By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
Monsignor Michael Coughlan, founding pastor of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Poway, died April 10.
His vigil was Monday at St. Michael’s and funeral Mass on Tuesday, followed by burial at Holy Cross Cemetery.
Coughlan, 86, was born on Oct. 4, 1926 in Skibbereen, Ireland, the youngest of Patrick and Johanna Coughlan’s 10 children. He was ordained into the priesthood on June 8, 1952 at St. Peter’s College in Wexford, Ireland, for the Diocese of San Diego, where he served his entire career.
Prior to being appointed by Bishop Charles Francis Buddy to establish Poway’s first Catholic parish in August 1959, Coughlan had served at St. Vincent de Paul in San Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Calexico, St. Francis of Assisi in Vista, St. Theresa in Palm Springs and St. Mary’s in Escondido. The latter served the entire San Diego Inland area north of Miramar.
According to St. Michael’s parish records, there were 125 Roman Catholic families in the region spanning from south of Lake Hodges and north of Miramar at that time. Coughlan celebrated the first Mass for these early parishioners in the Big Stone Lodge on Pomerado Road in Poway on Aug. 23, 1959. By the following June, the rectory was built, with its garage becoming the new venue for Masses, religious education and parish meetings until St. Michael’s School opened in December 1963. The parish’s first permanent church was constructed by November 1971, built near the current church’s site. By then, the parish had grown to 1,000 families.
Eventually, St. Michael’s growth led to the establishment of five additional parishes — Good Shepherd (Mira Mesa), St. Gabriel (Poway), San Rafael (Rancho Bernardo), Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (Rancho Penasquitos) and St. Gregory the Great (Scripps Ranch).
In August 1979, Coughlan was appointed the first dean of the new Escondido Deanery and named a monsignor in 1981. He remained St. Michael’s pastor until 1984, when he transferred to St. Didacus Parish in San Diego, where he retired from active ministry in April 1990.
Following his retirement, Coughlan moved to Rancho Bernardo and began assisting at St. Michael’s by celebrating Masses and hearing confessions, which he continued to do until a couple of weeks before his death.
Last year Coughlan marked his 60th anniversary in the priesthood by celebrating a Mass at the same church in Ireland where he celebrated his first Mass.
Survivors include his sister and brother-in-law, Josephine and Gerard Fox; brother, Jerome Coughlan; plus several nieces and nephews.