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Fr. Bernard Coughlin, S.J.: President, Priest, Scholar, Civic Leader, Friend: Lobby Case

Lobby Case

In 1974 Gonzaga University, a small, financially struggling school, was in need of a new president. Enrollment and endowment funds were down; and the school was in debt. For the first time in the university’s recent history, an ‘outsider’ was considered to assume the presidency. Fr. Bernard J. Coughlin, S.J., previously the Dean of the School of Social Service at Saint Louis University, accepted the position during this time of instability.  During his 22 years serving as president, the university saw unprecedented growth in terms of finances, campus size, student enrollment, and academic reputation.

Even considering these impressive achievements, Coughlin was much more than just a university president. This exhibit shows the multi-dimensional life of one of Gonzaga’s most devoted administrator and illustrates how his role as a priest, scholar, civic leader, and friend to the community influenced his success as president.  

Fr. Coughlin currently resides at the Jesuit residence in Los Gatos, CA.

Exhibit guest curated by History intern Olivia Lada, Class of 2019.  The materials were drawn from Gonzaga University Archives and the Northwest Jesuit Archives.

“Fr. B. J. Coughlin Gonzaga’s 23rd President,” Signum of Gonzaga University Vol. 6 No. 9, May 1974

After Fr. Richard Twohy, S.J. stepped down after five years as president, the Board of Trustees began searching for a suitable replacement. Once they discovered Coughlin, however, the choice was unanimous, despite the fact that he was relatively unfamiliar with both Spokane and Gonzaga.  Coughlin started his new position in October 1974. Fr. Twohy declined to accept the newly created position of chancellor after his presidency, a role Coughlin would eventually fill after stepping down in 1996.

Plaque given to Fr. Coughlin for serving on the Board of Directors for United Way of Spokane County 1983 – 1984 and 1986-1987

Silver goblet to Fr. Coughlin recognizing him working as a trustee from the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, 1987 – 1990

Fr. Coughlin with President George Bush Sr., Official White House Photograph, September 19, 1989

Left to right, Fr. Coughlin, George Bush, Tom Foley, and Heather Strachan Foley. “To Father Bernard Coughlin with best wishes, George Bush.”

Fr. Coughlin at the groundbreaking for Foley Library, then known as the CIT building, February 15, 1991

Left to right, Ron Tan (architect), Bernadette Hahn, Ken Sammons, Bernie Levernier, Bob Burr, Chuck Murphy, Dave Hansen, Jerry Greenan, John Clute, and Fr. Bernard Coughlin

Coughlin headed the construction of many of the campus’ most recognizable buildings, including the Foley Center at a cost of $20,000,000. At its conception, the building was known as the Center for Information and Technology (CIT), but was later named in honor of Ralph and Helen Foley, parents of Speaker of the House Tom Foley, a former Gonzaga student.

Fr. Coughlin offering Mass at a church in St. Veit, Austria, 1994

Fr. Coughlin and Kermit the Frog, 1995

Coughlin Hall T-shirt, 2009

This T-shirt is from the opening of the Coughlin residence hall in 2009. The back reads: “Cough-lin (kawglin) n. 1 a living, learning community named in honor of Fr. Bernard Coughlin, S.J., Gonzaga University’s 23rd President and Chancellor * adj. 2 A higher standard. * v. 3 facilitate the education of the mind, body and spirit of a resident.


Fr. Coughlin, 2009

Fr. Coughlin with President Bill Clinton, no date