+Fr. Canice (Donald) Connors, OFM Conv. was born in Hazelton, PA, December 3, 1934, and passed away on March 17, 2019. He was the son of the late James and Elizabeth (née Roarty) Connors. In addition to his Franciscan family he leaves his brother James and his wife Christine Connors of Fayetteville, NY, a sister, Dolores Cea, sister-in-law Mary Ann Anderson and 10 nephews and nieces, as well as several great nephews and nieces. He was predeceased by his brother Robert Connors.
Fr. Canice entered the Franciscan Friars Conventual Novitiate in Middleburg, NY, on August 15, 1954. He professed his Temporary Vows on August 16, 1955 and his Solemn Vows on September 27, 1958. Fr. Canice was ordained to the priesthood on May 27, 1961.
After his ordination, Fr. Canice attended The Catholic University of America and received an M.A in Philosophy, in 1962. He attended the University of Ottawa, from 1962-1963, receiving a M.A. in Psychology. Fr. Canice served as teacher and Headmaster at Canevin High School in Pittsburgh, PA from 1964 to 1975. During that time, from 1969 to 1971, he also studied at the University of Pittsburgh and he was awarded a Ph.D. in Psychology, in 1971.
A man of dauntless energy, Fr. Canice served in the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, from 1975 – 1979. Using his skills in Psychology, Fr. Canice was asked to be the Director of Southdown Institute, in Holland Landing, Ontario, Canada, where he served from 1979 to 1986. After serving a year (1986-1987) as Rector of St. Anthony-on-Hudson, in Rensselaer, NY, Fr. Canice was asked to be the Pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Winston-Salem, NC, where he served from 1987 to 1992.
Returning to the use of his skills in Psychology in 1992, Fr. Canice became the Director of St. Luke’s Institute in Silver Spring, MD, where he worked until, in 1997, when Fr. Canice was elected as Minister Provincial of the Immaculate Conception Province. This was ministry that he offered until 2005.
Fr. Canice was a well-respected Guest Speaker in both the U.S and Canada. He received the Annual Touchstone Award in 1997, which is the President’s Award of the National Federation of Priests Council, given to one whose service in the Gospel of Jesus Christ exemplifies the goals and purposes of the NFPC. Fr. Canice was the Vice-President and President of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) and a member of the Board of Directors from 2001 – 2004.
From 2005 to 2008, Fr. Canice served as the Rector of the Franciscan Church of Assumption, in Syracuse, NY. For health reasons, in 2008 Fr. Canice resigned from this position and was assigned to St. Bonaventure Friary, Toronto, Canada. Despite his illness, he became the effective leader of “Tea and Theology” discussion groups in Toronto. As his health declined, Fr. Canice was transferred in 2015 to Mercy Nursing Facility at Our Lady Victory, Lackawanna, NY. For most of his time there, he was still able to minster the sacraments to his fellow residents. Sister Death called him home on March 17, 2019.
Fr. Canice will lie in state at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Hamburg, NY 14010 from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 21, 2019, with a Franciscan Wake Service at 7:00 p.m. On Friday, March 22, 2019, a Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11:00 a.m. Interment will be in St. Stanislaus Cemetery, Buffalo, NY after a repast in St. Francis of Assisi Parish Hall. A Memorial Mass will take place at Immaculate Conception Church, Fayetteville, NY, in the Spring. Memorial Donations may be made to the Franciscan Education Burse, 12300 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City, MD 21042, or to Francis House, 108 Michaels Avenue, Syracuse, NY 13208.
Funeral arrangements are by Lakeside Funeral Home, Hamburg, NY.
Funeral Homily for +Friar Canice Connors, OFM Conv.
Delivered by Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv.
St. Francis of Assisi Church, Athol Springs, New York
22nd March 2019
Job 19:1, 23-27
2 Cor. 1:3-7
Upon learning of the death of Friar Canice Connors, many church leaders from around the United States, and indeed the world, have written to me with encomiums of praise and expressions of sympathy. One Minister Provincial from afar wrote: “What a giant among us he was! A man of prophetic vision and insight!” This “Giant of the Order” could also be controversial – in substantive matters of great consequence. He could also be “cute” in the Irish sense of the word. As one of his successors in the role of Minister Provincial, I only had one quaint controversy with Canice – about the proper pronunciation of his name. Countless times, I reminded him that the correct Irish pronunciation was CAN-ice, not Can-ICE! He jovially humoured me, conceding to let me keep saying CAN-ice. I suppose the fact that he died on St. Patrick’s Day confirmed that I won the argument!
A genuine Renaissance friar, Canice loved the British-American poet T.S. Eliot. His favourite passage from the “Little Gidding” section of Eliot’s masterpiece Four Quartets was imprinted upon every fiber of Canice’s being: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” We friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province are immeasurably indebted to Canice for applying this “exploration” principle to the whole process of unification between his former Province of the Immaculate Conception and the former Province of St. Anthony.
