I have attended St. Mary’s Church here on Grand Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for 37 years. Msgr. Neil Connolly (Obituary, Page 33) was my priest for 28 of those years.
To use a Jewish (Yiddish) word to describe Msgr. Connolly, I would describe him as being a real mensch:
1) A human being.
2) An upright, honorable, decent person.
3) Someone of consequence; someone to admire and emulate; someone of noble character.
This was a man, this was a soul, who was dedicated to serving God and Christ. And his understanding of serving God and Christ was to serve his fellow human beings.
When I approached Father Neil, he didn’t say to himself—Well, this guy is a Jew, why should I bother assisting or helping him? No, he viewed me as a brother in Christ. And that was the type of man, the type of soul he was. He spoke from his heart; he acted from his heart. He radiated heart love when he gave his homilies. And people responded to him because he radiated love.
This doesn’t mean that he was perfect. I recall in one of his homilies, he looked at the congregation and said, “Yes, you are human beings.” He recognized and accepted that we are not just disembodied spirits floating around in the ether. He knew that human beings, including himself, were imperfect. But he loved us all the same.
There are people in our society, a very tiny percentage, who do dedicate themselves to serving the needs of their fellow man. Father Neil was one of them.