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Albany priest killed by floodwaters on way to say Mass

“He died as he lived — serving the people of God without fear or concern for himself.”

From The Evangelist: 

Father J. Thomas Connery, a long-time priest of the Diocese of Albany, died tragically on Oct. 31. While traveling to say Mass for the people of Herkimer and Newport, Father Connery was caught up in the flash flooding in that region.

Father Connery, 82, a fixture in the Diocese, was best known as pastor at Immaculate Conception in Glenville from 1990-2007.

“We are so saddened to learn of Father Thomas Connery’s tragic death, but we know that he died as he lived — serving the people of God without fear or concern for himself,” Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger said in a statement. “Father Connery was a devoted priest who served faithfully for 56 years and just weeks ago had accepted a new assignment as sacramental minister for Sts. Anthony and Joseph Church in Herkimer as well as St. John the Baptist in Newport.

“May he rest in peace, and may his family be comforted by the faith that served as Father Connery’s strength and foundation throughout his life of ministry.”

State Police in Herkimer reported that at approximately 10:10 p.m., Father Connery drove his 2017 Ford Fusion through the flood waters along Military Road in the town of Norway, Herkimer County and barely made it through, according to an eyewitness. Father Connery then tried to walk back through the flood waters he had just driven through toward the eyewitness, lost his footing and was washed downstream, the report said. Due to the strong current, his body could not be recovered until the next day.

The Albany Times Union notes:

He was born in 1937 in Troy and ordained a priest in 1963, after studying at the now-shuttered Mater Christi Seminary in Albany, Mount St. Mary College in Newburgh and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Maryland.

Connery spent four years as assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Little Falls, Herkimer County, before moving to Alaska for eight years. There, he was assistant pastor, then administrator, at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage and later an administrator at St. Benedict’s in Anchorage, St. Michael’s in Cordova and St. Paul Miki in Anchorage, according to the diocese.

He returned to Albany in 1977 and was named hospital chaplain at Albany Medical Center. A year later, he became pastor of St. Joseph’s in Albany. Connery served as pastor of St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart, both in Little Falls, in the 1980s before starting at Immaculate Conception in Glenville.

Connery also led prison retreats, chaired the advisory board for the Little Sisters of the Poor and served as chaplain to Magnificat, a women’s Christian group, the diocese said.

Mary DeTurris Poust, diocese spokeswoman, described Connery as “a very kind and generous spirit who lived an amazing life.”

Poust noted that Connery had struck up a friendship with Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk and writer, while in Alaska and had also known the Rev. Stanley Rother, a priest who was murdered in Guatemala and is considered likely to become the first American-born man to be canonized as a saint.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him…

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