to Know a Good Man
Author Interview with Sally A. Connolly, editor,
A Boy From Lawrence: The Collected Writings of Eugene F. Connolly
by Lisa M. Hendey
periodic journal keeper and modern day blogger, I sometimes pause to think
about what people might say about me one day when I am long gone from this
earth should they happen to wander upon some of my writings. With this in
mind, I recently had the pleasure of reading a wonderful book entitled
A Boy From Lawrence: The Collected Writings of Eugene F. Connolly
(March 2006, paperback, 224 pages).
compiled and edited by his widow Sally A. Connolly,
A Boy From Lawrence introduces us to the life of Eugene Connolly from his
childhood wanderings in Massachusetts through his career as a noted educator
and into the twilight of his life and beyond. A verbal scrapbook of sorts,
A Boy From Lawrence is a compilation of Connolly’s
remembrances, correspondences, poetry, prayers and finally the eulogies
delivered at the funeral of this special man.
someone outside of Eugene Connolly’s sphere of influence, to read his words
is to wish you knew him personally. His devotion to family, faith and his
students shines through in his writing. Time spent reading this book
uplifted me personally - it left me looking for ways to touch others with my
life in the manner in which Eugene Connolly undoubtedly did with his. The
following entry, written in 1988 by Mr. Connolly, is an example of the many
passages I found to be both edifying and inspirational:
Way of Seeing
“Dear Lord, help me to see myself as a
an outward sign whom Christ instituted
as a means of grace for others.
This is something holy and special about
each of us.
Help me to remember what I am and
what others and all of creation are.
Help me to see myself as grace-giving and
try to make the flow of grace easy and attractive.
Help me to see everything in the world as sacramental.
faith and family were at the core of the life of Eugene Connolly, which was
perhaps the secret behind his success in other areas of his life. One of my
favorite lines in the book comes from a letter from Eugene to his son where
he shares, “…I found for myself a wife who has me singing with joy every
day.” Following his illness and passing, Connolly’s wife Sally took
upon herself the task of sharing the voice of this unique man by compiling
and editing the written words he had left behind. Her work is a testament
to the light shed by this man and a gift to those of us who will grow
through our own reading of his thoughts and ideas.
pleased to share the following interview with Sally A. Connolly, editor of
A Boy From Lawrence.
Q: Please briefly describe the book for readers who have not yet seen it.
A Boy From Lawrence is a collection of the writings of my late husband, a gifted and
beloved teacher. His faith is beautifully expressed throughout the book,
and readers are drawn into his world. Included are some early poems,
essays, and reflections as well as tributes to friends and relatives.
Q: Please tell us a bit about yourself, Gene and your family.
Gene was the middle child of a devout Irish-Catholic family. His
younger sister became a nun; and his brother, a noted Jesuit priest. As a
child of the Depression, Gene’s simple pleasures included playing baseball
and touch football in the local lot, exploring Lawrence on his bike, and
spending entire Saturdays in the local movie theaters.
Gene’s memory was prodigious,
and he often regaled us with stories of mischievous adventures dating back
to when he was only two years of age. One of his proudest achievements was
representing his grammar school in the city-wide marble championship. (We
still have a few of the “aggies” from the bureau drawer his mother filled.)
The other: never losing a game of horseshoes, in over fifty years, to his
As a high school junior, Gene trained to become a Marist Brother in
Esopus, New York. It was a perfect year for a boy, he would say. He was
valedictorian of the first graduating class at Marist College (there were
fewer than ten students in the class, however), a Marist Brother until age
twenty-nine, and a teacher for the rest of his professional career. He
earned a master’s degree in English from St. John’s University in New York
and, during the early years of our marriage, a doctorate in higher education
from Boston College. Gene’s spiritual journey included extensive reading,
retreats, and assisting the parish as Eucharistic Minister.
Teaching was central to Gene’s life, the source of his peak
experiences. He was most “fully human, fully alive,” he would say, when in
the classroom. Although officially retired, Gene continued to teach until
his final illness; and he would often come home excited about being able to
inspire his students, who were several generations younger.
