New City pays tribute to Siobhan Coyle, from Scotland. She died tragically in a plane crash in the Philippines twenty years ago whilst helping to develop a new model of economics: the Economy of Communion. She was just 22 years old.
Siobhan grew up in a loving family in Glasgow, where she lived with her mum and dad until she was 21. She was the youngest of four children – ten years younger than her next sister. She was really the baby of the family, and often said that she had three mums, not one! When she was ten years old, Siobhan started to come to the meetings for the children of the Focolare. Her mum, Eileen, would often bring her on the bus from the south side of the city which took two hours, so that she could take part in these meetings. Siobhan lived the spirituality of unity with a sparkle right from the moment she met it. She was a very mischievous person, and her dad used to call her his ‘mischievous rascal’, but in everything that she did there was always love.
She confided in a friend that when she went to secondary schools she found it difficult to say that she believed in God to her peers. However, because she loved God, she tried to love other people. She used to leave little notes around the house for her sisters and her mum. She felt: ‘We don’t tell one another that we love them enough.’ If she had a little fall out with her mum she would leave a note on her pillow saying: ‘I love you.’ At secondary school she began to think: ‘What do I want to do with my life?’
Siobhan decided to study management science at Strathclyde University, particularly as a result of her interest in and passion for the Economy of Communion project (EoC), which was launched by Chiara Lubich in 1991. Through the EoC, businesses from all over the world are trying to create a new economy through sharing their profits with the poor. The more she studied business management strategy, the more she became convinced that the EoC was the only solution to the many social and economic problems of the world. When she graduated in 1998, she decided to go to the Philippines to find out more about the EoC, and to work for an EoC business there which specialised in Management consultancy. In a talk she gave just days before she died she explained why she did this: ‘During my final year at university I observed that for many of the companies I considered joining, the driving factor was financial returns. They were ruthless in a global world, competition was fierce and there was no alternative but to fight. I felt deep inside that joining one of these companies would not fulfill me as a person. I explored other careers such as working for government agencies or other charitable institutions, but I love the dynamic environment of the business world.’ So in October she left for the Philippines, which was the last time we saw her here in Britain.
Life in the Philippines
‘When I arrived’, she wrote, ‘my world was turned upside down quite literally. I cannot even begin to explain the difference in culture, lifestyle and food. I actually felt like a child who didn’t even know where the best place to buy toothpaste was. I felt all at sea with no familiar things around me.’ During this time however, Siobhan had an anchor, which was to love, and she immediately started to build profound relationships with the other young people she was living with. She was so down to earth and accessible to all. When anyone thinks of Siobhan, they think of her smile and the little chats over a cup of tea. She was always there when you needed to talk and whilst understanding deeply, she could always crack a joke and help you to see the lighter side of life. One of the young people she shared a flat with in the Philippines wrote: ‘I lived with Siobhan when she came to the Philippines. From the very first day I met her, I felt her big heart. Big heart, I say, because knowing that she comes from a completely different culture, I felt her openness and spontaneity. I was struck by her simplicity. Simplicity in her way of dressing, but with elegance. Simplicity in her actions… She always had a smile on her face, ready to listen when you shared something. Ready to help… always ready to love!’
“Siobhan was just the most friendly and selfless person you could hope to meet. She really had a special gift – making each person feel as if they were the most important person in the world.”
She gave me back my self confidence
Also at work, Siobhan’s professionalism and dedication soon made her an indispensable part of the team. Despite having little experience of management consultancy, she was trusted with the most difficult and sensitive projects. Amongst her work mates, she was always the first to love and to make others feel at ease. In her office, for example, there was one boy who had been having difficulties and was at the point of giving up his job at the time when she joined the project. In a eulogy given in the Philippines at her funeral, he said: ‘Siobhan and I were colleagues and spearheaded a project together. However, I encountered so many difficulties that I was beginning to doubt my capacity or ability to go ahead. I was ready to give everything up and run away. My anxiety didn’t escape Siobhan. When I started to share the mistakes I’d made, Siobhan not only covered them up, so as to keep the project going, but she inspired me and encouraged me to keep on believing in myself. She gave me back my self-confidence.’
This growing love shone out in everything she wrote in her diary, which was one of the only things to survive the plane crash. The growing depth of her relationship with God during that time in the Philippines is what is laid out in the pages left almost as a testament to her choice of God. Looking back, it is clear to see that she was climbing her stairway to heaven and every entry to the diary shows another step towards God.
“I realize today that it is not only vital for my own well being that I have a vision and a mission for my life, but that it is vital that I live constantly with this vision in mind so as to give hope to those around me.”
On Sunday November 29th 1998 she wrote: I sat still and treasured that moment, the excitement of being young, of the unknown future, and yet being full in that moment. Full of the love and joy of the life we have with Jesus. Dear Jesus, if I have one wish in all my life, it is that all people would know the joy of knowing you. Help me to be your vessel and show me your joy, to share my experiences and my love of you with everyone I know. Teach me ‘no fear’. You give me so much, you fill me up, you are my everything.
New Year’s Day 1999: It’s 1999! What do I want to do/become during this year? I think this will be my learning year… Meanwhile I’m still wrestling with my weight (Help me God) and I’m still learning how bad I am at loving and taking the extra step. (Help me again God)
9th February 1999: Today – I know how lucky I am – Lucky to have family like I do. Lucky to have friends… Lucky to know you God, my reason, my purpose, my balance, my SANITY.
If I had known at the age of 16 just where I would be sitting now I would be overwhelmed. Instead you feed us slowly and steadily to prepare us for the way ahead.
Dearest God, help me to know myself so as to know you better. Help me to love without considering the cost – guide me in my actions and deeds. I’m sorry for the times I have failed you… I don’t think I’m very good at being your witness – Lord I’m sorry but know that I love you.
You are precious to me… My light and my salvation. I am your instrument. Use Me.
15th May 1999: I realize today that it is not only vital for my own well being that I have a vision and a mission for my life, but that it is vital that I live constantly with this vision in mind so as to give hope to those around me. I know in my time here I have become more serious but I know that perhaps it is time to be serious to ask what I want from my life and how I am going to achieve that. I don’t want to waste another moment of my life, I want everything I do… to be in pursuit of that vision.
I want to live a focused life. My vision in life is to give the ideal of the Focolare to every person I meet, to give them an opportunity to meet Jesus through me. Ultimately I surrender all this to your holy will God. This is my destination. Please God, help me during my journey and if I have set my compass to the wrong ‘North’ redirect me.
On 28th July 1999, Siobhan set off by plane to Benguet in the north Philippines to give a seminar on the EoC at a gold mine there. The plane, carrying nine people, crashed. There were no survivors.
Her last diary entry
One of the last things she wrote in her diary shows just how close to God she had come: Why me? Why so lucky? Why so happy… God, I think you’ve given me too much. Your generosity overwhelms me, it also makes me afraid. Maybe there will be much pain ahead. Maybe there is very much expected of me. Your will be done… I am yours.
When she died many people, especially young people, wrote to her family, saying what a profound impact Siobhan’s life has had on them – many have returned to the Church, or changed their lives. During that year her friends and family received many emails and letters from around the world from young people who never knew her personally, but who have been touched by her life and discovered God through her.
Interview with Guillemette Lefevre, a young French actress, portrayed the life of Siobhan during the Genfest in Manila in July 2018: