How Father Tom Connolly Began to Be a Saint

by Francis Clement Kelley

IF you knew Father Tom Connolly, you would like him, because—well, just because Father Tom Connolly was one of the kind whom everybody liked. He had curly black hair, over an open and smiling face; he was big, but not too big, and he looked the priest, the soggarth aroon kind, you know, so that you just felt that if you ever did get into difficulties, Father Tom Connolly would be the first man for you to talk it all over with. But Father Tom had a large parish, in a good-sized country town, to look after; and so, while you thought that you might monopolize all of his sympathy in your bit of possible trouble, he had hundreds whose troubles had already materialized, and was waiting for yours with a wealth of experience which would only make his smile deeper and his grasp heartier when the task of consoling you came to his door and heart.

Now, there lived in the same town as Father Tom another priest of quite a different make. He, too, had a Christian name. It was Peter; but no one ever called him Father Peter. Every one addressed  him as Father Ilwin. Somehow this designation alone fitted him. It was not that this other priest was unkind—not at all—but it was just that in Father Tom's town he did not quite fit.

Father Ilwin had been sent by the Bishop to build a new church, and that on a slice of Father Tom's territory, which the Bishop lopped off to form a new parish. Father Ilwin was young. He had no rich brogue on his tongue to charm you into looking at his coat in expectation of seeing his big heart burst out to welcome you. He was thoughtful-looking and shy, so he did not get on well and his new church building grew very slowly.

I have given you the characters of my little story, but, for the life of me, I can not tell you which one is to be the hero and which the villain—but, let that go, for I am sure of one thing at least: this story has no villain. But it followed just as naturally as day follows night—for which figure of speech, my thanks to Mr. Shakespeare—that when Father Ilwin failed to do well, he grew gloomy and sad; and just as naturally—God help us—there was enough of human nature in Father Tom to say, "I told you so" to himself, and to have him pity Father Ilwin to others in that superior sort of way that cuts and stings more than a whip of scorpions. Then, when Father Tom spoke to some of his people of Father Ilwin's poor success and said, "He meant well, good lad," they all praised the soft, kind heart of Father  Tom; but when Father Ilwin heard of this great kindness he just shut his lips tightly, and all the blood was chased from his set face to grip his heart in a spell of resentment. Why? Oh, human nature, you know! and human nature explains a lot of things which even story-writers have to give up. Of course, people did say that Father Ilwin was ungracious and unappreciative; yet, as I write, much as I like Father Tom, I have a tear in my eye for the lonely man who knew well that the only obstacle to his success was the one that people never could see, and that the obstacle himself was never likely to see.

But let us go on. Of all the things in this world that Father Tom believed in, it was that his "parish rights" were first and foremost. So he never touched foot in his neighbor's parish, except to pay him a friendly visit, or to go to his righteous confession. He visited no homes out of his territory, though he had baptized pretty nearly every little curly-headed fairy in each. They were his no longer and that was enough. He wanted no visitor in his limits either, except on the same terms. So no one in Father Tom's parish had helped much in building the church across the river. The people understood.

It had never occurred to Father Tom that his own purse—not too large, but large enough—might stand a neighborly assessment. No, he had "built his church by hard scraping, and that is how  churches should be built." Now, do not get a bad opinion of Father Tom on this account. He thought he was right, and perhaps he was. It is not for me to criticize Father Tom, whom every poor person in the town loved as a father; only I did feel sorry that poor Father Ilwin grew so thin and worn, and that his building work was stopped, and people did not seem to sympathize with him, at all, at all. Over in his parish there were open murmurs that "the people had built one church and should not be asked now to build another"; or "what was good enough for Father Tom was good enough for anyone"; or "the Bishop should have consulted us before he sent this young priest into Father Tom's parish." In the other part of the town, however, everything was quiet enough, and none would think of offending his pastor by showing any interest in Father Ilwin, financially or otherwise. Father Ilwin said nothing; but do you wonder that one day when a generous gift was announced from "the Rev. Thomas Connolly, our respected fellow citizen," to help in the erection of a Soldier's Monument for the town, Father Ilwin read it and went back into his room, where, on the table, were laid out the plans of his poor little church, and cried like a baby?

"Father Ilwin read it and went back into his room,
where on the table were laid out the plans of his poor little church,
and cried like a baby."

