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Newsletter - Summer, Vol 21, No. 1
Extracts from original newsletter

By Hermit Sister Mary Beverly

Who is Connolly? and what is the connection? We hope that this photo-essay answers both questions for you.

With deep affection and real respect, we would like to present to you the man who has been our spiritual father, co-founding bishop of Marymount with Bishop Treinen, and loyal friend: Bishop Thomas J. Connolly. Marymount Hermitage is located in the Diocese of Boise and thus was not under the jurisdiction of Bishop Connolly, who was the Bishop of Baker in Oregon from 1971 to 2000. However, over the years, Bishop has retained his place in our hearts as a generous supporter, both spiritually and materially. He values the contemplative life for the good of the Church and has visited and encouraged us in the Lord.

"Bishop" (as he is known by all his friends) was born on July 18, 1922 in Tonopah, Nevada. If Nevada is the most remote of all the 50 states, Tonopah is perhaps the most remote small town of that vast state. The devout faith of his Irish father and German mother, the piety of his family and the parish of St. Patrick fostered esteem for the vocation of a priest. Thomas was the third son in a family of four brothers and one sister. His oldest brother, John, went to the seminary and, because of an illness, died before he was ordained a priest. His second brother, Joe, also went to the seminary. While there, Joe's eyesight became so impaired that he could not continue his studies and had to return home. When Tom felt within him the Lord's calling to the priesthood, he really wondered if he too would die or become blind in the process. It took a lot of courage to leave home and enter the seminary at age 14, but courage and determination were to be a hallmark of his character as later events would show.

This was in the year 1936 and since the war was raging, their class had an accelerated program and were ordained to the priesthood a year early on April 8, 1947. Even though their classes at St. Joseph's College in Mt. View, California were intense and the war made obtaining items difficult, Tom and his classmates built a sailboat in the basement of one of the seminary buildings. Every item for the boat, which was later sailed and raced on the ocean, was made by hand. Perhaps this anecdote shows that creativity cannot be stifled by poor means, surely a virtue which Bishop would later need as the pastor of a very large and poor diocese.

After his ordination to the priesthood at his home parish in Tonopah, Father Connolly was first assigned to the Cathedral of St. Thomas Aquinas in Reno, Nevada. He served as a priest of the Diocese of Reno from 1947 to 1971. He was known as a good administrator, and when new buildings were erected by the labor of the parishioners, Father Connolly worked as hard as all the rest of the men at construction projects. Like the rugged pioneers that his parents were, Fr. Connolly enjoyed owning, riding and using horses for work and leisure. Love for animals and for the great outdoors were to be a constant throughout his life.

Since his home diocese in Nevada and later the diocese in Eastern Oregon were populated by those who made their living mainly off the land, people have always felt close to this pastor who can herd cattle, wield a hammer, fix fence, and for whom geographic distances means nothing when there is a job to do. When the Pope's representative in the United States called Father Connolly to ask him if he would be Bishop of Baker, this intrepid, western son simply asked, "Can I bring my horses?"

The Diocese of Baker comprises about two-thirds of the state of Oregon including the central and eastern portions. It is a land which is still close to the spirit of the pioneers from the Oregon Trail who settled there. Bishop Connolly fondly remembers that Bishop Thomas K. Gorman, who confirmed him and ordained him a priest, was also one of the three consecrating bishops at his episcopal ordination on June 30, 1971. Bishop Connolly was ordained a bishop shortly after the end of the Vatican Council II and thus was called upon to shepherd his diocese through those tumultuous years of change in the Church and in the American culture.

Bishop's warmth, humor and genuineness made people feel close to him in the parishes throughout the Diocese of Baker. He went regularly to all the parishes, visiting the priests and people to encourage them in the faith. He spent more time in his car than in his office tending his far-flung diocese. His homilies are peppered with stories from the lives of real people and their jobs and circumstances as well as his own. Ranchers smile when they hear their bishop telling of bucking hay for his horses.

Those who have met Bishop know what a great storyteller he is.

Bishop Connolly and the Bishops of Region XII, which includes the dioceses of the Pacific Northwest, made a thirty-day retreat in Spokane, Washington in the early 1970's. This was such a profound experience for them that they decided to hold an eight-day retreat together every year. They became a model for bishops of the rest of the United States in this regard.

Bishop Connolly once organized a horse-pack-trip into a wilderness area of Washington for the Bishops of Region XII. As usual, this event was a success, but was also the source of many interesting, western-style stories for future recounting!

Bishop Connolly instituted the very successful Family Camp, which annually brings together families--adults and children--for the 4th of July weekend filled with faith and fun activities. Bishop has been attending World Youth Days since their inception almost 20 years ago. While at these major cities, the hundreds of attending bishops are housed in hotels. However, Bishop camps out with the youth, bringing his own bed roll and "roughing it." He is so well-known for this closeness to young people, that youth from the Portland Archdiocese will request that he travel with them to World Youth Day, even though he is now retired as Bishop of Baker. In October of 2003, the Diocese of Baker celebrated its Centennial. Bishop Connolly has been a significant part of the richly textured history of the diocese.

