Bishop John Edward Cohill
John Edward Cohill was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, U.S.A., December 13th, 1907, the fourth eldest of eight children. He entered the minor seminary at Miramar, Massachusetts in 1922 and the novitiate at East Troy, Wisconsin in 1926. He was ordained at Techny, Illinois,March 29th, 1936.
That same year he packed his bags for Fu Jen University, Peking (Beijing), China. Here he was made Director of Physical Education and a teacher of English. His pleasant personality made him a hit with the students. In 1940 he was sent back to the States on a fund-raising trip for the mission, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour the following year prevented any return to China.
A new door opened for him when American SVDs were asked to volunteer for New Guinea and he sailed the Pacific on a troopship with his confreres as an auxiliary chaplain - courtesy of General Douglas Macarthur. The group were held over in Australia until the authorities said it was safe to begin work in New Guinea once again. He spent much of this time in Australia in the Cairns area where he became very popular and well known - especially for his movies on China! On the day permission was given to enter New Guinea he hitched a ride north on a military transport plane.
He arrived in Papua New Guinea November 4th, 1944, and served at Rempi and Mugilon the north coast, Annaberg on the Ramu River, Kondiu in the Simbu, and Kuli in the Western Highlands. In 1965, after the tragic plane crash in which both Fr. Regional Joseph Bayer and his assistant Fr. Joseph Walachy were killed, he suddenly found himself Regional Superior.
In early December 1966 he was further surprised when he was informed by the Apostolic Delegate in Sydney, Australia, that he was to be the first Bishop of Goroka, taking over from the previous Vicar Apostolic, Bernard Schilling, whose failing health necessitated his resignation. John Cohill was ordained Bishop on March 11th, 1967, in Newark, N.J. He explained his coat of arms: "Man shows his love of God by his love of man. Hope in the goodness of God is basic in this discouraging world. And no man is any good unless his heart is filled with joy. These three, Caritas, Spes, Gaudium - love, hope and joy - will be my prayer and hope for Goroka. "
The Goroka diocese in those days took in the Eastern Highlands and Simbu districts with a population of about 400,000 and an area of 11,200 square km of rugged mountains and remote valleys. He soon set out of his first Confirmations which were to take in the entire diocese - at the first mission station 1,000 adults and children were waiting for him; on other mission stations there were even more! Bishop John was popular and well liked by his missionaries and the people. He became a father figure to many. His work force in those days consisted of 41 Divine Word Missionaries, 4 Holy Spirit Sisters, 19 Mercy Sisters from Australia, and 26 lay missionary volunteers from various overseas countries.
In 1978, as the years moved on and the amount of work increased he asked for and was given a coadjutor, Bishop Raymond Caesar, who took over the pastoral care of the Simbu. In 1980, though still in reasonably good health, Bishop John decided it was time to "let go" and let a younger man take over, so he gracefully retired and returned to stay with friends in his beloved New Jersey, U.S.A.
His "retirement" there was gradual. He made himself available to help in parishes where Masses or Confirmations were needed, and he continued to give talks on the PNG mission at every opportunity. He made many friends among the people, the Bishops, and the clergy of the Newark diocese.
The fax from Techny on March 16 came as a shock to many. Bishop John had undergone major surgery for brain tumor. Another fax on May 17 reported that his condition had deteriorated so much that all radiation treatment had been terminated and he had been taken off all life support systems. Bishop John was moved to the Divine Word Residence in Bordentown, N.J., to be among the community there in his last days.
Bishop John died 1:00am the morning of June 13, aged 87. The funeral Mass of the Resurrection was celebrated in the Sacred Heart Cathedral of Newark, New Jersey, June 16. He was buried at Mont Olivet Cemetery in Elizabeth, N.J., where he was born. A true follower of the Word, a humble and friendly man, brother to all - may he rest in the peace of the Lord!