GLENVILLE — Fueled by faith, the Rev. J. Thomas Connery’s path took him around the world, from Alaska to Borneo, before he planted roots at Immaculate Conception Church in Glenville, where he served as pastor for nearly two decades.
Following his retirement, Connery settled into a happy life as an outdoorsman, returning to his off-the-grid cabin in the Adirondacks.
“Welcome to my world,” the Rev. Joseph Busch recalled his friend telling him. “There are 5,000 bears out here.”
But Connery also traveled to parishes across the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese, providing sacraments and offering Mass to parishes facing priest shortages.
That’s where the adventurer's journey ended when he died after being swept away in a flash flood in rural Herkimer County on Halloween.
He was set to deliver Mass. And afterward, a funeral.
“The first reaction was disbelief, then a profound sense of sadness,” said Busch, who delivered the homily at Connery's service on Wednesday evening.
“This didn’t have to happen,” Busch told the hundreds gathered at the service for Connery, 82, who served as pastor at Immaculate Conception from 1990-2007.
Mourners fondly recalled the golfer, commercial fisherman, outdoorsman and above all, “faithful disciple,” citing his dedication to teaching and for delivering homilies in which he’d try to explain church doctrine in a way that was meaningful to everyone.
“He was a great teacher, a great pastor and a great friend,” said parishioner Joseph Aglio, who knew Connery for three decades.
He motioned toward the rapidly-filling church, which was standing-room-only and attracted 70 white-clad priests from across the diocese, as well as Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, who led the Mass.
“As you can see, he was loved by everyone,” Aglio said.
Patrick DiCaprio recalled Connery’s involvement in the lives of his flock.
“He married them, he baptized their children and often had meals with people in the parish,” he said.
Upon retirement in 2007, he remained in residence, but began spending more time in his beloved Adirondacks, including his cabin in Keene Valley.
Lenny Kwiatkowski got to know the traveling priest through his work at Immaculate Conception, but his bond with Connery eventually matured into a deep friendship, and the pair often traveled to Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington and nearby Lake Placid together.
“We were like brothers,” Kwiatkowski said.
Betsy Friscic served as his long-time secretary and said Connery always treated her wonderfully.
“He put up with a lot, like every priest does,” Friscic said. “We’re all going to miss him terribly. It will be something we’ll all have to get used to, not having him around.”