We are all praying hard for Fr. Kevin Connell, S.J. even as we accept that his will be a long and steep road back to health. Fr. Connell’s family is now in town keeping him company. They and Fr. JK Adams, SJ, Superior of the Jesuit community at JHS, hope that folks understand that Kevin’s greatest need right now is for rest and for physical therapy. The good news is that Kevin has been released from the hospital and is now at a full-time therapeutic care facility. Please keep praying hard and send cards and healing vibrations to Fr. Connell instead of trying to visit him, as he needs to focus on resting and getting stronger. Cards can be sent to Fr. Connell care of Jesuit HS. A Caring Bridge site has been established for regular updates about Fr. Connell. Please click here to view the site.
As we wait in hope, let’s take a moment to appreciate the man for whom we are praying.
If you have ever had the privilege of attending a Mass presided over by Fr. Connell, you know he offers some of the most electric, inspirational sermons you may ever hope to hear. Amidst the references to Miley Cyrus, James Dean, tattoos, vampires, Dante, Instagram, and Jesus the radical preacher, you may notice the black cowboy boots poking out under his cassock and alb. The boots are a nod to Kevin’s early childhood in Butte, MT, where Kevin grew up as the oldest brother in an Irish-Catholic clan, before his family moved to San Jose, CA when he was in 5th grade. Kevin’s sister Jamie reports that even at the age of 11, young Kevin was already “teaching” and “directing” his sisters Jamie, Beth, and Megan in backyard dramatic productions.
Kevin attended Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, an all-boys’ Jesuit high school, where he first encountered the Society of Jesus. As a champion debater and gifted thespian, Kevin honed his powerful intellect and unparalleled performance skills at Bellarmine. The classroom and the stage became his chief passions, the realms in which he could best share his God-given gifts for elocution, education, and erudition.
After graduating from Gonzaga University, Kevin entered the Jesuit novitiate; he headed to Jesuit for his first tour of duty in 1986. As a young Jesuit teaching English and Theology, in 1988 Kevin became the first and only Regent in JHS history to win the Educator of the Year Award. Going on to further studies, including a Master’s in Divinity from the Weston School of Theology, Kevin was ordained a Jesuit priest and eventually found his way back to Jesuit High in 1995.
After two years of teaching everything from Biblical Greek to AP English Literature, Kevin became Jesuit High’s Vice Principal for Student Life in 1997-98, joining your humble narrator as part of principal Sandy Satterberg’s new administrative team. Amazingly enough, even as a VP Kevin kept alive his acting career. Among my favorite memories of those days was seeing Kevin as Solieri in Amadeus and as Macbeth in a riveting downtown Portland version of the Scottish play.
Even as he performed brilliantly as teacher, preacher, priest and administrator, Fr. Kevin Connell has always been among the finest classical actors in Portland. If the play is Camelot, Kevin is King Arthur. Last fall, in a critically-acclaimed run of My Fair Lady, Fr. Connell played a blistering, conflicted, ultimately loverly Henry Higgins.
After his run as VPSL at JHS from 1997-2000, Kevin served as the founding Principal/President of St. Andrew Nativity School, building that remarkable Portland institution from scratch. Kevin’s unyielding devotion both to excellence and to the children who through SANS climb from poverty to college are still foundation stones of Nativity. If any one of us had only that achievement to claim at the Pearly Gates, we could head to heaven with confidence.
From St. Andrew Nativity, Kevin headed back to Spokane, where he served from 2005-2012 as Principal of Gonzaga Prep. Again, even as Principal, Kevin somehow found time both to perform and to direct plays at Gonzaga University.
Two years ago, Fr. Connell returned for his third tour of duty at Jesuit High. We were blessed indeed that this remarkably talented teacher and preacher chose to come back to Portland to teach English at JHS, when he could have become principal or president at any one of a number of Jesuit schools nationwide. My daughter Molly was privileged to have Fr. Connell as her English teacher last year. As Forecasting rolled around last month, Molly said to me, “I really hope I get Fr. Connell again. He was hard, but I learned a ton, and he sure made class interesting!”
Some of us have “bucket lists” that include bungee-jumping or visiting the pyramids of Egypt. One of Kevin’s life goals is to teach, perform in, or direct all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, and he is well on his way—I think somewhere near 30. Among the cognoscenti, Shakespeare’s King Lear is regarded as the most complex and challenging of the Bard’s roles. Even Hamlet appears as a confused college kid when counterpointed with the majestically conflicted Lear.
So it is somehow fitting that Kevin was in the midst of a brilliant, intense, compelling run as the eponymous monarch in BagnBaggage’s production of Lear when he suffered a major stroke in the early hours of St. Patrick’s Day. Like Lear, Kevin will know the frustrations of infirmity and may even rail against the heavens in the weeks and months to come. Unlike Lear, however, Fr. Kevin Connell, S.J., is a young and fit 53 years of age, strong in mind, body, and spirit, and destined to return to us a man in full.
Let us take a moment to say a prayer to our priest, brother, teacher, preacher, actor, friend: We are praying for you, Kevin. Now that the tempest has passed, may you have hours of healing and repose, and that Jesus may bless you with his healing touch. Come back to us, but take your time. You have earned our gratitude, our respect, and our patience. Amen.