Canice’s brilliant speech at our Malvern Assembly in 2006 sounded a clarion call for unification – or better stated, “re-unification” – of our two Franciscan province fraternities. In that speech, he carefully traced the close friendship between the early IC Provincial (later General) Friar Dominic Reuter and the founding SA Provincial Friar Hyacinth Fudzinski. For Canice, the “exploration” of re-unification was a process by which the friars of both Provinces would arrive back where they began: “…and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
When I went to visit Canice at Our Lady of Victory Home in Lackawanna immediately upon the conclusion of our 2014 OLA Provincial Chapter of Unification, he was positively radiant hearing every detail about the Chapter and its dynamics. Indeed, Friar Canice’s passion in life was UNITY – unity in its deepest sense – both natural and supernatural – true communion of persons. Today’s Gospel passage – Jesus’s classic Last Supper prayer for Unity – expresses the profundity of Canice’s own prophetic vision: “Holy Father, I pray… that they may all be one, as you Father are in me and I in you, that they… that they may be one, as we are one… that they may be brought to perfection as one” (Jn. 17:20-26, passim).
When Canice as a friar undertook studies for his doctorate in psychology, he began applying this theological principle of unity in new pioneering ways to the broken human condition – particularly to exigencies of vulnerable victims of abuse and violence, as well as to the mysterious dysfunctions of those who perpetrate abuse. During the 1980s and 1990s – in his seven years as Director of Southdown Institute in Ontario, Canada, and in his five years as Director of St. Luke’s Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland – Canice encountered human fragmentation at levels he could have never anticipated. Even though he humbly realized that he could never succeed 100% in putting “Humpty Dumpty together again” as he counselled thousands of broken persons, Canice strove with each for the ideal of reclaiming their human integrity. INTEGRITY, or wholeness, was the new face that God gave to his quest for natural and supernatural UNITY. For Canice, integrity breeds unity, and unity breeds integrity.
God raised up Friar Canice at a critical moment in the history of the Church in the United States and the world. He became a renowned speaker and expert on the sex abuse crisis. Prior to the Dallas Charter of 2001, he courageously challenged the American Bishops to mobilize a plan of action that would safeguard victims of abuse and do justice towards the vulnerable. His methodology of “tough love” never mollycoddled clergy and religious who abused and committed crimes, but nonetheless sought ways for them to confront their own inner darkness and find healing through therapy, prayer, and penance. Throughout those difficult years, Friar Canice never compromised his own integrity. He was no shrinking violet! Sometimes he was like an Old Testament prophet – He called a spade a spade, not an agricultural instrument.
Working with broken humanity year after year takes a heavy toll on the labourer. Friar Canice was no exception to this precept. His work with victims actually forced him to draw out of the depths of his own painful memories the victimization that he himself had suffered at the age of 12 – when a florist in Syracuse, New York sexually abused him. Today’s passage from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians lends understanding to the ways in which God used Canice’s own experience of victimhood as a springboard to compassionate and encourage fellow victims: “ Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Friar Canice Connors would become an icon of the “wounded healer.”
Throughout his incredibly important and serious ministry, Friar Canice never lost his Irish sense of humour. Because of his association with the Polish-Americans of the former St. Anthony Province, he even spliced Polish jocularity into the mix. In the 1970s, while working in the Baltimore chancery, Canice lived at St. Stanislaus Friary of the former SA Province, where the loud, rough-and-tumble, down-to-earth likes of Friars Cyprian Sondej and Lambert Sidor introduced him to kielbasa, Polish jokes, and card games (whose names cannot be pronounced). Their rapport was fraternity par excellence – and it actually set the stage for Canice’s future work towards the Union of our two Provinces.
In the final phase of his life, Canice bore the cross of suffering – not only in emotional and psychological ways – but physically. His affliction with a paralyzing sclerosis left him utterly helpless, needful of 24-hour skilled care for years. Tribute must be paid to the friars of Toronto, and Hamburg for their loving fraternal attentiveness, and to the parishioners of St. Bonaventure’s in Don Mills (30 of whom traveled here today for the funeral). Canice never ceased singing all their praises to me. With due respect for his former guardians, Canice remarked countless times that Friar Ross Syracuse here in Hamburg was the best guardian that he ever had in his 65 years as a Franciscan Friar Conventual. I also want to pay tribute to our Province Healthcare Director, Mrs. Pat Ashburn, who tended to Canice with such gentle and loving dedication in his years of illness.
During these final years, the two things that infirmity never forced Canice to stop were his praying and his reading. He took great consolation from the Scriptures and his theological exploration of their deepest import. You would see him reading the philosophical works of Heidegger, and the theological tomes of Rahner. What sustained him as a man of spiritual integrity was his ultimate vision of the Resurrection. Today’s first reading from the Book of Job foreshadowed that reality. Its words express Canice’s final hope: “For I know that my Redeemer [Vindicator] lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” (Job 19:25-27). He died with this vision.
Just as Friar Canice loved the poetry of T.S. Eliot, he held in highest esteem of all the great English Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Indeed, Canice bore an uncanny similarity to Hopkins, who suffered agonizing depression during the final years of his life. Out of his misery in Dublin, where Hopkins died in 1889, there emerged the greatest of all his poems “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.” This poem both haunted and consoled Canice, the Job figure, throughout all the agonies of his own earthly pilgrimage. Like Job, like Hopkins, Canice’s life was a vale of soul-making – with an eternal destiny to claim. Job, Hopkins, and Canice all knew that their Redeemer lives! O the comfort of the Resurrection! Hopkins’ final lines are the most apt of epitaphs for our Friar Canice:
“In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.”