Getting to Know a Good Man

As a periodic journal keeper and modern day blogger, I sometimes pause to think about what people might say about me one day when I am long gone from this earth should they happen to wander upon some of my writings.
by Lisa M. Hendey | Source: Catholic.net
As a periodic journal keeper and modern day blogger, I sometimes pause to think about what people might say about me one day when I am long gone from this earth should they happen to wander upon some of my writings. With this in mind, I recently had the pleasure of reading a wonderful book entitled A Boy From Lawrence: The Collected Writings of Eugene F. Connolly (March 2006, paperback, 224 pages).

Lovingly compiled and edited by his widow Sally A. Connolly, A Boy From Lawrence introduces us to the life of Eugene Connolly from his childhood wanderings in Massachusetts through his career as a noted educator and into the twilight of his life and beyond. A verbal scrapbook of sorts, A Boy From Lawrence is a compilation of Connolly’s remembrances, correspondences, poetry, prayers and finally the eulogies delivered at the funeral of this special man.

As someone outside of Eugene Connolly’s sphere of influence, to read his words is to wish you knew him personally. His devotion to family, faith and his students shines through in his writing. Time spent reading this book uplifted me personally - it left me looking for ways to touch others with my life in the manner in which Eugene Connolly undoubtedly did with his. The following entry, written in 1988 by Mr. Connolly, is an example of the many passages I found to be both edifying and inspirational:

A New Way of Seeing

“Dear Lord, help me to see myself as a sacrament,
an outward sign whom Christ instituted
as a means of grace for others.

This is something holy and special about each of us.
Help me to remember what I am and
what others and all of creation are.

Help me to see myself as grace-giving and
try to make the flow of grace easy and attractive.
Help me to see everything in the world as sacramental.

Clearly faith and family were at the core of the life of Eugene Connolly, which was perhaps the secret behind his success in other areas of his life. One of my favorite lines in the book comes from a letter from Eugene to his son where he shares, “…I found for myself a wife who has me singing with joy every day.” Following his illness and passing, Connolly’s wife Sally took upon herself the task of sharing the voice of this unique man by compiling and editing the written words he had left behind. Her work is a testament to the light shed by this man and a gift to those of us who will grow through our own reading of his thoughts and ideas.

I am pleased to share the following interview with Sally A. Connolly, editor of A Boy From Lawrence.

Q: Please briefly describe the book for readers who have not yet seen it.

A BOY FROM LAWRENCE is a collection of the writings of my late husband, a gifted and beloved teacher. His faith is beautifully expressed throughout the book, and readers are drawn into his world. Included are some early poems, essays, and reflections as well as tributes to friends and relatives.

Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself, Gene and your family.

Gene was the middle child of a devout Irish-Catholic family. His younger sister became a nun; and his brother, a noted Jesuit priest. As a child of the Depression, Gene’s simple pleasures included playing baseball and touch football in the local lot, exploring Lawrence on his bike, and spending entire Saturdays in the local movie theaters.
Gene’s memory was prodigious, and he often regaled us with stories of mischievous adventures dating back to when he was only two years of age. One of his proudest achievements was representing his grammar school in the city-wide marble championship. (We still have a few of the “aggies” from the bureau drawer his mother filled.) The other: never losing a game of horseshoes, in over fifty years, to his pal, “Pop.”

As a high school junior, Gene trained to become a Marist Brother in Esopus, New York. It was a perfect year for a boy, he would say. He was valedictorian of the first graduating class at Marist College (there were fewer than ten students in the class, however), a Marist Brother until age twenty-nine, and a teacher for the rest of his professional career. He earned a master’s degree in English from St. John’s University in New York and, during the early years of our marriage, a doctorate in higher education from Boston College. Gene’s spiritual journey included extensive reading, retreats, and assisting the parish as Eucharistic Minister.

Teaching was central to Gene’s life, the source of his peak experiences. He was most “fully human, fully alive,” he would say, when in the classroom. Although officially retired, Gene continued to teach until his final illness; and he would often come home excited about being able to inspire his students, who were several generations younger.

