Missionary priest, author, and champion for social justice inspired many
Father Patrick Connor, 1929-2015
Author and chaplain Father Patrick Connor SVD, 85, passed away on April 14.
Once called "one of the most famous priests in America," Father Connor is perhaps best known for inspiring Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd to write "An Ideal Husband," one of the New York Times’ most emailed articles.
It all began when Father Connor attended a cocktail party and mentioned to a friend that he admired Dowd. That chance comment led to an arranged meeting with the columnist and a conversation about a regular lecture that the priest delivered to students at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart in Princeton, N.J., where he served as chaplain.
Following the popularity of "An Ideal Husband," Father Connor appeared on the Today Show and wrote the book "Whom Not to Marry: Time-Tested Advice from a Higher Authority" (Hyperion, New York, NY: 2010).
Born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1929, the young Connor was the elder of Herbert and Patricia (nee O’Brien) Connor’s two sons. After completing his secondary education at Rosalie Ashgrove, a Marist-run school in Brisbane, he worked for the Queensland Trustees.
A year later in 1949, he began his seminary studies with the Society of the Divine Word. The religious order of missionary priests and brothers sent him to the United States for further schooling, where he professed religious vows in 1951 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1957.
Father Connor’s first assignment took him to Indore, India, where he taught English and served as dean of students at Divine Word University at Palda from 1957 to 1966.
In 1966, he was sent to the United States to work on a master’s degree in counseling at Fordham University in New York City. Upon completing the degree, Father Connor and his superiors intended for him to return to India, but the Indian government wouldn’t grant him a visa due to political conditions.
Instead, he was reassigned to his homeland, and for the next 16 years he worked in Australia and the United States. He traveled both countries widely to offer retreats and revivals in parishes. In addition to his pastoral ministry, he worked on behalf of the Vocation Office; served as admissions counselor at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa; and, for six years, edited The Word in the World. Assignments for the Society of the Divine Word’s annual publication took him to Poland, the People’s Republic of China and India.
In 1982, Father Connor became chaplain of Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. During his nearly 30 years at the school, he co-founded the school’s Duchesne Center.
Established in the late 1980s, the Duchesne Center nurtured participants’ spiritual lives and promoted social justice action. Father Connor and Sister Lorette Piper, a Sacred Heart nun, offered prayer retreats, Enneagram workshops and evenings of reflection on topics that ranged from racism to the changing roles of women.
Not only did Father Connor inspire Dowd, he also influenced noted Australian public relations practitioner Noel Tennison, who in the introduction of his book "Life of Every Party," wrote: "My life-long friend, Patrick Connor SVD, converted my exaggerations into simple truths…."
In 2007, a private donor who was moved by one of Father Connor’s homilies established a $1 million scholarship in his name to be awarded to poor and deserving students in the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College. In return, scholarship recipients pledge to work in inner-city ministry.
In 2010, Father Connor delivered the keynote address for the 33rd Annual Interfaith Service & Conference for Peace: New Paths to Peacemaking, a gathering that honored world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky at Princeton University.
Along with "Whom Not to Marry," Father Connor published "The Right Words: Twelve Stuart Sermons" (2005), a collection of homilies given at Stuart Country Day School.
He was a member of Pax Christi, a Catholic group that advocates peace, and the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARRC). As a member of the Princeton Coalition for Peace Action, he gave a speech on the steps of the New Jersey State House in Trenton in 1998. Father Connor lived at the Divine Word residence in Bordentown, N.J., for more than three decades. As his health declined, he moved to the Divine Word Residence at Techny (Northbrook), Ill., in 2014.
He is survived by his brother Desmond Connor. Father Connor’s wake took place at Techny on April 17 with his funeral Mass at the residence chapel on April 18. He is interred at St. Mary Cemetery at Techny.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Connor can be made for the care of retired missionaries and may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.