It was a somber day on the campus of Siena College.
Siena College President Brother Edward Coughlin died early Tuesday at age 71, after complications from non-emergency heart surgery in Rochester.
The college says Coughlin suffered a catastrophic stroke July 23rd while undergoing the surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester to correct a congenital heart defect. Spokeswoman Lisa Witkowski says the private liberal arts college in Loudonville is in mourning. "Brother Ed was a very intelligent and very gracious individual. He was also a very humble man with a terrific sense of humor. He will truly be missed at Siena."
A campus remembrance got underway in the morning after the news of Coughlin’s death broke overnight. Campus Chaplain Father Larry Anderson says Coughlin was "very connected" with the students. "He was always in the dining hall, he was at the sporting events. He was where the students were and they appreciated that. They knew that he cared for them."
In October 2015, Coughlin was officially inaugurated as Siena's 11th president after spending three years as a trustee, ascending to Interim President in August 2014 when Father Kevin Mullen resigned to become provincial minister of Holy Name Province.
Coughlin, a Buffalo native and lay friar, was involved in Franciscan higher education for over 45 years. He was the first non-cleric to be the leader of Siena. He had announced he was planning to step down when his current contract ended in August 2020. A search for his successor is underway.
Now, for the first time in its 81-year history, Siena will be led by a lay person and by a woman. Siena vice president for academic affairs, Margaret Madden, agreed to fill Coughlin remaining term. "Within the last four years we have created nine new academic programs, eight bachelor's degrees and an MBA, Master of Business Administration. We have re-shaped a lot of student support services, in particular services for students who need a little bit more help to be successful. Siena has a really high retention and graduation rate compared to other colleges and we work hard at that, and so he reinforced all of that. We created an internship office to allow students to more easily get internships. There always had been but now we have more support for that. So a lot of the plan was driven by the desire for students to be successful here."
Madden, who was Coughlin’s pick to serve as interim president, says Coughlin was one of the kindest, gentlest, most inspirational leaders she'd worked with over more than 30 years in higher education administration.
Student Senate President Zachary Coderre: "I don't think any of the students who have known Brother Ed will ever be able to really forget, or move on. But I do think that as a college we will come together. As a community we will grieve, we will mourn, but that we will ultimately be able to move forward on the path Brother Ed set us on."
Witkowski says a funeral is being planned at St. Bonaventure University, where Coughlin was an alumnus and professor before coming to Siena. She says Siena College will host a memorial service September 17th. The college says he is survived by a brother, four sisters and several nieces and nephews.