When Bishop reached the age of mandatory retirement, he submitted his resignation to the Pope. It took almost two years for his successor to be named, but on January 26, 2000, Bishop Robert F. Vasa, a priest of the Diocese of Omaha, Nebraska, was ordained Bishop of Baker. Since that time, Bishop Connolly has made himself available to help priests on weekends in the parish and has been in great demand as a retreat master throughout the Pacific Northwest. His sacrificial generosity is evident in that he has been willing to come to our remote Mesa to offer days of prayer and eight-day retreats for two Hermit Sisters.

When you meet Bishop Connolly, it is evident that he is a man of God and a man of prayer. His genuine love of God and of every person are an example to us of what every bishop should be: an icon of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, to the Church and to the world.

Bishop Thomas J. Connolly, Bishop-emeritus of Baker, Oregon is shown here after he kindly conducted a Day of Prayer for us on Sept. 21, 2000. His new car was a gift from the priests of the Diocese of Baker in gratitude for his many years and miles of shepherding.

Bishop Connolly celebrates Mass for us in our chapel

After Mass, Bishop Connolly blesses the site for the hallway

In May of 2003 and 2004, Bishop Connolly gave us an eight-day Scriptural retreat. He exemplifies being teacher, preacher and hearer of the Word of God. Scenes here are from our conferences.

My Memories of Bishop Connolly
By Hermit Sister Rebecca Mary

When I was a member of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon, it was our community's custom every year to draw a name of one of the priests of the Archdiocese of Portland and to pray for him in a special way during that next year. We also included the names of the two Portland bishops and the Bishop of the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. One year in the 1970's, it was my privilege to draw the name of Bishop Thomas J. Connolly, then the Bishop of Baker. I knew who he was, but I was not personally acquainted with him at that time. That was my earliest association with Bishop Connolly. So before I really knew him, I was praying for him.

Bishop Connolly was the one who brought us here to Idaho in May, 1981 and introduced us to Bishop Sylvester W. Treinen, who was the Bishop of Boise at that time. On the way from Bishop's home in Baker to Idaho we stopped off at one point to take a break and to enjoy the scenery. Being very interested in rocks, I picked up a rock which I thought was unusual and showed it to Bishop Connolly. He is quite a rock hound himself and collects rocks from all over the world. When I asked him what kind of rock it was, he said, "It's a Leaverite." I said, "I have never heard of a Leaverite." He laughed and said, "Sister, you leave 'er right here!" I guess it wasn't such a great find after all!

On the way back from Boise, Idaho where we had been introduced to Bishop Treinen, Bishop Connolly was scheduled to stop in Nyssa, Oregon for a Spanish-speaking Mass that Sunday afternoon. Nyssa is close to the Idaho state line. Bishop had a missal in Spanish on the dashboard which he was studying as he was driving. That made me a little nervous, but I was more so when I saw that the fuel tank of the car was registering "empty." I casually said to the Bishop, "Are we going to run out of gas?" He replied even more casually, "Yes, but not before we get to Nyssa." We still had a number of miles to go before we got to Nyssa, so I just prayed. We did make it just fine, like he said, and we were even on time!

Through our twenty years here at Marymount Hermitage, Bishop Connolly has kept in touch, visited us, and has continued to be a good friend. He is very supportive of our way of life. He is always very much a dedicated bishop, but even more a generous priest and father to all whom he serves. His marvelous sense of humor, deep love for the Scriptures, zeal for the Church and tender love for Jesus consistently mark his busy and sacrificial life. He is a friend whom I cherish and love for his great warmth and genuine kindness.

Bishop Connolly at prayer in our chapel. We have seen him so often in this posture.

Bishop is vested and waiting in the Reconciliation Room for penitents. He is an example of the Holy Father's exhortation in Pastores Gregis that bishops be exemplary ministers of the Sacrament of Penance.

BISHOP CONNOLLY: The key to Our History As Hermits
By Hermit Sister Mary Beverly

I was living as a hermit in LaPine, Oregon from Sept. 1979 to Sept. 1980. I was discerning my eremitical vocation and trying to decide whether or not to leave the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon and my vocation as a teacher. It was a difficult year, to say the least, and it was then that I discovered what a wonderful spiritual father Bishop Connolly was. Bishop would occasionally stop by the hermitage and I was able to go to confession to him and ask his advice. When circumstances forced me to leave LaPine and return to our mother house, St. Mary of the Valley in Beaverton, Oregon, Bishop drove over to see how I was doing and to reassure me that he believed in my hermit vocation.

Sister Rebecca Mary and I and another Sister were interested in returning to the Baker Diocese to be hermits and so, Bishop Connolly participated in our community's discernment process which led to official permission to leave. We spent a weekend with Bishop driving around the diocese and talking about our proposed way of life and what type of land we might be able to use. This was in May of 1981 and the occasion for the two anecdotes which Sister Rebecca Mary has related on page 6 of this issue. During our discussions, Bishop related that his friend, Bishop Treinen of the Diocese of Boise, had extended us an invitation to locate in Idaho.

