Interfaith Effort

Photo, from left: Monsignor Frank M. Mouch, a former president of Saint Leo (then a college) and supporter; Matthew Tapie, PhD, current director of the Saint Leo University Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies; donor Douglas Cohn of Tampa; current Saint Leo University President William J. Lennox Jr.; retired Saint Leo educator and honoree Linda S. Taggart; and donors Gail Whiting and Paul Whiting. Unavailable for this photo (see below): donor Maureen Cohn.

Two Tampa couples, one Jewish and one Catholic, are contributing equally to seed an endowment fund to benefit the Saint Leo University Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies and its work in interfaith education.

Douglas and Maureen Cohn, along with Paul and Gail Whiting, agreed to establish the endowment as a tribute to educator Linda S. Taggart, with each couple pledging $25,000, to be donated over the course of five years. The Cohns are well-known for their giving locally, including their generous donations to Jewish causes and to arts and cultural institutions, and are members of Congregation Rodeph Sholom. The Whitings are active philanthropists as well, and belong to Christ the King Catholic Church. The couples have known each other for years.

Their honoree, Mrs. Taggart, has been devoted to the causes of interfaith relations and understanding, and of Saint Leo University, for some time. In addition, she has fulfilled many roles, as an adjunct professor of religious studies at the university during multiple periods, as a trustee of the university from 2002 to 2008, and when needed, she took on the role of director of the center for the 2009-2010 academic year. One of her favorite areas of study is the Hebrew Bible, and she often kindly quips to students and others that Jesus did not read the New Testament. Concurrent with these activities, Mrs. Taggart also enjoyed making presentations on interfaith relations at Catholic parishes throughout the Tampa Bay area.

As if all those contributions were not enough, after the passing of Mrs. Taggart’s husband, James, in 2011, she accepted a fellowship to study for a year in Rome at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas and earn a second master’s degree in theology in 2013, focusing specifically on interreligious studies. Her year of study in Rome gave her great joy and many stories to share when she returned to teaching part-time at Saint Leo University. Illness has recently required Mrs. Taggart to give up classroom teaching, though she enjoys keeping abreast of the programming at the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies.

Linda Taggart with donor Maureen Cohn

Linda Taggart with donor Maureen Cohn

Maureen Cohn reflected that Mrs. Taggart “has been a true inspiration to me, as I see her as a teacher and scholar of all religions. Linda’s deep knowledge of both Judaism and Catholicism were the catalyst for the bond that formed between the two of us over the many years of our friendship. It was through Saint Leo and the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies that we were able to engage and share our mutual love of faith and humanity.”

As both couples reflected together on how much they have been influenced by Mrs. Taggart’s example over the years, they decided to honor her by establishing an endowment—a reflection of their love and admiration that will do good in the world.

Dr. Matthew Tapie, who became director of the Saint Leo University Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies in Fall 2015, concurred that the “the establishment of the Cohn-Whiting Endowment significantly advances the mission of the center, especially in its capacity to educate students. Their generous gift allows us to teach students the interfaith leadership skills so desperately needed in the local community, as well as shape future scholars of interreligious study and dialogue.”

Others may donate to add to the principal of the Cohn-Whiting Endowment for Catholic-Jewish Studies. Once the endowment is fully established and earning investment income, the center director will be able to use proceeds for student research and study efforts.

Saint Leo University established the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at its campus in East Pasco County in 1998. The center’s mission is to build mutual respect and understanding between Catholics and Jews, and all people of good will. To accomplish this, the center sponsors interreligious study experiences for students and provides the general public opportunities to attend special educational events and to engage in respectful dialogue, both on campus and at other venues in Tampa Bay and Sarasota. More information is available from current CCJS Director Matthew Tapie, PhD, at

If you would like to donate to this scholarship, please visit our giving page, choose “other” and indicate the “Cohn-Whiting Endowment for Catholic-Jewish Studies.”


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