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Andy Lippman: Church Marks a Milestone for a Remarkable Man

Monsignor Clement Connolly became a pastor of Holy Family in 1985

Holy Family Catholic Church in South Pasadena on June 15 commemorated the 60th anniversary of Monsignor Clement Connolly’s ordination as a priest.
What a great time for all of us — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — to reflect on his teachings over the years and to share personal stories about the parish’s pastor emeritus.
I think Monsignor — as he’s known throughout the parish — would appreciate the symmetry.
“I am surrounded by wonderfulness,” said the 84-year-old Connolly. “I’m enriched by the people around me. They are my teachers. God speaks to me through the people around me.
“They are not perfect. But they are perfectly wonderful.”
When many of Connolly’s parishioners talk about him being humble, the words glow.
And when they talk about his homilies, the adjectives glow even brighter.
If you want to hear what I mean, go to the Holy Family website, and catch a homily given by Connolly, who often preaches to a full house during the 9:30 a.m. Mass.
Many of those people I talked to said that it’s not how he speaks in his Irish brogue, but what he talks about that is most amazing to them.
“I think what sets the monsignor apart from other priests I have known is his intellect, which is manifest in his homilies,” said Diana Mahmud, a longtime parishioner and former mayor of South Pasadena. “As you may know, it’s believed the Gospels are believed to have been originally written in Greek. I have never heard another priest present a homily on the Gospel package of the day based on his knowledge that a particular word appearing in the Greek version of the Gospels may not have been accurately translated when the Gospel was written in English.”
“Monsignor Connolly is one of the finest homilists I have ever heard,” added former parish administrator Cambria Tortorelli. “He has a gift of connecting Scripture with the lived experience of his congregation in a way that conveys wisdom, mercy and compassion.”
Hold that thought about his oratorical gifts, and let’s go back to Monsignor’s recollections about the day he was ordained.
“I remember the fervor of idealism and the excitement of a vocation to change the world,” he said.
And he hasn’t lost that excitement although he now, with age, views events and ideas from a different perspective.
“[The priesthood] has been much more than I expected,” Monsignor said. “It’s been a phenomenal life. There’s success. Life. Light and darkness. The fullness of being human. All of this has a place and has meaning.
“It has been a tapestry of divine providence.”
Connolly became pastor of Holy Family in 1985, where he served until he retired in 2010, and where he is still a spiritual adviser and pastor emeritus. He still celebrates Mass as well as nurtures families now in their third or fourth generation seeking his care.
If Holy Family is a tapestry, Monsignor Connolly is the tie that binds it together for many parishioners.
“He has been part of the Nallay-Ternan family since first meeting my parents 53 years ago,” said Mary Nally Ternan. “He has blessed us with his love, wisdom and we are all better people because of him.
“In his dual roles as friend and spiritual guide, Clem has married us, baptized our children and sat at the bedside at hospitals during illnesses and deaths.
“He has taught us to love, forgive and ‘let go’ of the little things that distract us from what really matters.
“I was blessed to work for Monsignor Connolly for 30 years at Holy Family Parish as the pastoral care director. He was my mentor and leader who taught me to care for and love the less fortunate — the elderly, sick and dying who often go unseen.”
Holy Family underwent a transformation under his leadership and with the help of dedicated parishioners. A new parish school was constructed along with a new pastoral center across the street from the main church. In addition, the parish established ministries outside of South Pasadena, including a ministry in Haiti.
Mahmud said that Connolly has done more than more build up the physical church.
“Monsignor Connolly, in one or more of his homilies, has made it clear that we should accept LGBTQ+ people as they are, because that’s the way God makes them,” she said. “And we believe in a loving God. As a parent of a child in the queer community, his perspective and outreach is especially meaningful to me.”
Ask a parishioner at Holy Family and many of them will have stories of his compassion.
