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Plenary council facilitator Columban Father Noel Connolly dies aged 75

Vale: Columban Father Noel Connolly.

COLUMBAN Father Noel Connolly, a member of the Plenary Council 2020 facilitation team, has died in Sydney aged 75.

Fr Connolly, a Queenslander, a Columban missionary priest for almost 51 years, a theologian, writer, teacher and administrator, died on June 6 at Concord Hospital in Sydney.

Writing on behalf of the Columbans in Australia, Fr Jim Mulroney said Fr Connolly “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,” Fr Mulroney said.

In 1988, Fr Connolly was elected vicar general of St Columbans Mission 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 (with Plenary Council 2020),” Fr Mulroney said.

“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 most messy and diverse discussions.”

Born in Gympie, Queensland, on January 24, 1945, Fr Connolly was “known as John to his family, and Noel to the world”.

He was the son of the late Noel John and late Sarah May Connolly.

He joined the Columban seminary at Sassafras, Victoria, in 1963, and then went to the seminary at North Turramurra, in Sydney’s northern suburbs.

He went on to have a 12-year stint as vicar to the Columbans’ superior general.

Ordained in Gympie on July 8, 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”.

The following year he was appointed to mission in Seoul, South Korea, where he served for four years.

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 about 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,” Fr Mulroney said.

“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 lay people 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.

“It is difficult to imagine the Columbans without Noel. He was such a vibrant, likeable and positive presence.”

Catholic Religious Australia paid tribute to Fr Connolly on social media.

“Noel has been a significant part of so many parts of our Church – he brought wisdom, enthusiasm, energy, compassion and warmth to many corners of our Church,” CRA said.

“He will be sadly missed by so many people.”

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