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Father Edmund T. Coppinger, who had long career as parish priest, dies at 89

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Father Edmund T. Coppinger

Father Edmund T. Coppinger, a retired priest of the Diocese of Wilmington who had lived in California since his retirement 18 years ago, died Oct. 25 in Oakland, Calif. He was 89.

A native of Glen Ridge, N.J., Father Coppinger began studies for the priesthood at Seton Hall University for the Diocese of Newark, N.J., but he transferred to the Diocese of Wilmington after two years, spending the remainder of his time in seminary at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. He was ordained on May 23, 1959, at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Wilmington.

His first assignment was as associate pastor at St. Joseph on the Brandywine Parish, Greenville. In 1962, he traveled to Catholic University in Ponce, Puerto Rico, for intensive studies in Spanish. Upon his return to Wilmington, he ministered at the Cathedral of St. Peter, where his ability to speak Spanish enabled him to celebrate Mass and assist immigrants and refugees in Delaware.

Father Coppinger also served as associate pastor at Christ Our King and St. Paul’s parishes, both in Wilmington, before becoming pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish, Marydel, Md. He transferred to Holy Name of Jesus in Pocomoke City, Md., in 1979, and subsequently served as an associate at St. Helena Parish, Wilmington; St. Hedwig in Wilmington; and Our Lady of Fatima in New Castle.

His assignment in Marydel was his first taste of rural life, something he grew to like, he told The Dialog in 1978. He spent five years at the parish.

“The air is fresher here,” he said. “You really don’t realize it until you’re away from the city. And the stars seem brighter, too.”

It was not unusual to see Father Coppinger jogging the roads of Caroline County, Md., with his faithful dog, Peanuts. He was the only priest at the parish, so he filled every duty imaginable.

“I see this pastorate as a great opportunity to learn every aspect of parish life on a small scale,” he said, although he welcomed the input of his parishioners. “I try to share the responsibilities of the parish with the parishioners — that’s the way it should be.”

In addition to his parish duties, he was chaplain to the young Catholic Adults and the Cuban community of Delaware, and he was co-founder and chaplain of the New Life Ministry to the Divorced and Separated. He also served as procurator-advocate on the diocesan Marriage Tribunal.

Father Coppinger studied Native American spirituality and made various masks in the Hopi tradition, and he attended several Creative Movement Workshops in Arizona in the 1990s. He told The Dialog in 1999 that it helped him deepen his own spirituality.

“As we share our views of Christianity with them, we also can learn something from their culture and spirituality,” he said.

After earning a master’s degree in 1998, Father Coppinger was associate pastor at Ss. Peter and Paul in Easton, Md., and St. Michael the Archangel in Georgetown until his retirement in 2004. He then moved to the Bay Area and lived and worked at St. Cornelius Church in Richmond, Calif.

Father Coppinger was an avid photographer and poet. He also investigated alternative health programs and studied old and new philosophies. An avid traveler, he visited countries all over the world.

Father Coppinger is survived by a brother and two sisters and their families, all on the west coast. Funeral services will be held at St. Cornelius Church in Richmond on Nov. 29.