Cope, Father Edward Thomas

1987, August 22

Date of Birth: 1910, August 24

September 10, 1987

Dear Confreres:

Although engaged for over twenty years in priestly ministry far distant from Sulpician seminaries, Father Cope happily maintained his Sulpician affiliation until the end of his life. This was his golden jubilee year of priesthood.

Edward Thomas Cope was born in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on August 24, 1910, the third of five children of Thomas S. and Mary Emma (nee Taylor) Cope. There he received his elementary and high school education at the Academy of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The family took an active part in the life of St. Thomas Church which was a center of mission activity for the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorist Fathers) and a parish that has nurtured an impressive number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.

Edward spent a year at St. Joseph’s College, Mountain View, California, before entering, in 1930, St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, where he earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree. He was attracted to the Sulpician apostolate of seminary teaching but took a year’s leave after completing his second year of theology. He then completed his final two years of preparation for priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He was ordained a priest in his home parish church for the Diocese of Boise on May 22, 1937.

After a summer of parish ministry at St. John’s Cathedral in Boise, Father Cope fulfilled the year of Sulpician formation in Baltimore and was admitted to the Society of St. Sulpice in 1938. There followed a two-year teaching appointment at St. Joseph’s College before he returned to St. Mary’s Seminary, where he earned an S.T.D. degree in 1941 and then began graduate study in canon law at The Catholic University in Washington.

That work was permanently interrupted when Father Cope received permission from his superiors to enter military service and thus became one of ten Sulpicians who served as chaplains during World War II. Entering the United States Navy in the fall of 1942 and completing chaplains’ school at Norfolk, Father Cope was assigned to the Air Corps of the Marines. Following a brief mission in Hawaii, he was transferred to the U.S.S. Lexington, where, he reported, he saw “plenty of action.” In late 1945, his ship was part of the fleet based in Tokyo Bay. He resigned from active duty as a lieutenant commander in early 1946, although he remained in the Naval Reserve.

That same spring term Father Cope began teaching moral theology and canon law at St. Mary’s Seminary, where he became a popular figure in the classroom and a sought-after spiritual director. Three years later he was selected as a member of the first Sulpician faculty in Plymouth at St. John’s Provincial Seminary, newly built by the dioceses of Michigan. A year later, as the United States became involved in the Korean conflict, he volunteered to return to active duty, a request reluctantly turned down by the provincial council because of the shortage of priests occasioned by post-war seminary growth and the staffing of new seminaries by Sulpicians. In the fall of 1951, Father Cope took on new duties as vice rector of St. John’s, and, in 1954, added some duties of the treasurer who had been seriously injured in an automobile accident.

The combination proved too much for his health and he had to withdraw temporarily from the faculty. For two years he served as chaplain of a retirement community in Detroit and then resumed some teaching at the Seminary and at a nearby college as well. In 1959, he moved back to the Seminary and took up a full schedule, while finding time also for some college teaching and parish work. His summers were usually occupied in parish ministry in Idaho. It was at St. John’s, known for its splendid facilities and beautiful golf course, that he became an ardent lover of golf, his primary recreational pastime most of his life. Socially reserved, priestly ministry was always the primary focus for Father Cope. Early in his Sulpician Life he had volunteered for a mission in China that the U.S. province was considering and later volunteered again when a Latin American mission was being developed. Seminarians found him an easy person to relate to. He was known, too, for his sensitivity to the disadvantaged, to retarded children, and to the elderly.

In 1966, however, finding that seminary teaching was losing its appeal for him, Father Cope requested of his bishop a parish assignment in the panhandle region of Idaho where he could be near his father, who died the following year at the age of 92. His mother had died in 1965, two years after he and his siblings celebrated the sixtieth wedding anniversary of their parents. For a period of eighteen years, he held pastorates at St. Ann’s, Bonners Ferry, St. Mary’s, Genesee, Our Lady of Lourdes, Lewiston, and St. Matthew’s, Eagle. Not wanting to retire after his last pastorate in Genesee, he became chaplain of St. Mary’s Hospital in Cottonwood. It was there that he died on August 22, 1987, after an illness of several months.

Father Cope’s survivors include his sister, Mrs. Katharine Rassley of Coeur d’Alene, whose son, the Reverend George A. Rassley, C.Ss.R., pastor of the Church of St. Gerard Majella, Great Falls, Montana, was principal celebrant and homilist of the Mass of Christian burial on August 26 in the same St. Thomas Church where Father Cope had been baptized as an infant and then ordained fifty years ago. Bishop Sylvester W. Treinen of Boise and the Reverend Edward J. Frazer, S.S., former provincial of the Sulpicians, were among some thirty-five concelebrants of the Mass. Also participating were Father Rassley’s sister, Sister Mary Frances, I.H.M., and her brother, Thomas. Father Cope’s sister, Mrs. Agnes Williams, Missoula, Montana, and his brother, Robert W. Cope, Makaho, Hawaii, and numerous nieces and nephews also survive. His sister, Frances Cope Johnson, former editor of the Coeur d’Alene Press, died in April 1987. At his request, Father Cope was buried in the family plot of St. Thomas Cemetery.

May Father Cope live forever in the joy of the Resurrection.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

William J. Lee, S.S.

Provincial Secretary