Gazing at the night sky, I often see a streak and am reminded of the words of Sister Thea Bowman, who when near death stated, “I’m going home like a shooting star!” We see the stars as tiny points of light, when in reality, they are blazing suns full of light. This image reminds me of Father Thomas Connery, a man who appeared to live a simple priest’s life, but in reality his light burned brightly.

Father Connery was a priest’s priest — a truly fraternal man who loved his vocation and lived it with intention. Consistently communal, he was always concerned about his brother priests, especially those struggling in any way. His door was always open, as was his heart; hospitality came naturally to him. He was a wise confessor, counselor and friend to the people who passed through his life, whether once or many times. His faith was rock solid, he was not one to fret, always reminding others to simply say that next prayer and trust God.

Father Connery literally knew people around the globe. I have frequently discovered less than six degrees of separation between him and my non-local friends. He was a great storyteller and loved talking about Alaska, often mentioning priests he knew from there. When I was directing a retreat in Juneau, a few women were discussing a local retired priest and I asked if that was Father Peter. They were curious — how could I know this? It delighted me that Connery’s vivid descriptions of Father Peter were enough to reveal his identity to me thousands of miles from home.

Another Alaskan experience included him meeting Trappist monk and mystic, Thomas Merton. When Merton was traveling to Asia, he stopped in Alaska for a visit. Father Connery got to meet him and spend time with him during that sojourn and looked forward to seeing him on his return. It was a sad moment when Father Connery did just that, meeting Merton’s casket after his untimely death in Thailand.

When writer Maria Ruiz Scaperlanda told me she would be writing a biography of martyred Father Stanley Rother, who is now Blessed Stanley Rother. I told her that I knew a priest who attended seminary with him. Overjoyed to hear this, Scaperlanda interviewed Father Connery. A few years earlier, Father Connery had visited Central American martyrdom sites with a group of priests and deacons, and they spent time in Rother’s village in Guatemala. Another connection emerged when I learned that a deacon friend from Seattle had been on the same trip, and that spending time with Father Connery was a highlight of their pilgrimage for him.

When I think of all these connections, I think about the world’s enormity in contrast to how small it can be. God knits our lives together in intricate designs, with threads crossing and intersecting in mysterious patterns. With Father Connery, this weaving converged in myriad ways that reached around the globe in an embrace of grace. All of which brings me back to the image of stars, so small in the distance while twinkling brightly in the sky, while their enormity and brilliance are beyond our comprehension. That was Father Connery to me, a priest who made you feel as if you were the most important person when you were with him, while at the same time his light burned so brightly that it was seen and felt from afar. Like the words of Sister  Thea expressed her intention for her own death, I imagine Father Connery doing the same thing. With no warning, like a shooting star, he was at home with God.

Fran Rossi Szpylczyn is a writer, speaker, retreat leader and pastoral associate for administration at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Glenville.