Upon his return to Ascension in 1954, Fr. Coates was appointed the parish’s auxiliary vicar to handle administration for Monsignor Dunphy. In January 1956, he was appointed Pastor, and Monsignor Dunphy became the Pastor Emeritus.
Most Ascensionites remember Monsignor Coates as the ‘song and dance man’ who would stage a “Msgr. Coates and the Kids” act in the annual St Patrick’s Day show. For 32 years, from 1954 to 1986, Monsignor Coates donned a variety of costumes for the annual show, including a fireman (he was a Minneapolis fire department chaplain), Joe College (he was a drum major at St. Thomas College), a clown, a football coach, and a Navy Captain.
Although dance instructor Dorothy Lundstrom said Coates was “the world’s worst dancer,” she was able to teach him four dance steps in twenty years. Fortunately, she had more success choreographing the annual St Patrick’s Day show and teaching Northside kids to dance for more than 60 years.
Fr. Coates provided a steady and positive influence on the neighborhood during the tumultuous late 1960s. Despite beatings, riots, shootings, bombings, fires, and National Guard presence in the neighborhood in 1967, Coates remained active in and dedicated to the Northside community. He also served on the mayor’s committee to meet black riot leaders and negotiate a settlement.
Even with the drastic changes in the neighborhood, Coates remained a constant to the parish and the neighborhood. Many parishioners moved from the area to the suburbs for larger homes and yards. Others left after the riots of 1967. Still more left because of the construction of I-94 between Dowling Avenue North and downtown Minneapolis. Hundreds of parishioners had to vacate their homes starting in 1970, when freeway construction began. Even more moved to make room for the building of Franklin Junior High School in 1971.
“The parishioners gradually moved out one or two at a time,” recalls Monsignor Coates. “Pretty soon a whole city block would be vacant.”
The parish experienced a steady decline in parishioners, students, and revenue starting in the late 1960s. Fr. Coates started “Ascension Pride” as a way to stay connected with former Ascension families. Although many families left the neighborhood, their ties and memories of Ascension are still strong.
In January 1967, Father became Monsignor Patrick William Coates. Then, in his 1973 customary physical exam, doctors noticed a spot high on his chest x-ray. It was determined to be malignant, and Monsignor Coates spent a month at the University of Minnesota battling Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer. He returned for regular radiation treatments. A year later he was on stage for the annual St Patrick’s Day show with the kids. In 1975 he also suffered from complications of a stomach ulcer and pneumonia.