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Ellen Coakley, founder of Seton Centers, dies at 90

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Ellen P. Coakley, founder of the Seton Centers Inc., died July 8 at age 90.

She founded the Seton Centers Inc. It was a program that helped children with learning disabilities thrive in Catholic schools in various locations throughout the Washington area. Thousands of children were able to graduate high school and college. The mission of the Seton Centers was taken over by the Diocese of Arlington in 2004.

The Mass of Christian Burial was offered at St. Agnes Church in Arlington July 12. She was interred at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington. 

Mass was celebrated by Father Thomas P. Ferguson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, and concelebrated by Father Bob Cilinski, Father Gerald Weymes, Father Jack Peterson and Father Joseph Rampino.

During his homily, Father Ferguson read a letter from Bishop Michael F. Burbidge to the Coakley children that said in part: “So many benefited from her tremendous generosity to Catholic education, cancer research and to our Diocese especially those served by our Catholic Charities.”

Father Ferguson said, “Obituaries remembered Mrs. Coakley as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, but we remember her as a Christian and as a steward of the many gifts and talents that God gave her,” he said. “In her prosperity, she demonstrated the qualities of being a Christian and a steward in her generosity to causes that continue the work of Jesus in teaching, serving the poor and healing others. She did not seek to bring honor to herself, but all that she did was for the glory of God and the service of others.”

Coakley was born Feb. 9, 1929, in County Kerry, Ireland, and immigrated to the United States in 1947. She and her husband co-founded the C.J. Coakley Co. Inc. in 1962, a construction company specializing in interiors that is still operating today.

She co-founded a second construction company, Dominion Applicators Inc., in 1977, where she served as president until 1992.

Coakley also co-founded the Ellen P. & Cornelius J. Coakley Family Foundation in 1992 and was the president until her death. The foundation is dedicated to carrying on Ellen and Cornelius’ passion and legacy for causes such as education, Catholic Charities and cancer research and cures.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Cornelius J., and son, John Kevin. She is survived by her daughter, Maria Coakley David, and son-in-law James David; sons Cornelius James (Jim), Liam and Michael Coakley; and daughters-in-law Caroline and Beth Coakley. She had 11 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren with two expected later this summer.

Art Bennett, president and CEO of diocesan Catholic Charities, said he wanted to stress that Coakley was a great philanthropist. "She was very generous, as has been the whole family," he said. "We are grateful for her generosity." 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019