Obituary by Fr Jim Mulroney SSC

Vale: Noel Connolly

Fr Noel Connolly SSC. Photo: BBI-TAITE

Fr Noel Connolly SSC. Photo: BBI-TAITE

Father John Noel Connolly was a storyteller. Never cavalier in his choice of tales, the Queensland gold-mining town of Gympie, where he had been ushered into this world on 24 January 1945, was a starting point for many a yarn delivered in the classroom, from the pulpit or around the dinner table from which he would pull a poignant insight, salient lesson or obscure gem of wisdom.

Stories of Church life often began with his father’s relationship with the parish priest. Experiences as an altar boy, life at the parish school and education at the Christian Brothers’ St Patrick’s College were not only further grist for his stories but also the foundation of the life that brought him to the Columban seminary at Sassafras in Victoria in 1963.

It was the beginning of a journey from gold-mining Gympie to coal-mining Hambaek, deep in the mountainous regions of South Korea, and onwards towards a future not imagined.

As a seminarian at North Turramurra in Sydney’s northern suburbs, he delved deep into his lifelong studies of the mysteries that fascinated him.

Although belying the pithy tenet that a tidy desk reflects a tidy mind, his room was a showcase of the breadth of his interests. A visitor was warmly welcomed, then treated to a knowledgeable dissertation on the art displayed on the walls, aspects of philosophy, literature, history, theology or politics retrieved from notes scattered across his desk and floor, teetering on the bookshelf or strewn under the bed.

On a different bent, but with equal enthusiasm although with a less credible air, he would regale on Queensland’s chances against New South Wales in the State of Origin rugby league clash.

In welcoming people, he forsook the gritty aggression he showed in the rugby scrum in favour of a gentility, acceptance and affirmation, which in later life allowed him to drive sometimes unpopular and controversial policies without alienating personal affection or respect from those with whom he disagreed, during his 12-year stint as vicar to the Columban superior general.

Ordained in Gympie by Bishop Henry Kennedy on 8 July 1969, he immersed himself in a life that he described as a vocation to inspire holiness and hope, through witness to the presence and activity of God in human affairs.

Ordination of Fr Noel Connolly SSC. Photo: St Columban Mission Society

Ordination of Fr Noel Connolly SSC. Photo: St Columban Mission Society

The following year he sailed to Seoul in South Korea. His own words describe his short years there as a struggle against his own ignorance, but also as a time of learning and developing a love of and appreciation for the rectitude of a people born into a cultural and religious environment not his own. It was an experience he carried with him for the remainder of his life and evidenced in his ministry as a priest, teacher, administrator and writer.

In 1974, he went to study moral theology at the Alphonsianum University in Rome, before returning to Australia to teach in the seminary from which he had graduated some six years previously. His disciplined and enquiring mind saw him take further studies in economics, anthropology and business studies, while at the same time becoming a founding father of the Korean Catholic Community of Sydney.

In 1979, he became rector of the seminary and director of the Pacific Mission Institute (later Columban Mission Institute) and at the tender age of 34 was faced with the challenge of organising an institution that would accommodate seminarians, men and women religious, as well as laypeople in an atmosphere of prayer, reflection, study and recreational life.

It was a daunting task and one for which there was no model, but his leadership qualities came to the fore in an atmosphere that required a combination of strict focus, compassionate reconciliation, flexibility, sociability and conviviality, as well as a tutored imagination.

In 1988, he was elected vicar general of the society and during the following years travelled widely throughout areas of Columban commitment in the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific region.

Commitments to mission education and as regional director of the Columban region of Australia and New Zealand followed, in what transpired to be a build-up to what was arguably the biggest and most difficult challenge of his packed life—promoting a new paradigm for the Church in Australia.

Although he had been struggling against a cancer growing within his body for nearly two decades, he readily agreed to postpone retirement and take to the road as part of the preparation for Australia’s fifth Plenary Council.

He listened with patience during his many engagements in the spirit of the listening Church he believed in, and encouraged people to listen to what the Spirit is saying. He spoke with enthusiasm of the sense of faith possessed by the community of souls that make up the Church, quietly explaining the difference between the well-known Church that teaches and the less-known, but more desirable one that discerns.

