Father Connelly finds connection with late father in the Mass

| May 28, 2019 | 0 Comments

Newly ordained Father Joseph Connelly made his late father’s reception of last rites possible only weeks before entering the seminary in 2011.

Father Joseph Connelly

Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Father Connelly, now 34, administered CPR when his father, Frank, suffered a heart attack in their Savage home July 2, 2011. With their home located across the street from St. John the Baptist, then-pastor Father Mike Tix hurried over after he saw an ambulance at the Connelly’s home. Father Tix gave Frank Connelly last rites.

“Being able to resuscitate him long enough for him to get his last rites, I was very grateful for (that),” Father Connelly said. “His eyes opened up. He wasn’t able to speak. It was enough for him to keep the heart going until the ambulance came and started hooking him up to machines.”

Father Connelly saw the priesthood in action that night. Father Tix went to the hospital and stayed with the family until Frank Connelly’s passing.

“His witness that night was phenomenal,” Father Connelly said.

Now, Father Connelly can offer similar witness as a newly-ordained priest, completing at his May 25 ordination a 16-year journey to the altar after working blue-collar jobs his first eight years out of high school. He looks forward to the many ways he can minister as a priest. Beginning June 12, he will serve as parochial vicar of St. John Neumann in Eagan.

“Just being part of people’s lives, walking with them with Christ, being able to give them the sacraments, be an instrument of God, bringing grace into their life — whether it’s a wedding or a baptism or a funeral — bringing the love of Christ to those people, whether it’s rejoicing with them or whether it’s crying with them,” Father Connelly said.

His journey to the priesthood began in his family as the fifth of 10 children. They lived a devout Catholic lifestyle, attending Mass each Sunday and praying the rosary regularly as a family, he said.

“I guess I thought about the priesthood when I was a kid, but I think that most Catholic kids probably think about it,” Father Connelly said.

His father loaded barges, worked construction and cleaned airlines, and his mother worked at the welcome center at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. The blue collar-work ethic and influence led Father Connelly down a similar path after he graduated from Burnsville High School in 2003. He cleaned airplanes, then worked as a valet driver for a casino in Prior Lake.

“It was working a lot and paying bills and everything like that, and I never stopped going to Mass or anything like that,” Father Connelly said. “The idea of the priesthood kind of came back, and so I prayed about it.”

He completed an associate’s degree in criminal justice at Normandale Community College in Bloomington and began law enforcement training in Jordan before he heard the call to the priesthood. He talked with a priest about it and decided to live at a parish, St. John the Baptist in New Brighton.

Father Connelly kept working third shift at the casino but helped at the parish where he could. He attended adoration regularly and prayed night prayer from the liturgy of the hours.

“I had never seen a breviary before,” Father Connelly said.

He said he still wasn’t certain about priesthood at that point, but he entered St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul in 2011. His family supported the decision but didn’t pressure him, he said. He still remembers his father’s words.

“Before entering seminary, his whole mindset was ‘if you become ordained, I’m proud of you, but if it’s not for you, don’t feel like you have to be pressured into anything,’” Father Connelly said of his father. “Just follow what you think God is calling you to do.”

Father Connelly received his acceptance letter to SJV a week after his father’s funeral.

“It was hard because everybody wants their parents to kind of see them through the process,” Father Connelly said. “Seminary was great place for me for grieving and especially … having daily Mass, spiritual direction (and) all these things that I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t in seminary.”

Father Connelly said he grew in his discernment at SJV, but it really solidified in major seminary. He took a year off from seminary after graduating from SJV in 2014 to look at religious orders, but he returned to seminary in 2015, entering St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St. Paul.

“Right away, I kind of realized that most of my experiences had been with diocesan priests. That’s where priesthood was really kind of shown to me,” Father Connelly said. “I saw the beauty of the diocesan priesthood—kind of belonging to a diocese and belonging to a particular territory.”

Father Connelly described his time at St. Paul Seminary as an “opportunity for grace” with prayer, the sacraments and studies. He said he particularly enjoys the works of St. Francis de Sales.

“St. Francis de Sales in his gentleness and humility really puts things back into perspective,” Father Connelly said.

Father Connelly sees teaching as central to his life as a priest and a fruitful way to live celibacy. He said that teaching experiences in seminary helped him embrace celibacy.

“By teaching I was able to fulfill that natural good,” Father Connelly said. “Just because you’re called to celibacy doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to be a father.”

His teaching parish was St. Joseph in West St. Paul, and he served at Nativity in St. Paul for a summer. He spent his diaconate summer at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton.

Father Connelly anticipates remembering his father at the priestly ordination Mass as he did in the diaconate ordination Mass last year.

“I was thinking, ‘though he’s not here physically, every time we go to Mass, it’s not just the people there, we’re celebrating with all the angels and all the saints, the cloud of witnesses,” Father Connelly said. “I’m having a connection with my father and my grandparents and all those who have passed before,” he added.

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Category: Ordinations