Joseph B. Coleman, 37, parish priest, saved Catherine L., 7, and Janet Waters, 11, from being shot, Providence, Rhode Island, March 27, 1966. A man armed with an automatic pistol broke into a second- story apartment, held Catherine, Janet, and their mother hostage, and talked of committing suicide if it became necessary to kill them. The mother managed to escape and notify police, but the man fired at them when they started up the inside stairway. He then broke a window and fired at least 15 times at other policemen who had surrounded the house. When Coleman arrived the police were urging the man to release the girls, but he refused to do so. Coleman approached the dwelling and was recognized as a priest by the gunman. Talking with the man, who shouted irrationally, Coleman proceeded to the first-floor porch and climbed up onto a tier of concrete blocks with his head below the window where the gunman stood. He pleaded in vain for the man to lower the girls to him. Someone shouted a remark which angered the man. He fired at least two shots toward policemen in the area, the bullets passing over Coleman’s head. Coleman jumped down from the blocks and ran to the other end of the porch. A policeman fired four tear gas grenades, two of which fell to the ground near the porch. The other two entered the room where the gunman and the girls were located. All thrust their heads outside. Janet called to Coleman for help. He returned to the blocks beneath the window and again urged the man to lower the girls. The gunman said he would surrender the children to Coleman only if he entered the house to get them. Almost blinded by the tear gas, Coleman entered the building alone and ascended the stairs to the apartment door. The gunman moved a furniture barricade and opened the door. When Coleman asked for the pistol, the man handed it to him. It still contained ammunition. Coleman carried Janet down the stairs as the man followed, carrying Catherine. The gunman was taken into custody by the police and later was sentenced to prison.48747-5254
Joseph B Coleman of Ashland, New Hampshire died on March 6, 2023, his wife Sandra, at his side. Mr.
Coleman was born September 10, 1928 in Providence, R.I. He was the son of the late Dr. George V
Coleman and Anna (Burns) Coleman. He attended LaSalle Academy in Providence, R.I., St Mary
University in Baltimore MD. After obtaining his degree at St. Mary’s, he spend the next four years at St.
Mary’s School of Theology, also in Baltimore, MD. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on June 4,
1955. As a priest he had a great reverence for God’s presence in the Eucharist and it carried over to
seeing God’s presence in every human being. He was assigned to Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich,
R.I. from 1955 to 1962, Holy Name in Providence, R.I. from 1962 to 1969, Chaplain to the students at
Rhode Island School of Design from 1962 to 1969, St Augustin in Newport, R.I. from 1969 to 1974. In
1975, he was appointed Pastor to St. Mark’s in Jamestown, R.I. In 1984 , Mr. Coleman left the
Priesthood to marry Sandra Carlson. At that time he said “I love the Priesthood, I love the Church. I
have struggled to be a good Priest for the last 29 years. I wasn’t always successful. I could not always
live up to the high standards the Church demands of her Priests. For me, it was a daily struggle. When I
married Sandra, the struggle was ‘over’.
During his Priesthood, however, he received many Civic Awards for his devotion to God’s people. In
1962, the East Greenwich Jr. Chamber of Commerce chose him as ‘Man of the Year’ for “outstanding
community service through loyal and unselfish efforts resulting in lasting contributions to community
and nation”. On March 27, 1966 he received the Andrew Carnegie Medal for heroism for rescuing two
(2) young parishioners from a disturbed gunman. In 1974, the Newport City Council cited Mr. Coleman
for his service to the community. In 1978, the Rhode Island House of Representatives recognized his
courage and selflessness in saving more than a dozen lives on the Newport Bridge. Mr. Coleman was
often called to the Newport Bridge to deter desperate people from jumping to their death. In the case
cited in its Award, Mr. Coleman climbed the cable 400 feet above Narragansett Bay to lead a woman to
safety. In 1980, the Jamestown Town Council in Celebration of his 25th anniversary as a Priest, declared
the day, June 28th, 1980, as Father Joseph B Coleman Day and further stated, “He made all of Jamestown
In 1982 The American Legion of Rhode Island nominated Mr. Coleman with Rev. Charles Cloughlin of St.
Mathew’s Episcopal Church, and Dr. William Litterick of the Central Baptist Church, all in Jamestown, to
the Legion of Honor in the ‘Chapel of Four Chaplains’ in Philadelphia, PA. The citation stated “the Honor
was in recognition of the service to all people, regardless of race or faith.” Their membership
‘symbolizes for all Americans and for all time, the unity of this nations, founded upon the Fatherhood of
Mr. Coleman had great admiration and respect for First Responders. He volunteered as Chaplain to
various police and fire departments in the communities in which he served. Before 9/11, the
contribution of police and fire departments was often not fully understood or appreciated by the
general public. During the social unrest of the 60’s and 70’s, police were often called ‘pigs’ and together
with the Firefighters were sometimes stoned as they performed their regular duties. Mr. Coleman in his
talks and presence at crime and fire scenes gave support to these men and women. He was particularly
interested in professionalizing the role of Chaplain. In 1974, Mr. Coleman as one of the founders and
First Vice President of the International Conference of Police Chaplains. An organization formed to
recruit and educate Chaplains to serve the specific and unique needs of the individual Police officer.
This organization has, today, over 2000 members in 17 countries.
Mr. Coleman served as Fire Chaplain in East Greenwich and Newport and Police Chaplain in Providence,
Newport, Middletown, and Jamestown. He was deeply involved in the lives of the men and women in
these departments. The same compassion and sympathy he displayed for the desperate people
contemplating suicide on the Jamestown and Newport Bridge, was also evident in his police work In
two (2) separate incidents he successfully persuaded an officer ‘not to eat the gun.’ The officers of
various departments trusted him. The F.O.P. Lodge #3 in Providence, R.I. chose him on two (2) separate
occasions to be their arbitrator in labor disputes with the city of Providence They were more than
satisfied with his efforts.
After 1984, when he left the active ministry, Mr. Coleman worked for several social agencies. They
included Newport County Mental Health, D.C.Y.F. in Rhode Island and D.C.F. in New Hampshire and
Grafton County Senior Citizens Council in New Hampshire. He said “at my ordination, the ritual
proclaimed that I was a priest FOREVER according to the order of Melchizedek. I never forgot that. I
succeeded. Judgement Day will tell. A veteran social worker at D.C.Y.F. did say however, “Joe Coleman
was the most compassionate C.P.I (Child Protective Investigator) I have ever worked with.”
Mr. Coleman is survived by his beloved wife, Sandra, and three nephews and five nieces. His
predeceased by his sisters Margaret and Constance and a brother, George.