It was a mission tailor-made for the storytelling missionary. Although the elusive line between fact and fiction in his yarns could rival the best of parables, the poignant insight, salient lesson and gems of wisdom continued to emerge from even the messiest and diverse discussions.

Known as John to his family, he was Noel to the world, but remained the loving son of the late-Noel John and -Sarah May Connolly, faithful brother to Anthony and deceased sister, Mary, devoted priest and Columban, until his life ended on the evening of 6 June 2020 with his death in Concord Hospital in Sydney.

Noel loved the world and loved people. He believed in the bounty of the blessings received from investing in the truth and above all, he loved God, the trace of whose finger in the arena of human affairs he spent a lifetime discerning.

May he rest in peace.

Columban Fr Jim Mulroney is the former Editor of the ‘Sunday Examiner’ in Hong Kong and now resides at the Columban house in Essendon.

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Comments (29)

  1. Kathy Hogarty:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 11:41 AM

    Very saddened to hear of Noel's passing. He was very much admired.


  2. Anne Lane:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 11:44 AM

    Once you met Noel, he always remembered you. He has been the inspiring spirit to the Plenary Council with his optimism for the Church he faithfully served


  3. Merv Kiley:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 12:13 PM

    This heartbreaking news .I trust he and ALL the Columban’s realise the immeasurably positive impact they have on peoples lives and Faith. Thank You . God Bless Fr.Connolly .


  4. Maree:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 12:17 PM

    So sad. I loved reading his articles in the Far East over many years and most recently his contributions to the Plenary Council. Through him my faith has become deeper. He was the best. He even took the time to write a thank you message in response to my telling him I had gained a particular insight from his writing. May he rest in peace until we meet again. Holding him always in my prayers and in my heart.


  5. Roger O'Halloran:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 12:39 PM

    Noel gave much to Palms as an organisation, and all who we have sent to mission abroad. The discernment you speak of was shared freely by Noel at Palms orientation courses over a number of years and his still inform the preparation those being sent today. And we were privileged as well to enjoy his love for life and a nice drop when perhaps the less credible air, but equally delightful Noel was shared with us. His lessons and joy are part of our fabric.


  6. Margaret Hinchey:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 12:58 PM

    My deepest sympathy to the Columban family on the death of Noel. I was a receiver of his compassionate reconciliation, flexibility, sociability and conviviality, as well as a tutored imagination when I studied at the Pacific Mission Institute in 1984 and subsequently in other places and programmes over the years. May he rest now from all that he did to be a true lover of God and people.


  7. Tony:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 01:02 PM

    like everyone, I'll just say WELL DONE, Good and Faithful Servant


  8. Carmelia Wall:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 01:29 PM

    I am so sorry to hear that Father Noel Connolly has left this life to join God in Heaven. I have many articles written by him over the years that made me think , take stock of some subject etc., I will miss his thought provoking articles very much. May he rest in peace.


  9. Michael McKinnon:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 01:40 PM

    Sorry to hear of Noel's death.
    A great priest and a gentleman - sympathy to the Columban family.


  10. John Hill:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 02:13 PM

    I got to know Noel through a common commitment to theological education, especially through the struggle to obtain civil recognition for theological degrees. His passing was a shock, because I was not aware of his cancer - it was not the sort of thing he talked about. May he rest in peace.


  11. Peter Mudge:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 03:15 PM

    I knew Noel first as a fellow lecturer at BBI, Pennant Hills where he lectured in Mission Studies. I then came to know him as a good and close friend and wise counsellor. I will remember Noel, and so will many of my colleagues, for his gentleness, humility and witty sense of humour. He will be missed from mission and theological discussions in general. One of our saintly wisdom figures has left us but will be strongly with us in Spirit. Rest in peace Noel.


  12. John Gwynne:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 03:22 PM

    Very saddened by the news of Father Connolly's death still in the prime of his priestly mission. I often read his bulletin messages and impressed by his knowledge and wisdom. Condolences to all his priestly brethren and surviving family members.


  13. Julia:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 03:27 PM

    My condolences to the Columban family on your loss. I only knew Fr Noel in recent years, from his writings in the newsletter and online, and he made a lasting impression on me through his obvious deep love for the world and people and the sense that he cared deeply about bringing the love of God to all he came into contact with. At peace and with God.


