GREEN BAY — The sound of bagpipes followed the celebration for Msgr. Brian Coleman on July 7 at St. Patrick Church. Msgr. Coleman, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay for 54 years, died June 29 at age 79.
Fr. Mark Vander Steeg, pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay, served as the homilist at the funeral Mass. He described Msgr. Coleman, his friend and mentor, as a “man of a number of things,” including the church, family, Mary, the saints, heaven, judgment, love and prayer.
“Monsignor loved the church. He was a man of the church,” said Fr. Vander Steeg. “I was amazed at how young he was (38, when he was named a monsignor) …” He loved his brother priests. He talked fondly about Fr. Tom Golden, Bishop Mark Schmitt, Msgr. John Schuh, his beloved friend, his classmates and his brother priests. He loved his bishops.”
Msgr. Coleman became close to the Vander Steeg family while serving as pastor at St. Patrick, their home parish.
“We took him into our home,” said Fr. Vander Steeg. “We always considered him a brother. When my father passed away so young, (Msgr. Coleman), in a lot of ways, became a father figure to us.
“I would go to him for guidance and direction and sacraments,” added Fr. Vander Steeg. “I would bring a lot of suffering to him.”
Among the advice Fr. Vander Steeg received was to strive to be a saint.
“He was a priest who believed in God’s providence in all things,” said Fr. Vander Steeg. “He was a man of the saints. He would always say, ‘Mark, you can always be a saint. Make that your primary goal. Forget all these other things. You can be a saint. That’s your goal.’”
Msgr. Coleman was born and raised on the southwest side of Chicago. He grew up in a neighborhood that was nearly 100 percent Irish and was a member of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus Parish. He became familiar with the Diocese of Green Bay through summer family vacations in the Wautoma area. He chose to become a priest of this diocese because he wanted to be a pastor. Priests in the Chicago Archdiocese were serving 20 to 25 years as associates before becoming pastors at that time.
Following graduation from Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago, Msgr. Coleman studied at St. Francis Major Seminary, Milwaukee. He was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on June 1, 1963, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral.
Msgr. Coleman served as an assistant pastor at Holy Family Parish, Elcho, and St. Therese Parish, Appleton. He was then appointed chaplain of the Marian Home in Oshkosh and an assistant chaplain at the Newman Center in Oshkosh. In 1968, he was appointed assistant pastor at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral Parish, which changed his ministerial path.
The chancery was a neighbor to the cathedral at the time. Msgr. Chester Ropella asked Msgr. Coleman if he was interested in working in the marriage tribunal. In 1969, he was appointed to Rome to study canon law at Gregorian University. Following his studies, he was appointed defender of the bond in the marriage tribunal with residence at St. Matthew Parish, Allouez. Msgr. Coleman served in the tribunal for 30 years and later assisted there in retirement.
Pope Paul VI raised him the position of prelate with the title of monsignor on Aug. 8, 1975. Msgr. Coleman became a pastor in 1981 when he was appointed to Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Tisch Mills. He also served as an administrator at St. John Parish, Menasha; Sacred Heart Parish, Appleton; St. Joseph Parish, Sturgeon Bay; and SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Institute. He was appointed to St. Patrick, his final parish assignment, in 1999. Msgr. Coleman was appointed vice chancellor of the diocese by Bishop David Zubik in 2005 and vicar general of the diocese in 2006. He also served as a member of the Presbyteral Council and the College of Consultors. He retired to senior priest status on Nov. 1, 2007.
Msgr. Coleman developed a great respect for firefighters, his father’s profession. He served as chaplain of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association from 1965 to 1996 and as chaplain of the Green Bay Fire Department beginning in 1968. He was a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Canon Law Society of America.
Msgr. Coleman was a professed member of the Ancient Observance of the Carmelite Third Order.
“He was a Carmelite at heart and he treasured that,” said Fr. Vander Steeg, who was with Msgr. Coleman at the time of his death.
Msgr. Coleman often spoke extensively about heaven, said Fr. Vander Steeg. He thought it would be like Ireland, Chicago and Quigley Seminary.
His hope for his friend is “that God finish the good work he began in this good man,” he said.
Msgr. Coleman was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph and Margaret Grace (Sutton) Coleman, an infant brother, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Robert Morneau served as the main celebrant at the funeral Mass. Burial followed in Allouez Chapel Mausoleum.