“It was 3:30 a.m. One of my teenage daughters ran to the pay phone at Huntington Hospital insisting on calling Monsignor Connolly,” recalled longtime friend and former parishioner Elizabeth Taylor of that day 32 years ago. “She said he made her promise to call him when Daddy died. Within minutes, he arrived and wrapped his arms around all three of us. This is my flashbulb memory of who he was on that early morning and who he is to this day.
“He has often told me that he would like his legacy to be one who has cared for the disenfranchised in the church by showing them compassion, nurturance and inclusion.”
Connolly said he has changed 100% since he became a priest.
“I see goodness in all people. I see possibilities that I might not have seen before. I’m more optimistic in what I do. There is a reservoir of goodness in the world, and goodness, sadly, doesn’t make good news,” he said.
“There is a depth of goodness in human nature. Scratch just below the surface and there is goodness. Don’t make judgments. Judgments are my own weakness. When I make a judgment, I tend to take a second look and it makes me more conscious of my failures. I mediate the way I look at other people. Anyone who makes judgments hasn’t faced his own humanity.”
I heard several stories from parishioners of how Connolly has helped them in ways big and small.
Kevin Danni recalled how Monsignor heard that he had gotten a set of golf clubs when he was a teenager and took him out to a country club for a round of golf.
“That’s a memory I never forgot,” Danni said. “He always says the church are the people and the church should come to the people. We have a priest who shares his humanness with his congregation.
“This is why we listen to him. We listen to him and afterwards, tears fall down because of his humanity.”
He shares himself even to the point of sharing in his homily several years ago that he had been diagnosed with cancer.
Connolly, by the way, for the most part deflected my question about how he is doing.
“Lord bless me,” he answered. “I’m feeling very well.”
Connolly said that what ails today’s world is that we live in stressed times.
“There is the constant arrogance of certainty. These are tense times. There are divisions between us. We have little respect for people who don’t agree with us,” said Connolly, who said that many people suffer from loneliness despite advances in technology.
City Councilman Michael Cacciotti, who is also a former mayor of South Pasadena, said he met Monsignor when he started attending Holy Family in 1992.
“He said he sometimes watched the City Council meetings and he encouraged me to be a compassionate leader by his words and actions,” Cacciotti said.
“I often wondered if the people who were contemporaries of and fortunate enough to have experienced St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Francis Cabrini and St. Anthony really appreciated the special gift God shared with them at the time.”
As I mentioned earlier, I heard so many people mention how Monsignor touched their lives emotionally and intellectually. Mary Walpert, who has known Monsignor for 15 years, said that listening to his sermons on Zoom helped her get through the COVID pandemic.
“I’d put my phone up to the Zoom homily and share them with friends in other parts of the country who weren’t even Catholic,” she said.
“He always preaches about sharing of ourselves and he shares himself and he shares his weaknesses. He’s so human.
“He always says the church are the people and the church should come to the people, not that the people should come to the church.
“He has evolved and he shares his growth. He shows his humanness. He validates in your heart what Christ was all about.
“He brings it even today. He knocks it out of the ballpark every time he talks.”
As I mentioned before, Monsignor loves to read, and to travel, both of which he said further informs his insight into human nature.
“I’ve become kind of his book lady because I supply him with books. And that’s almost impossible because he’s a voracious reader,” said Anne Yee, who is manager of the church book and gift store.
Yee said that Connolly feels like part of her family because he has done so many things with and for them.
“We’ve grown old together. He and I are on the same path as each other spiritually,” she said.
“He’s the kind of person who would make people want to join the Catholic Church.”
Since this column is about him, I’ll let Monsignor have the last words.
“My blessings,” he concluded, “come from ordinary beings.”

Connolly prays with a group at Holy Family Catholic Church

Editor’s note: Holy Family will celebrate Monsignor’s 60th anniversary at the 5 p.m. Mass and with a gathering afterward.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated the celebration was on Sunday, June 16. The commemoration was actually on Saturday, June 15. The Review regrets this error.

First published in the June 14 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.

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