We had no thought of locating anywhere but in Oregon but the hand of the Lord seemed to be with us as we slowly warmed to the idea of accepting Bishop Treinen's gracious invitation. We lived for three years from 1981 to 1984 at Nazareth Retreat House in Boise, doing the housekeeping work and hospitality there and continuing our discernment and plans for a hermitage. Throughout this process, we came under the direction and assistance of Bishop Treinen. However, Bishop Connolly continued to visit us and showed interest in the development of our hermit community and vocation.

When we were drafting our Rule of Life, Bishop Treinen and Bishop Connolly both helped us. Bishop Connolly was trained in canon law, which is the legal structures of the Catholic Church, and was able to provide juridical advice to us. Because of these early experiences with both of our bishops, we thought of them as co-founding bishops of Marymount Hermitage and the Hermit Sisters of Mary, which is the canonical name we adopted as a new entity in the Church.

There were a series of events recently which gave us the inspiration to dedicate one issue of our newsletter to Bishop Connolly. He has recently celebrated both 50 years as a priest and 25 years as a bishop. Last year, the Diocese of Baker celebrated its Centennial. Bishop Connolly has been retired as an active bishop for four years now. We decided we wanted to honor him as we celebrate 20 years at Marymount Hermitage.

Along with his friend, Father John Donoghue of the Diocese of Boise, Bishop Connolly has been convinced that we needed this new residence next to chapel and the hallway connecting the two buildings. Both have been generous in seeing that we have the financial support to accomplish this goal. With the blessing of Bishop Michael P. Driscoll of Boise, we are naming this new hallway after our co-founder. We are calling it "The Connolly Connection." We intend to place in it, near the door to chapel, a picture of Bishop Connolly. With this is the unspoken agreement that we will always pray for him and for all our generous benefactors and friends, both living and deceased.

"The Connolly Connection" actually has a theological significance. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, and, as such, is the first among brother bishops. He is called in Latin the "pontifex" because he is in fact a "bridge-builder." The meaning is clear: a bishop is a bridge between God and man. And so for us, the hallway connecting chapel to our house, providing us with an easy passageway for prayer both day and night in all kinds of weather, is a good symbol of that bridge.

I would like to close my reflections about Bishop Connolly with this beautiful quote from the Holy Father's letter Pastores Gregis. After you read it, I invite you to look again at the photo on page one. You will notice that Bishop, like all bishops, wears a prominent ring. May it be a reminder to all of us that bishops, as successors of the Apostles, give themselves sacrificially for the good of the Church, which is the Bride of Christ.

'Receive this ring, the seal of fidelity: adorned with undefiled faith, preserve unblemished the Bride of God, the holy Church.' These words [from the ritual], urge the Bishop to realize that he is committed to mirroring the virginal love of Christ for all his faithful ones....When he does so, he walks as a pastor at the head of his flock, as did Christ the Bridegroom, who gave his life for us and who left to all the example of a love which is transparent and virginal, and therefore fruitful and universal. (Pastores Gregis #21)

Sister M. Beverly has been privileged for many years to be on the retreat director's team with Bishop Connolly. The Scriptural, eight-day retreat is held annually in July at Nazareth Retreat House in Boise, Idaho. Scenes here are from the Nazareth chapel after Mass, during a conference, and Bishop reading as he awaits a retreatant for private direction. The first year Sister Beverly worked on this retreat, Bishop Treinen was also on the team.

Bishop Thomas J. Connolly, Bishop-emeritus of Baker, is seen here with the two Hermit Sisters after Mass on Pentecost, May 30, 2004. This was the last day of our retreat. You'll notice in the background mounted on the front of the chapel the new sign, which now greets our visitors. This sign was a generous gift from Dan Bolzendahl of Payette, Idaho.

"I am the good shepherd;
the good shepherd
lays down his life
for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd."
(Jn. 10:11)


This new fence which designates parking space in front of chapel is a gift from Ceara and Michael Nourse, our generous neighbors. This photo was taken on August 12, 2003 and the hallway is still only a dream.

Above, the concrete foundations and stem walls of the hallway have been poured and we are waiting for the concrete floor slab to be poured. This photo of chapel was taken in October, 2003.

The hallway is being framed. Bob George took seriously his commission to integrate the hallway with the chapel and house. He repeated architectural features of both buildings and created a pleasing, unified effect.

Because there was more distance between the chapel and the house, we were providentially able to have space for an attached garage with entrance to the house by the side door, at the end of the hallway. We feel blessed also with the addition of a concrete driveway to the garage and a sidewalk to the front door of the house.

For months this winter, we had about 4 ft. of snow on the ground as you can see in this photo which was taken in January, 2004. Even in an unfinished state, the hallway and garage were used and appreciated.

Current work on "The Connolly Connection" and Holy Family House includes siding and painting to match the chapel. Final work will include finishing the interior of the hallway which will, in effect, become a storage area for our flower-picking equipment.

"I am the
good shepherd.
I know my sheep and
my sheep know me...
for these sheep
I will give my life."
(Jn. 10:14-15)


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