A new exhibit dedicated to Fr. Bernard Coughlin, former president of Gonzaga University, created by junior Olivia Lada, in Foley Library details his life, time at GU and displays objects he had received during his life. 

According to Lada, the purpose of the exhibit is to show people that Coughlin was more than a president and played a significant role in GU’s development. 

“He expanded the campus, enrollment went way up and he helped the credibility of Gonzaga Law School,” Lada said. “But then, also, he had time to help the community in Spokane and he worked as priest the whole time he was here.” 

On the first floor of the library, a display case features photos of Coughlin and other memorabilia of the priest including pictures of him with former United States Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, a Coughlin Hall T-shirt from when the residence hall opened in 2009 and a silver goblet given to Coughlin recognizing his work as a trustee for the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce from 1987 to 1990. 

On top of the case is a card explaining not only Coughlin’s role during his time as president, but also his role as a “priest, scholar, civic leader and friend to the community” and the influence he had.

Lada said that Coughlin helped get GU back on its feet during its struggles and assisted in increasing the endowment fund from around $1.6 million to $30 million by the time he left the school.  

“Learning about his other skills, rather than just his leadership skills, helped me see the full scope of his achievements at Gonzaga,” she said.  

On the third floor of Foley, multiple display cases contain books, pictures, documents and items that belonged to Coughlin, with each case detailing a different point of his life.  

The first case is used as an introduction to the priest, which includes pictures of him with former Pope John Paul II and a selfie he took with GU employees in 2016, an award presented to him by the Boy Scouts Inland Northwest Council in 1995 and his presidential medallion worn at his inauguration in 1974.  

The other cases display Coughlin’s life pre-GU, his work outside of campus, his time as University president, his role as a Jesuit and his work as a scholar.

This includes how he was a Fulbright lecturer in Columbia from 1970 to 1971, a U.S. Representative to the International Council on Social Welfare in Helsinki, Finland, and how he worked as a social work consultant in places such as Guatemala, Peru and Chile.  

Several of the items found in the cases include ones Coughlin received while traveling in Soviet Georgia such as a Soviet sports medallion, a Soviet athlete pennant and a Soviet Georgian sword. 

The documents within the cases express Coughlin’s character, including ones showing his humorous side, his practices as a businessman and how he used both his identity as a priest and an educator to express his opinion on evolution and creationism. 

A card for one document said that he showed how “contradictory views regarding evolution and creationism can be reconciled to accommodate both beliefs” and that he was able to make sense of the two opposing arguments.    

For those who go see the exhibit, Lada said she wants people to know that he was more than a priest, a president and businessman, but that he was also talented in all of the undertakings he had at the school.

“One of the most important things that I realized I want [visitors] to take away is that the school would not be as successful as it is today without his 22-year-long presidency,” she said. Lada said that the exhibit will be open throughout the remainder of the semester and into the next semester until the next student exhibit is put up. 

Matthew Kincanon is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @matthewkincanon.

The exhibit is open to the public on Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It can also be viewed online at researchguides.gonzaga.edu/coughlin_exhibit.

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