First published in the Dec. 3 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
The people of South Pasadena are lucky, and so am I.
We both get to share the wisdom and personalities of the spiritual leaders of this community. I’m lucky because I get to visit and share the personalities and teachings of these remarkable people in my columns. And when those leaders have a problem, their problems become all our problems.
Such it was when the Rev. Canon Anne Tumulty of St. James Episcopal Church was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. Thank God, she is now in remission.
Everyone who has read my columns know how much I admire Monsignor Clement Connolly, spiritual adviser at Holy Family Church. Connolly was secretary to two cardinals of Los Angeles before he became priest at the 4,700-family church on Fremont Avenue in 1984. He “officially” retired in 2010, but is still spiritual adviser, officiates at mass and counsels and comforts members of the parish.
Connolly revealed in his Nov. 14 homily that he had prostate cancer.
I recommend to everyone that they go to the Holy Family website and watch the homily. A parishioner told me afterward it was the best homily Connolly had ever given. That’s saying a lot — his Irish brogue often brings out the best in any lesson he’s teaching.
Notice I said teaching, because he took this announcement and turned it into a lesson of the spirit. So, this column is not meant as a farewell nor will it delve into his condition. Connolly said that he plans to continue following his schedule as much as possible.
The monsignor told me afterward that he made the announcement publicly because he knew some people in the parish knew and others did not, and he did not want any rumors to spread. He also wanted to share his own lesson of how such a diagnosis could be turned from a “burden to a grace” through prayer.
Connolly started his explanation at the beginning — when he learned four weeks before the homily that he had prostate cancer. He described it as “not life-threatening” and would require six weeks of radiation, five days a week.
“At the time, I was mumbling,” he recalled. “I was an unhappy camper for a few days. I didn’t want to tell anyone. It was an imposition. It didn’t threaten my life.”
He went for treatment at City of Hope, and there he said he found kindness from those who were ministering to their patients.
“I began to think about it,” Connolly said. “I was sitting on a bench at the entrance where people drop off patients and looked at people who were much sicker than I was.
“God was saying something to me,” he added.
What the 81-year-old Connolly said he realized was that God was ministering to him through those people.
“It changed my mind,” Connolly said, “and I thanked God for the grace of being in this community of broken people, people who were suffering. I didn’t bring the gospel to them. They were bringing the gospel to me.”
Connolly explained that the gospel comes from the inside, and by sharing the experience of others, we can find the gospel from “inside-out,” as he put it.
“How do we share a broken humanity?” he proposed. “By seeing the spirit as a gift and not as an impediment as I had originally thought.”
What made this so powerful to me was that here was someone explaining how his diagnosis could produce such a revelation. I wasn’t there in-person, and it is a lot more real in the video than it is in my words.
South Pasadena Mayor Diana Mahmud said she was a lector that Sunday.
“We sat in stunned silence,” said Mahmud, who said her reaction was mirrored by other parishioners.
Mahmud called his homilies “remarkable.” She also was a lector this past Sunday when Connolly was presiding priest and the LGBTQ+ Outreach ministry lit the first of four candles on the Advent wreath. Mahmud said one her favorite recent homilies from Monsignor was when he made it clear that people should love and accept people in the LGBTQ community.
“He is probably the most learned man I know,” Mahmud said. “And he is well known for his intellect and speaking ability outside of South Pasadena.”
Tumulty, who had surgery for epidermoid carcinoma, said she called the monsignor after getting her diagnosis.
“He is such a good and holy man,” she said. “[When I was diagnosed], I called Msgr. Clem. He was so very kind to me. He offered a mass for me and followed up with phone calls. He is truly a God-centered leader in our community and St. James is holding him in our thoughts and prayers.”
I’m wishing the monsignor well and will be thinking of him and the congregants, ministers and priests at all churches during this Advent season. I also want to also my best wishes to those who continue to light candles this Chanukah.
Oneota Congregational Church is holding a series of “Christmas Classics” sermons for Advent every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. The church, located at 1515 Garfield Ave. in South Pasadena, will also hold a “Blue Christmas,” which Rev. Lincoln Skinner described as a “service of reflection for the longest night of the year,” Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 6:30 p.m.
Correction: Rabbi Jason Rosner asked that I correct that the date for the Temple Beth Israel Chanukah party published as Sunday, Dec. 5. The event was held Dec. 2.