sharp memory, as June Spencer knows. A former teacher at the church school, Spencer sought for the words to describe Msgr. Cox. She used “good” and “best” and then summed it up saying, “When you left him you felt you had been in the presence of Jesus.”
Sister Mary Angelus Gabrielle, former principal of the school, who has lived at the church convent for 40 years, called Msgr. Cox “the best of the best.” She called him compassionate and considerate adding, “When you are in his presence you think you’re the only person on Earth.”
“He’s touched so many, we’re better for it,” she said.
As people waited to greet him, Bishop Tobin arrived. The movement of the line paused as the two priests talked, Bishop Tobin on bended knee so as to better see Msgr. Cox. The bishop asked for Msgr. Cox’s blessing and he stretched out his hand to touch the bishop’s forehead. The two prayed in the commotion of the reception.
“They love him,” Dolan said, “because he’s a person … you can hear the love for him.”
Then she remembered how she and Mary Whalen started up a conversation with a priest while waiting for a flight out of LaGuardia Airport in New York.
“You must know Coxy,” Dolan remembers the priest saying.
Of course they knew Msgr. Cox.
“They are living among a saint,” the priest told them.
I for one agree with that sentiment. When I think of a great example of a parish priest, Msgr. Cox is the first one that comes to mind. Then again, I'm biased, as a child I always loved him and his celebration of the liturgy. I was just wondering about what he might be up to after all these years just the other day. Well, he's still living the life, a role model for us all. It was also nice to see a lot of familar names in that article, I will be able to visit the old church in August when I head home for a wedding. I look forward to then.
and for what it's worth...I am never washing my left cheek again! Just goes to show, you have to live life so it won't pass you by and not always play the responsible role all the time. So my little trip on a whim to Austin on Sunday night to see Steve Wariner at Stubb's BBQ was worth the 2 AM bedime and 6:30AM wake up to the alarm. I'll have to travel to Austin again soon.