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Robert Aston Coffin

Ecclesiastical writer and bishop (1819-1885)

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Coffin, ROBERT ASTON, ecclesiastical writer and bishop, b. at Brighton, England, July 19, 1819; d. at Teignmouth, Devonshire, April 6, 1885. He received his secondary education at Harrow and in 1837 went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he took his B.A. degree with honors in 1840. He then prepared himself for the ministry and, having received Anglican orders from the Bishop of Oxford, he was appointed in 1843 vicar of St. Mary Magdalen, Oxford. While at Oxford he had become a follower of Dr. Newman, and like so many others who had joined the Oxford or Tractarian Movement he left the Anglican Church and was received into the Catholic Church at Prior Park on the feast of St. Francis Xavier, December 3, 1845, two months after the reception of Dr. Newman. Having spent a year as tutor in the family of Mr. Ambrose de Lisle, he followed Newman to Rome to prepare himself for the priesthood, and was ordained October 31, 1847, by the cardinal vicar. In the meantime Dr. Newman had been authorized by Pius IX to found the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in England. When, in June, 1848, the Oratory was established, Father Coffin with other convert priests joined it, and he was appointed superior of St. Wilfrid’s, Cotton Hall. The next year he followed a strong attraction he had felt since his conversion for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, left the Oratory, and entered the Redemptorist novitiate at Saint-Trond, in Belgium. Having made his profession on February 2, 1852, he returned to England and began his long and fruitful career as a zealous Redemptorist missionary. From 1855 to 1865 he was rector of St. Mary’s, Clapham, and from the latter year till 1882 he held the office of provincial of the English Redemptorists. These offices, however, did not prevent him from zealously laboring with pen and tongue, for, from 1852 to 1872, he was almost constantly engaged in giving missions and clergy retreats throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland, and in publishing many ascetical books.

After the death of Dr. Danell, the second Bishop of Southwark, Father Coffin was chosen as his successor, and was consecrated in Rome by Cardinal Howard, in the church of S. Alfonso, June 11, 1882, taking possession of his see on July 27. After an illness of several months, borne with great fortitude, Bishop Coffin died at Teignmouth, in the house of the Redemptorists which he himself had founded when provincial. “Although his name was at no time conspicuously before the world, his influence had been widely and deeply felt, and few ecclesiastics in England were held in greater esteem or affection. By the publication of many of the works of St. Alphonsus, by his labors as a preacher and missionary in his younger days, by his numerous retreats, especially to the clergy, and still more by his government of the Province of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in England, Scotland, and Ireland during nearly twenty years, he performed a quiet, solid and enduring work which will be felt for many generations” (“The Tablet”, London). Among his publications are the following English translations of the Italian works of St. Alphonsus: “The Glories of Mary” (London, 1852, 1868); “The Mysteries of the Faith: The Incarnation” (London, 1854); “The Christian Virtues” (London, 1854); “The Mysteries of the Faith: The Eucharist” (London, 1855); “Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament” (London, 1855); “The Eternal Truths” (London, 1857); “A Devotion in Honor of St. Joseph” (London, 1860); “The Mysteries of the Faith: The Redemption” (London, 1861); “Hymns and Verses on Spiritual Subjects” (London, 1863). He also published a translation of “The Oratory of the Faithful Soul” by Blosius (London, 1848), and several pastoral letters.


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