Through Triumphs and Tragedies, Marie Coronel Found Light in God, Family, and the Padres

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Two things were staples in Marie Coronel’s home when she was growing up: Catholicism and rooting for the San Diego Padres. You could make the argument that one is an extension of the other, but regardless, they both remain integral parts of her life.

Admittedly, though, the practice of faith took precedence, guiding Marie as she pursued a career as a broadcast journalist. More importantly, it served as her foundation through her father’s diagnosis with a rare progressive neurological disorder, and her own debilitating injury when a tree fell on her and broke her neck while she was out reporting on severe weather. Marie joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” (podcast below) to share her story.  

As the daughter of Filipino Americans, Marie Coronel grew up in a home where the Catholic faith was as integral to life as eating and drinking. Her father was an usher at their church and a member of the Knights of Columbus and Holy Name Society. He always made sure the family got to Mass on time, and he encouraged his shy daughter to be a lector at her Catholic school’s Masses. Lectoring, coupled with the fact that her parents once bought her a toy microphone she would use to interview people, planted the seeds of Marie’s career as a TV news reporter.

In addition, San Diego Padres games – either on TV or the radio – served as the soundtrack in their home. Father and daughter would always enjoy them together.

When Marie left home to attend Cal State Northridge because of their journalism program, it was the first time she was truly on her own with the freedom to make her own decisions. She recalled, “It was up to me to decide, ‘Hey, are you gonna get up early Sunday morning and go to Mass? Are you gonna make sure you’re there for the holy day of obligation?’ And shockingly – I think it was just because I was raised in that – the choice was pretty easy. I knew I had to go. I credit my parents because if they didn’t instill that foundation in me, I don’t know if I would’ve been, as a college kid, 18 years old, spending [my] Sundays at church…And being Filipino has helped in terms of keeping my faith alive.”

Marie’s early days in broadcast news took her far from San Diego, to places such as Maryland and Virginia. The pay was not great so she sustained herself on ramen noodles and Padres games. Those days, said Marie, “taught me to rely on my faith…I could go back to remember what my mom told me. Whenever you’re faced with some uncertainty, if you’re worried, just pray. So, that’s what I was able to do.”

Eventually landing a job at ABC 10 News back in her San Diego hometown was a dream come true for Marie. It was the station she had always watched with her grandparents, so she felt a connection to it that went beyond her employment.

Life continued on the upswing when Marie met the man she would marry. But her joy came to be intermingled with sorrow when her father was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder that “affects body movements, walking and balance, and eye movement.”

Doctors didn’t think Marie’s father would live to see her wedding, which was just two months away. Mr. Coronel, however, had other plans. She said, “My dad…he was a fighter, and there was nothing that was going to stop him from being there for his daughter’s wedding. But a big part of that, again, he relied on his faith…Then, after that, they didn’t know if he was going to meet his first grandchild. Eventually at the end of this, he met all three of his grandsons.”

During this time, Marie juggled her career and her own growing family, with being a caregiver for her father. She admitted it was a lot to deal with physically, mentally, and emotionally. But again, she turned to the lessons she had learned in childhood and relied on her faith for strength.

What she had endured so far, however, was nothing compared to what was to come. In 2016, a severe storm was hitting the San Diego area, so Marie knew she would be reporting on it the next day. The night before, she was at her parent’s house, and her mother decided to pin her father’s Miraculous Medal on her, hoping for a little extra divine protection. In addition, Marie was pregnant, though no one knew about it and the only indication was the St. Gerard Majella medal she wore around her neck.

“I went to work [the next] day,” Marie recalled, “and was sent to a scene where there were downed trees. Before one of our live reports, a tree came down on myself and my photographer. I was knocked unconscious. The only thing I remember vaguely was being in an ambulance, looking for my mom and telling them that I was pregnant…The doctors told me that at one point they just stopped counting how many bones I broke.”

Marie’s neck was broken, and she miscarried her unborn child. She said, “I’ve always been the strong person in our family. I helped my mom take care of my dad. I had my husband and two sons at the time. And now I was the one who could not do anything. I was literally just laying in a bed. Doctors were still trying to figure out how to piece me back together, or even whether I would be able to move my arm because there was such extensive damage.”

For some time, Marie couldn’t get out of bed, she was stuck in a neck brace and had trouble swallowing anything, even water. Despite feeling devastated at everything that had happened, Marie didn’t do any fist-shaking at God. Instead, she asked for God’s help to find healing.

She added, “I think it was seeing my mom [that gave me strength]. She had to take care of me who was bedbound, and then she had to take care of my dad who was bedbound. Yes, she did get frustrated, but she never gave up. She had so much emphasis on her faith that she used that to get her through. And to me, it’s like, ‘Okay, if my mom is doing that to take care of me and my father, if my dad is using that to keep fighting, considering all of the things that are stacked against him, why not me? Why would I not [rely on my faith]?'”

One source of comfort and joy for Marie during her recovery was her two sons. Instead of viewing her neck brace as a negative thing, they thought it made her a superhero, which gave her a more positive view of her own situation.

Marie explained, “With my dad, he couldn’t physically play ball with [my sons], but just sitting next to them, holding their hands, you could see the smile on his face. He was truly happy. For me, it was more like – this is why I have to keep going. These are two young kids, and they deserve to have their mom. That’s why it was joyful to see them, because that motivated me to keep going.”

Marie has recovered remarkably well. She has some limitations in mobility in her neck, and she often feels like she has arthritis. But overall, she has resumed living her rich and full life, and she has had a third son as well. Like her parents did with her, she is modeling the Catholic faith for them, through going to Mass and praying a family rosary. And, of course, she and her husband are raising their boys to be Padres fans.

Marie said, “They are decked out in all Padres’ gear. When we have our family vacations, we try to plan it around baseball games. But the catch is, we’ll take them to a baseball game. But while we’re there, we’re also going to Mass at a different church. So as they’re visiting different ballparks, they’re also visiting different churches.”

The one person physically absent from Marie’s life is her dad, who passed away in 2020 after defying the odds for so many years. Yet he remains a presence in her life. She said, “We make it a point to visit his grave once a week after we go to Mass. That’s what we do as a family…But I find myself talking to him when I’m about to do something that I am not used to doing…Before, [I] would be praying to God, ‘Help me get through this.’ But now there’s another step [where] I’m talking to my dad. So even though he’s not physically here, he’s still here inside.”

(To listen to my full interview with Marie Coronel, click on the podcast link):

Marie Coronel interview – Christopher Closeup