Both Gene and I were teaching at community colleges—he, in the
General Lawrence area and I, on the North Shore of Boston—when we were
introduced. After thirty-seven years of marriage, three daughters, one son,
and four granddaughters, we are proof that blind dates can sometimes work
Believing that a child’s first years are critical, I happily became
a full-time homemaker when the children started arriving. When the children
were ages two through eight, I returned to school to earn a master’s degree
in counseling and guidance and rejoined the field of education as a high
school counselor. I have since retired, but I remain active in local and
state counseling organizations and continue to edit and publish the
newsletter for the Massachusetts School Counselors Association.
Q: What prompted this project and did you find healing in working on it?
The loss of Gene’s full
companionship inspired the book. Gene had suffered a stroke during a biopsy
for a brain tumor; and after six months of hospitalization and therapy he
had returned home. With the assistance of our children, who made it
possible for me to shop on Saturdays and go to church on Sundays, I became
his caregiver for the next eight months. We had always encouraged Gene to
preserve his life story, but other projects had intervened. He was finally
beginning the process, “searching for a voice,” he would say. As I began my
scrapbook of his writings, I found that voice in the consistency and beauty
of the works he had already written. Creating the book proved to b e both
therapeutic and spiritually enriching for me.
Q: What would you most want for people to know about Gene?
Gene was steadfast in his faith and tried to live out the good
life. He loved teaching, he loved his students, and he dearly loved his
friends and family. And, as he stated in one his journals, “I love Sally
and the children. They are my commitment and my vocation—and my good
grace. God gave me what He knew I needed.”
Q: How did Gene’s Catholic faith impact upon his writing?
Gene’s faith as a Catholic was central to his life and, therefore,
infused his writing. Although his formal education centered around English
literature and higher education, his deep interest lay in spirituality and
theology. He had the ability, I believe, to express quite simply the
essence of Ignatian spirituality. A major work of his, a commissioned
biography of a local entrepreneur, was the chief digression from this
Q: Do you have a favorite story, piece, poem or prayer from the book?
There are so many favorites in
A Boy From Lawrence, but one
that exemplifies Gene’s hope for every child is “the Kelly story”:
When my children were young, one of our
friends, a high-school principal, used to say to me “Your children are so
lucky. They are never going to have any trouble speaking perfect English.
Having two teachers for parents, they won’t know what grammatical errors
are. What a great advantage!”
One winter day not long after the last
time he said that I was sitting in my study working when my youngest
daughter, Kelly, walked in. She was four. She said, “Hi, Dad!!” She was
dressed in a brand-new outfit: a beautiful light-gray coat and matching
hat, long stockings, and shining new shoes. A pony-tail hung below the back
of the hat; wide brown eyes were sparkling; and two pink cheeks were
glowing. I said, “Hi, Kell!” Where are you going?” She said, “I’m going
to the Dentist.” Thinking that he might prove to be an ally and say
something to her about cookies and candy and cavities, I asked, “And what is
he going to say to you?” She said, “He’s going to say, ‘Isn’t you
I’m telling you about Kelly because you
are going to have days when clouds are hanging heavy; when the sun isn’t
very bright; and you are bent low, wondering who you are and whether
anything is worthwhile. On those days, I hope that you will have your own
Kelly, who will walk into your life, look you in the eye, and say to you,
“Isn’t you beautiful?” And I hope that every day you will say that to
Q: What do you think Gene would have thought about the end result of this
He would have been proud, and
amazed, to see the good use to which I have put those “cutting and pasting”
skills acquired from my editing experience. Most of all, he would have been
thrilled to know that he continues to inspire, encourage, and enrich both
minds and hearts. A teacher, he would say, has no product to grasp onto to
show his effectiveness. We would say, in return, “A teacher affects
eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” (Henry B. Adams)
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the experience of reading
A Boy From Lawrence?
I hope readers recognize, as Gene did, the beauty in each day and
in each person and the great role faith can play in shaping our own
Q: Are there any additional thoughts or comments you would like to share
with our readers?
In the hustle and bustle of today’s hectic society, we need to take
time to read, reflect, and reexamine our priorities. Society will be as
healthy as its basic unit, the family. For many of us, this may be the
only—but possibly the greatest—contribution we can make.
A Boy From Lawrence: The Collected Writings of Eugene F. Connolly visit
Lisa M. Hendey is a mother of two sons, webmaster of numerous web sites,
http://www.christiancoloring.com, and an avid reader of Catholic
literature. Visit her at
http://www.lisahendey.com for more information.
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