Both Gene and I were teaching at community colleges—he, in the General Lawrence area and I, on the North Shore of Boston—when we were introduced. After thirty-seven years of marriage, three daughters, one son, and four granddaughters, we are proof that blind dates can sometimes work out.

Believing that a child’s first years are critical, I happily became a full-time homemaker when the children started arriving. When the children were ages two through eight, I returned to school to earn a master’s degree in counseling and guidance and rejoined the field of education as a high school counselor. I have since retired, but I remain active in local and state counseling organizations and continue to edit and publish the newsletter for the Massachusetts School Counselors Association.

Q: What prompted this project and did you find healing in working on it?

The loss of Gene’s full companionship inspired the book. Gene had suffered a stroke during a biopsy for a brain tumor; and after six months of hospitalization and therapy he had returned home. With the assistance of our children, who made it possible for me to shop on Saturdays and go to church on Sundays, I became his caregiver for the next eight months. We had always encouraged Gene to preserve his life story, but other projects had intervened. He was finally beginning the process, “searching for a voice,” he would say. As I began my scrapbook of his writings, I found that voice in the consistency and beauty of the works he had already written. Creating the book proved to b e both therapeutic and spiritually enriching for me.

Q: What would you most want for people to know about Gene?

Gene was steadfast in his faith and tried to live out the good life. He loved teaching, he loved his students, and he dearly loved his friends and family. And, as he stated in one his journals, “I love Sally and the children. They are my commitment and my vocation—and my good grace. God gave me what He knew I needed.”

Q: How did Gene’s Catholic faith impact upon his writing?

Gene’s faith as a Catholic was central to his life and, therefore, infused his writing. Although his formal education centered around English literature and higher education, his deep interest lay in spirituality and theology. He had the ability, I believe, to express quite simply the essence of Ignatian spirituality. A major work of his, a commissioned biography of a local entrepreneur, was the chief digression from this theme.

Q: Do you have a favorite story, piece, poem or prayer from the book?

There are so many favorites in A BOY FROM LAWRENCE, but one that exemplifies Gene’s hope for every child is “the Kelly story”:

When my children were young, one of our friends, a high-school principal, used to say to me “Your children are so lucky. They are never going to have any trouble speaking perfect English. Having two teachers for parents, they won’t know what grammatical errors are. What a great advantage!”
One winter day not long after the last time he said that I was sitting in my study working when my youngest daughter, Kelly, walked in. She was four. She said, “Hi, Dad!!” She was dressed in a brand-new outfit: a beautiful light-gray coat and matching hat, long stockings, and shining new shoes. A pony-tail hung below the back of the hat; wide brown eyes were sparkling; and two pink cheeks were glowing. I said, “Hi, Kell!” Where are you going?” She said, “I’m going to the Dentist.” Thinking that he might prove to be an ally and say something to her about cookies and candy and cavities, I asked, “And what is he going to say to you?” She said, “He’s going to say, ‘Isn’t you beautiful?”
I’m telling you about Kelly because you are going to have days when clouds are hanging heavy; when the sun isn’t very bright; and you are bent low, wondering who you are and whether anything is worthwhile. On those days, I hope that you will have your own Kelly, who will walk into your life, look you in the eye, and say to you, “Isn’t you beautiful?” And I hope that every day you will say that to yourself.

Q: What do you think Gene would have thought about the end result of this project?

He would have been proud, and amazed, to see the good use to which I have put those “cutting and pasting” skills acquired from my editing experience. Most of all, he would have been thrilled to know that he continues to inspire, encourage, and enrich both minds and hearts. A teacher, he would say, has no product to grasp onto to show his effectiveness. We would say, in return, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” (Henry B. Adams)

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the experience of reading A Boy from Lawrence?

I hope readers recognize, as Gene did, the beauty in each day and in each person and the great role faith can play in shaping our own stories.

Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

In the hustle and bustle of today’s hectic society, we need to take time to read, reflect, and reexamine our priorities. Society will be as healthy as its basic unit, the family. For many of us, this may be the only—but possibly the greatest—contribution we can make.


For more information on A Boy From Lawrence visit

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0977265315/catholicmomcom


Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites, including http://www.catholicmom.com and http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic literature. Visit her at http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.



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