He is Gonzaga’s longest tenured president, 1974-1996, and its first and only chancellor, 1996-2016. He served the University for 42 years. He oversaw a $72 million capital campaign resulting in construction of new or vastly renovated buildings for the schools of Business Administration, Education and Engineering, as well as Martin Centre for Athletics, Foley Center, Jundt Art Center and Museum and Dussault and Burch student residences. His passion for securing the University’s future was evident in his penchant to grow the endowment fund from $1 million in 1974 to $60 million in 1996. Enrollment grew more than 50%, as did the University’s reputation, earning top 10 ratings in U.S. News & World Report’s Regional Rankings in its annual Best College’s publication.
“Every major decision he had to make at Gonzaga was with students first and foremost in his mind,” once said longtime friend and former chair of the Board of Trustees, Donald Herak (RIP).
Fr. Coughlin served as chair of the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, 1988-89, the first Jesuit priest to ever lead a chamber of commerce in the U.S. His business acumen, compassion for the dignity of every human being, and his desire to see this community thrive, made him an extraordinary leader. A Spokesman-Review headline, on the announcement of his election to this office, tickled him: “Chamber to get chief who’s made a vow of poverty.” In the mid-1990s, Fr. Coughlin joined Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty in founding the Task Force on Race Relations, which provided the catalyst for more concentrated efforts to address social tensions related to race and diversity.
Love is a theme that characterized his life. Every time someone met Father, he took their hand firmly, grabbed their arm, touched their face and smiled at them in a way that one could see how much they meant to him. Father said if he had one thing for he, and the community, to work on, it would be loving one another. It was a simple message, but not simplistic.
Plans for funeral and memorial services to remember and honor Fr. Coughlin have been announced.