Father J. Thomas Connery, a long-time priest of the Diocese of Albany, who also was a commercial fisherman during his time as a priest in Alaska, 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 perhaps 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.”

Bishop Scharfenberger added: "Father Tom lived and died amidst the storm waters of life across which he led countless souls. His priestly life was itself a bridge to Eternity for many, firmly grounded in his Faith in Jesus. He met his death in the fury of the natural elements and, we pray with confidence, met the face of our loving Savior to whose Name he witnessed tirelessly and without fear. A lifelong martyr who died as he lived, with his boots on. May he bless us in Eternal life as he did on Earth among us. Requiescat in pace." 

State Police in Herkimer reported that at approximately 10:10 p.m., on Oct. 31, 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.

Father James Ebert of Mater Christi Parish and Vicar for the Clergy of the Diocese of Albany had known Father Connery since Father Ebert was an altar server at Immaculate Conception in the early 1990s. And for the past 30 years, his relationship with Father Connery, who was present for Father Ebert’s ordination at Immaculate Conception in 2009, blossomed. 

“I just started crying,” Father Ebert told NEWS10 when he heard about Father Connery’s death. “It was a shock because he sent me a letter about a month ago thanking me for everything that I do. That’s the kind of guy he was very thoughtful.”

Father Connery was born July 26, 1937, in Troy, graduated from Mater Christi Seminary in 1957, Mount St. Mary College in 1959 and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in 1963. He was ordained a priest at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany by Bishop William A. Scully on May 25, 1963.

In 1963, Father Connery started his first assignment as assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Church in Little Falls. After four years there, Father Connery spent the next eight years in Alaska. In 1967, he was assistant pastor at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage and then became administrator in 1969. He was then administrator at St. Mary’s in Kodiak Island in 1969, St. Benedict’s in Anchorage (1971), St. Michael’s in Cordova (1974) and St. Paul Miki in Anchorage (1975) before returning to Albany.

It was while in Alaska, that Father Connery became a commercial fisherman. In a Sept. 17, 1970 article in The Evangelist, then-associate editor Father Kenneth Doyle visited Father Connery while he was administrator on Kodiak Island. The story pointed out the reasons Father Connery decided to become a fisherman were twofold: St. Mary’s was a small struggling parish that needed extra money and commercial fishing was quite lucrative; and to truly become one with the parish of fisherman and understand them, Father Connery felt he had to take to the seas. During that time, he was part of a three-man boat named the “Murphy” and spent six weeks fishing. 

In 1977, Father Connery was named hospital chaplain at Albany Medical Center, and became pastor of St. Joseph’s in Albany in 1978. In 1981, he was named pastor of St. Mary’s in Little Falls; pastor of Sacred Heart in Little Falls in 1986, before starting his time at Immaculate Conception in Glenville.

Fr. 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 Funeral Mass will take place Nov. 6 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception (400 Saratoga Rd,., Glenville, N.Y., 12302). The Reception of the Body starts at 3 p.m. and the Funeral Mass begins at 7 p.m. In lieu of flowers, please make memorial donations in Father Connery’s name to the Church of the Immaculate Conception.