Seventy-six year old Angelo Coppola stands in front of hundreds of people nearly every Sunday. His mild-mannered approach as a lecturer and his scripted words calms the audience. He reads words that are thousands of years old and repeats quotes from the “Good Book.”
Coppola is in his 29th year as a Catholic Deacon, often described informally as a priest’s “right-hand man.” He has lived his life as a true man of faith. Yet, before the busy duties of a Deacon, Coppola was a familiar name in Southington. He came so close to being appointed the school superintendent in the 1990s after Louis Saloom left. But he wasn’t and his career remained impressive, to state the least. He remained assistant to Saloon’s successor, Harvey Polanski, for eight more years.
Coppola is all Southington. His family resided on Liberty Street and he recalls the normal backyard baseball games but education was his priority. A graduate of Providence College, the man continued to study and earn educational accolades. After all, with 50 years of education in his resume, Coppola’s character is nearly spotless. One friend recently noted, “there isn’t any skeletons in his closet.”
In 2003 he retired from the local school system where he incredibly served as assistant superintendent for 13 years after being a teacher, career counselor, special education teacher, research and evaluation person and also a husband and father. He continues his position as Deacon, yet admits his initial decision years ago was priesthood.
As a Deacon he studied for four years. “It was like college again, grasping 10 courses in religion,” he recalls. Yet, he has no regrets. As a youth he recalled seeing his mother routinely sitting on the couch, “praying the rosary.” That inspired him. She set an example, he said, leading to his faith. Being a Deacon is rewarding and demands a busy schedule with duties at interments, baptisms and saying the homily at Mass. Coppola feels personal faith is important and believes young people who enjoy so many benefits of today’s life, naturally feel God is not in their plans. “Young people are not tested yet,” he calmly noted.
The late Pastor Father McVerry at St. Thomas continually encouraged him to begin studies as a Deacon. After earning his Doctorate at college, he agreed. No regrets, he insists.
At St. Thomas parish he has assisted six Pastors. The number of Deacons have diminished in recent years, from five when he began to two presently. He continues to be conscientious, friendly, loyal and when he puts on his religious vestments prior to Mass, Coppola becomes what he is in daily life and that includes volunteering for the past 25 years with the local United Way. “Angelo is a peaceful but enormous source of inspiration for us,” says Jack Eisenmann, executive director.
As expected, Angelo Coppola lives a content life. Having never drank, smoked or swore, he applauds his wife of 50 years. Marilyn says Angelo doesn’t stop working on a task until it is done and done right. Called an “Angel” by her husband, she praises him for being diligent and someone people can count on.
As an educator, Coppola fondly credits his friend and former school counselor Ray Walsh, as being a, “big influence on me.” Even today, he feels education is extremely vital to young people. His studies provided him with a bachelor’s degree, two Master degrees and a Ph.D in educational psychology and research from Fordham University. Nobody calls him doctor and he likes it that way. He contends that his philosophy in life is to be a good person.
“I want to be good to everybody and to keep doing it,” Coppola said.
How does Angelo Coppola want to be remembered?
“For the good that I’ve done; for the good that I haven’t done yet; and that I’ve done everything I wanted to do and I will die happy,” he stated.
For the parishioners at his church, Coppola is admired as a skilled former educator, but as the quiet reflection of their faith.