Barbara Ann Coakley, 64, parochial school principal


Barbara Ann Coakley, a retired principal at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parochial school in Ellicott City, died Tuesday in her Catonsville house after a five-year struggle with cancer. She was 64.

A devout Roman Catholic who devoted 18 years of her life to being a nun, she was remembered by family and friends as a teacher and kind and compassionate woman, the kind of person who left an impression on her letter carrier.

"She had a beautiful card from her postman, telling her what a joy it had been just to deliver her mail and to know her," said her sister, Nora Reiter of Catonsville.

Ms. Coakley was raised in West Baltimore, graduating from St. Bernardine's grammar school and Catholic High School.

She went on to Marywood University in Scranton, Pa., where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in education.

She became a nun in the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order, based in Scranton, a calling that left her living out of a suitcase as she was sent to postings across New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

After leaving the order, she settled in Linthicum for 11 years, teaching at St. Philip Neri parochial school.

She then moved to Catonsville and served as principal at Our Lady of Perpetual Help for 13 years, developing a reputation as a forceful, outgoing principal willing to speak out for her school.

She left the school in November 2001 because of her illness.

In April 2002, the Archdiocese of Baltimore's Division of Catholic Schools awarded her the Doris Musil award of excellence in Catholic education and leadership.

She doted on her two nephews and niece and stayed in close contact former students, Mrs. Reiter said.

She loved to read and go to restaurants and the movies, and was fastidious about keeping her house clean.

She was a sun worshiper, remaining tan all summer long as she went to the ocean and on trips to Aruba and Barbados with her sister, or sitting on the deck of her house and watching the birds and squirrels frequent her two bird feeders.

Even when she was struggling with cancer, she scheduled chemotherapy around appointments with the students for whom she was serving as a confirmation sponsor.

She remained upbeat her final five years, struggling with her failing health with grace and dignity and her deep belief in God.

"She was extraordinary," Mrs. Reiter said. "She really believed in redemptive suffering. She inspired a lot of people. She was very good. A lot of [people] tend to preach the gospel. She lived it."

A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated Saturday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Ellicott City.

Other survivors include another sister, Mary Jeanne Moran of New Market, Frederick County; and a brother, George W. Coakley of Poolesville.

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