Jack Coia was christened Giacomo Antonio Coia. He was born in Salop Street, Wolverhampton on 17 July 1898 and was the eldest of nine children. His father was Giovanni Coia, a farmer's son, who became a sculptor and later a café owner near Parkhead Cross in Glasgow. Jack's wife was Maria Ernesta who was a circus artist and dancer. Jack graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 1923. After a short period in London he returned to Glasgow where he lectured at the School of Art. Later he became a partner in the firm of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia and designed the Palace of Industry and the Roman Catholic Pavilion for the Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow in 1938. Renowned for his many church designs, he received three medals from the Royal Institute of British Architects. In October 1967, the Queen made Jack Coia a Commander of the British Empire. Jack Coia died in Glasgow on 4 August 1981.

The left picture above was drawn in the 1930s; the right photograph was taken in the 1980s.

The text below is the funeral homily by Father Kenneth Nugent, a Jesuit priest at Jack Coia's funeral service in Saint Alolysius' Church, Glasgow on 18 August 1981.

Today we are drawn together in the human sadness of loss; the loss of a man of rare talent, and of great simplicity. But our coming together is not merely to remember and to mourn, but to grow in hope and to commend the great soul of Jack Coia to the love of God. I speak with a sense of privilege. As a priest I speak for the Church and for the faith which was Jack's. I speak too as an architect, a pupil of that renowned practice of Gillespie, Kidd and Coia, and I speak as a friend; for those 31 years of my acquaintance could only serve to increase an admiration and affection. I like to think, too, that Jack would be pleased. He was a little proud of the "office priest" and he would tip me a pound like a kindly uncle when, in my mid-thirties, I approached my ordination and came to visit. My first meeting with Archbishop Scanlon, the former Archbishop of Glasgow, was in Rome in 1970. He asked my name, and on telling him, he responded "Oh yes, Coia's boy". And I have shamelessly traded on the name; it stands high among architects, whose laurels are not lightly granted to their fellows. Jack had a child-like love of appreciation, never quite seeming to realise that the honours were rightly his, and they were many, and never quite seeming to realise that these honours represented would live on in the buildings which bear his inimitable seal. This is a time for epitaphs and I am sure that Wren himself would not begrudge a share in his. "If you seek a memorial, look about you" for here in Glasgow and the West of Scotland and beyond are many evidences of a skill and an artistry which span the fifty-seven years since he first qualified in 1924 and which span other, crucial years too; the early struggles following those brilliant student years; the war years with all their frustrations; the emergence of modern architecture, and the profound impact of the Second Vatican Council. He met them and found their measure. I say this to show that Jack was a great architect and a great Scottish architect whose interpretative vision enlivened the Scottish scene with something of the brilliance of the Italian sun. But that greatness stemmed not only from his native talent but also from that simplicity and that humility which was open to new and exciting visions; for it was only his courage which brought that talent to the fore and his faith which gave him courage and sustained that simplicity of heart. His Catholic faith was an integral part of his whole personality; he wore it unostentatiously and he conveyed its depth in his work. He loved the Church, and to enhance it was the essential delight of his life. His many churches, principally in the West of Scotland, begin with Saint Anne's, Whitevale Street and end with Our Lady of Good Counsel in Craigpark Street; two of the fine churches of Europe, and there they stand, parish churches in Dennistoun, Glasgow, vital in every detail. He built like the good architect of the first reading (I Corinthians 3:10); and like Saint Paul, others continue to build on these foundations. Maybe it was because only the best was good enough for Jack that I found the seeds of my own calling. Isi Metzstein, old colleague and Jack's partner once said: "I confess that architecture is a sort of priesthood" and for my part I have never found the two professions incompatible. "Others continue to build" and how proud Jack would have been to read the accolade accorded to Gillespie, Kidd & Coia in this current Architectural Review in speaking of the new Robinson College as worthy of the great building tradition of Cambridge. The exciting years of the fifties when the atelier, rather than the office of Jack Coia in Waterloo Street was a ferment of youthful ideas and enthusiasms, enlivened by the Maestro himself, have not betrayed his confidence. But that is only part and I think for Jack, the lesser part of the building which goes on upon his foundations. He was glad and a little proud of the priest and the professor and the others, the honours too; but even more was he glad and now in God's loving kindness he must surely know of that building up of countless ordinary people whose faith was deepened by the perception of a beauty which he unfolded in the setting of their worship. Good architecture is essentially simple, and the great architect is one who has avoided the conceits which imperil his art. Good architecture embodies the qualities of faith; commodity, firmness and delight are incorporated by Saint Paul in the dwelling place of God in the Spirit, which he describes to the Ephesians in the second reading (Ephesians 2:19-22). They are the criteria of good architecture and delight is simple and unalloyed harmony. Jack's churches encouraged and inspired many other architects and the quality of his churches as architecture ranked with the best secular work and gave new meaning to a living faith which could inspire. If architecture is about human life and its expression of that life, it is also about aspiration, for it should contain the seeds of the fulfilling of that aspiration. The Church in the West of Scotland is immeasurably richer for Jack Coia's work, and those churches are valued beyond the confines of these dioceses; but Oxford, Cambridge, Hull and Glasgow Universities number colleges and work by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia; and elsewhere, schools, hospitals, colleges and housing, numerous commissions, are an eloquent testimony in themselves. Yet often, too, financial strictures, changing patterns in the Church, and other circumstances stepped in to blur the fine achievement. But they were part of the agony of a good soul and they kept him the man he always was. My last and happy meeting with Jack Coia was at Glendaruel, when the man who then celebrated his eightieth birthday those three short years ago would still run by the lochside, cared for a small job on one of his early churches, Saint Peter in Chains at Ardrossan and clearly revelled in that glorious combination of family and friends, bagpipes and an abundance of good Italian lambrusco. The days are passed now, but the family and the friends and the love remain. He wanted to be buried from this church; he began here, nothing of his is visible. And so he finally put everything aside, and with his mother's crucifix in his hands, he turned to the Lord alone; the ultimate simplicity and the final goal. The sign has given way to the reality. May he rest in peace.