  14. Kathleen Prendergast:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 03:33 PM

    I was deeply saddened to learn of Noel's death. As a participant of one of the Missiology programmes at Turramurra his classes, which reflected his own search for goodness, authenticity and truth continue to influence my own life. May he rest in peace!


  15. Joy Short:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 04:56 PM

    Vale Noel. This is a beautifully written piece about a beautiful, humble faithful man.


  16. Joy Short:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 04:57 PM

    Vale Noel. This is a beautifully written piece about a beautiful, humble faithful man.


  17. bernard p ryan:
    Jun 11, 2020 at 07:32 PM

    Noel gradually became my third brother. It began when we shared a [ tiny] room at Sassafras...and my family 'adopted' him - so far from home. He became a sort of chaplain - weddings, baptism, parties,funerals.... and so loved. I will miss his warmth, his faith and wisdom. He will rest in peace.
    Bernard Ryan


  18. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 11:41 AM

    Saddened to read of Noel’s death. 75 is not old these days!
    Trust you are well. Nan and I send you our warmest regards..
    John Doherty


  19. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 11:41 AM

    So sorry to hear of Fr Noel’s death.! It was quite a shock! I remember reading an article by him just recently in the Far East about him going to treatment etc. Please pass on my condolences and prayers to all the priests and the community. It is a hard time for us all at the moment. Kate and Gerard McKinley


  20. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 12:06 PM

    Oh yes we will all miss his wonderful and inspiring reflections, a true priest and missionary - Susan Ring


  21. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 12:08 PM

    Very sad to hear of Fr Noel’s death. May his soul rest in peace. Thank you for informing me. God bless. Bette Lyra


  22. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 12:09 PM

    Deepest Sympathy on the passing of your brother and our much loved colleague Noel, well known to many Marist Brothers over the years. May his courageous and faithful soul rest in peace. He will be remembered with affection here at The Hermitage our Marist Retreat and Spirituality Centre in our prayers, as will the Columban community. Br Bob O'Connor FMS for the LaValla Community of Bill Sullivan, and Ian McCombie


  23. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 12:09 PM

    My deep sympathy for the death of Fr. Noel. May the Lord grant him eternal rest in his Kingdom of eternal life. In prayer. Sr. Irene Motta


  24. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 12:13 PM

    Dear friends
    It has been uplifting to read the tributes to Noel Connelly.
    I'd add that I always found Noel to be so helpful and encouraging. I first met him a decade or so ago when he offered his assistance to help Catholic Social Services reflect on mission, and our paths crosssed frequently after that. I found him to be such a humble and warm person, who wore his erudition lightly, but was proactive in his engagement, and didn't avoid challenging issues. It was always a pleasure to see him or hear from him. My condolences on your loss, my thanks for his contribution, and my prayers that Noel now rest in peace, Warm regards, Denis Fitzgerald


  25. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 12:14 PM

    Our deepest sympathy on the passing of Fr Connolly. We are very shocked and saddened by this news. Our love and prayers to you all. May he Rest In Peace.
    God bless, Luisa and Joseph Franchina


  26. Columban Missionaries:
    Jun 12, 2020 at 12:15 PM

    Dear Columban Friends,
    Having known and worked with Noel for over 40 years, and having spoken to him by telephone very recently, I was saddened indeed to know that he has left us.
    Please convey Jim’s and my deep sympathy to the Columban community.
    I guess the onus on us who are still “in harness” and our best tribute to our colleague and friend is to continue the work of mission with even greater enthusiasm, in these very demanding, but also exciting times. Therese D’Orsa


  27. Katrina Ryan:
    Jun 13, 2020 at 09:11 AM

    We are deeply saddened by the passing of Noel. He was a big part of our family and shared in many special events including my Dad’s funeral- He will be deeply missed.


  28. Wendy Baker:
    Jun 13, 2020 at 02:19 PM

    Our heartfelt thanks for the life of dear Noel - especially for his understanding and support before and after walking the Palms journey to other lands!


  29. john burger:
    Jun 14, 2020 at 05:55 AM

    Well done, Jim Mulroney!
    Noel had a real presence to accompany his intelligence and honesty. It was good to have met him here and there along our paths as Columbans.


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