Father Gerald Cooney, founding pastor of St. Bartholomew, dies at 89

By Jenara Kocks Burgess

Correspondent

May 16, 2014

Young-Fr.-Cooney-WEB.jpg Old-Fr.-Cooney-WEB.jpg

Father Gerald Cooney as a young priest at Sacred Heart Parish in the 1950s.

Fr. Cooney poses for a 2008 photo. (Photos from North Texas Catholic Archives)

Father Gerald Cooney died Saturday, May 3. Fr. Cooney had been a priest since 1950 and was the longest-ordained priest of the Diocese of Fort Worth. He was also the founding pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Southwest Fort Worth.

“He was a really solid Catholic priest. He went exactly by what the Church teaches,” said Julia Vecera, who had known and been friends with Fr. Cooney since he helped establish St. Bartholomew in 1969.

A Vigil with Rosary and the Litany of the Sacred Heart was offered Wednesday, May 7 at Thompson’s Harveson & Cole Funeral Home. Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated Thursday, May 8 at St. Patrick Cathedral.

Fr. Cooney was born to Charles Augustine and Lolly Marie Buckingham Cooney on July 12, 1924, in Tyler, where he attended public schools. He attended St. John’s Seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was ordained to the priesthood June 3, 1950, at Immaculate Conception Parish (now Cathedral) in Tyler by Bishop Augustine Danglmayr, then auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Dallas, which at the time encompassed what is now the Dioceses of Fort Worth, Dallas, and Tyler.

Mike Cooney, Fr. Cooney’s youngest brother, said his family was proud that both Fr. Cooney and another brother, the late Father Camillus Cooney, OSB, became priests. Fr. Camillus was a Benedictine monk at Subiaco Abbey in Subiaco, Arkansas. According to officials with the Diocese of Dallas, Fr. Gerald Cooney was the first parishioner of Immaculate Conception Parish in Tyler to become a priest.

“He was a very quiet person, but when he spoke, it was worth listening to,” said Mike Cooney.

After ordination, he served as an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Dallas, 1950-53; St. Patrick Co-Cathedral, 1953; Immaculate Conception Parish in Corsicana, 1953-54; Immaculate Conception Parish in Tyler, 1954-55; Sacred Heart Parish in Texarkana, 1955-56; Sacred Heart Parish in Wichita Falls, 1956-58; Immaculate Conception Parish in Grand Prairie, 1958-61; and St. Rita Parish in Fort Worth, 1961-64. In 1964, he received his first assignment as pastor at Holy Family Parish in Vernon from 1964 to 1969.

In 1969, he was named the founding pastor of St. Bartholomew, where he oversaw planning and construction of most of the buildings of the new parish.

“He was very proud of starting St. Bartholomew from the ground up,” said Nancy Eder, RN. Eder is the health advocate for the priests of the diocese and had helped care for Fr. Cooney since December of last year.

Fr. Cooney then served at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Fort Worth, 1979-84, and then St. John Parish in Valley View, 1984-89, before retiring from active ministry in 1989.

Eder said while she was caring for him, he asked her to take a photo of the cross on the peak on the very front of St. Bartholomew.

“He just kept that image in his mind. And that stayed with him until he died,” she said.

“He was an extremely spiritual and holy man. He was bedridden the last weeks of his life and he prayed and prayed and prayed. And he prayed into the evening until he passed away. You could see him praying, and he had his rosary beads, even though he never opened his eyes again until early afternoon,” said Eder.

Jimmy Vecera said one of his memories of Fr. Cooney was how he studied the Second Vatican Council thoroughly and explained it to St. Bartholomew’s parishioners.

“Most people didn’t understand, but he understood Vatican II just about as well as anyone I know of. He was a very smart, good priest. He was [as] Catholic as you could be. He was a very strong Catholic priest,” he said.

Vecera also recalled that Fr. Cooney was always there for the parishioners, helping families with illness or the deaths of children.

“That’s the kind of priest he was. He was there for just about everyone,” he said.

Franklin Moore, who worked with Fr. Cooney as a member of the St. Andrew School Board when St. Andrew Church and St. Bartholomew maintained what was then the inter-parochial St. Andrew School, said he remembers Fr. Cooney as a very devoted priest.

“He was very attentive to St. Bart’s folks and the welfare of the folks down there and had a significant following at the parish there,” he said.

Vecera said his family became very close friends with Fr. Cooney at St. Bartholomew, and they continued their friendship after he was assigned to other churches. Vecera recalled attending Easter Vigil with his family at those churches and celebrating Easter afterward with Fr. Cooney. Vecera and his wife of 56 years, Julia, also continued their friendship with the priest after he retired.

“He was just a part of our family. We have so many videos of him, baptizing and everything all through the years,” he said. “Our youngest daughter is 41, and he [celebrated] the marriage for her when she got married. … Fr. Cooney was also at our 50th anniversary. Bishop [Kevin] Vann [celebrated] it, and Fr. Cooney spoke for a good while about Catholic doctrine.”

He was preceded in death by his brothers, Charles T. Cooney and Father Camillus Cooney, OSB. He is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Mike and Barbara Cooney, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Gifts in memory of Fr. Cooney may be sent to Education of Priests, Catholic Center, 800 W. Loop 820 South, Fort Worth, Texas 76108.

See Also

Father Gerald Cooney, longest-ordained priest of the diocese, dies at 89

Fr.-Gerald-Cooney-BUTTON.jpgFather Gerald Cooney, who had been a priest since 1950, died Saturday, May 3. Fr. Cooney was born July 12, 1924, in Tyler, where he attended public schools. He attended St. John’s Seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was ordained to priesthood June 3, 1950, at Immaculate Conception Parish (now Cathedral) in Tyler by Bishop Augustine Danglmayr, then auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Dallas (which at the time encompassed what is now the Dioceses of Fort Worth, Dallas, and Tyler).

Young-Fr.-Cooney-BUTTON.jpgFather Gerald Cooney died Saturday, May 3. Fr. Cooney had been a priest since 1950 and was the longest-ordained priest of the Diocese of Fort Worth. He was also the founding pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in Southwest Fort Worth. “He was a really solid Catholic priest. He went exactly by what the Church teaches,” said Julia Vecera, who had known and been friends with Fr. Cooney since he helped establish St. Bartholomew in 1969.

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