Fairfield Now - Spring 2007
Class of '62 profile
Ned Coll: God's activist
By Barbara D. Kiernan
When Edward "Ned" Coll '62 shared the stage with Elvis Presley in 1970, it wasn't because there was "a whole lotta shakin'" (Elvis style) going on. Rather, Coll and Presley were being honored by the U.S. Jaycees as two of 10 outstanding young men in the nation that year.
For the previous six years, Coll had been shaking things up on a different stage - challenging urban poverty at the grassroots level. Shortly after graduating from Fairfield, he founded The Revitalization Corps in Hartford, Conn., a private, domestically focused agency dedicated to serving the poor. His activism, inspired by President John F. Kennedy's wake-up call to a nation - "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" - would involve him for the next 40 years in providing educational and recreational opportunities for urban children.
"The best instincts of the American people have not been called upon in a long time," he reflects. "There's a reason we still have poverty and it's spelled G-R-E-E-D. As a society, we have forgotten our responsibility to the poor."
Coll says that the Jesuits helped instill both his passion for social justice and the value of reflection, although his appreciation of the latter came years later. "I remember in particular Fr. Joe McCormick and Fr. George Mahan," he says. "They touched me and many others through their pastoral sensibilities, but at the time, part of me took them for granted. I thought we'd always have priests and nuns to remind us of the need for values and reflection."
In 1990, Coll's activism took a startling twist. After what he describes as a "mystical experience" on Pentecost Sunday, he became a man with a new focus. "God activism," he calls it. In the years since, he has logged more than 5,400 miles throughout New England and into New York State, focusing attention on the need for more men to enter the priesthood. "Our faith started with walking, with Jesus going from town to town. The apostles were sent forth on foot," he says. "I decided that I, too, would walk to convey the message I felt I had received."
His "visual" is the rosary, which he wears large-scale around his neck as he walks, hoping to startle people into thinking beyond and beneath their daily concerns. "When I was younger, I didn't have the patience for the Rosary," Coll admits, noting that his capacity to reflect was a gift that came gradually. Many religions include the use of beads as a means of prayer, and Coll understands today the power of such practices. "Our busy way of life prevents us from reflecting," he observes. "The rosary is a discipline that helps a person slow down and do just that."
Coll, who is married and the father of two grown children, makes his rosary and his walking a prayer to encourage priestly vocations. "Yes, theirs is a difficult vocation, but there can be great joy in it as well," he says. "I have seen how hard most of them work, and I see a side of the story that is not being told." And so he walks and prays, walks and prays.