"Father Ilwin read it and went back into his room, where on the table were laid out the plans of his poor little church, and cried like a baby."

It happened that Father Tom rarely ever left his parish, which was again much to his credit with the people. "Sure, he never takes a vacation at all," they said. But at last a call came that he could not  refuse, and, having carefully made his plans to secure a monk from a monastery quite far away to take his place over Sunday, he left to see a sick brother from whom he had seldom heard, and who lived far in the Southwest. Perhaps it was significant, perhaps not—I do not know, and I do not judge—that Father Tom was particular to say in his letter to the monastery that, "as the weather is warm, the father who comes to take my place need only say a Low Mass and may omit the usual sermon." It was known that Father Tom did not care for preachers from outside. He could preach a little himself, and he knew it.

It was a long and tiresome journey to the bedside of Father Tom's dying brother, so when the big, good-natured priest stepped off the train at Charton station in Texas, he was worn out and weary. But he soon had to forget both. A dapper young man was waiting for him in a buggy. The young lad had a white necktie and wore a long coat of clerical cut. Father Tom passed the buggy, but was called back by its occupant.

"Are you not the Reverend Thomas Connolly?"

"I am," said the priest in surprise.

"Then father is waiting for you. I am your nephew. Get in with me."

Father Tom forgot his weariness in his stupefaction. 

"You—you are a clergyman?" he stammered.

"Oh, yes! Baptist pastor over in the next village. Father was always a Romanist, but the rest of us, but one, are Christians."

If you could only have seen Father Tom's face. No more was said; no more was needed. In a few minutes the buggy stopped before the Connolly farm home and Father Tom was with his brother. He lost no time.

"Patrick," said he, "is that young Baptist minister your son?"

"Yes, Tom, he is."

"Good Lord! Thank Him that mother died before she knew. 'Twill be no warm welcome she'll be giving ye on the other side."

"Perhaps not, Tom. I've thought little of these things, except as to how I might forget them, till now. Somehow, it doesn't seem quite right. But I did the best I could. I have one of the children to show her."

"How did one stay?"

"She didn't stay. She came back to the Faith. She was converted by a priest who was down here for his health and who was stationed in this town for about a year. He went back North when he got better. I would not have sent even for you, Tom, only she made me."

Father Tom felt something grip his heart and he did not speak for a long minute. Then he took his  brother's hand and said in his old boy language: "Paddy, lad, tell me all about it—how you fell away. Maybe there was something of an excuse for it."

"I thought there was," said the dying man, "but now all seems different. When I came here first, I was one of the few Catholic settlers, and I was true to my religion. I saw the other churches built, but never went into them, though they tried hard enough to get me, God knows. But I was fool enough to let a pretty face catch me. It was a priest from Houston who married us. She never interfered; and later a few more Catholics came. The children were all baptized and we got together to build a church. I gave the ground and all I had in the bank—one hundred and fifty dollars. We were only a few, but we got a thousand dollars in all. We could get no more, and money was bringing twelve per cent, so we couldn't borrow. We had to give it all back and wait. Without church or priest, the children went to the Sunday-schools and—I lost them. Then, I, somehow, seemed to drift until this priest came for his health. He got us few Catholics together and converted my best—my baby girl—Kathleen. She was named after mother, Tom. We could only raise eight hundred dollars this time, but the priest said: 'I'll go to my neighbors and ask help.' So he went over to Father Pastor and Father Lyons, but they refused to help at all. They have  rich parishes, whose people would be glad to give something; but the priests said, 'No.' They thought helping was a mistake. It hurt our priest, for he could do nothing on eight hundred dollars. We needed only another five hundred. But that ended the struggle. I say my beads and wait alone. Murphy and Sullivan went away. Keane died. His family are all 'fallen away.' My boy went to a college his mother liked—and you saw him. The others—except Kathleen—are all Baptists. I suppose I have a heavy load to bear before the judgment seat, but Tom—Tom, you don't know the struggle it cost, and the pain of losing was greater than the pain of the fight."

A beautiful girl came into the room. The sick man reached out his hand which she took as she sat beside him.

"This is Kathleen, Tom. He's your uncle and a priest, my darling. She sits by me this way, Tom, and we say our beads together. I know it won't be long now, dearie, 'till you can go with your uncle where there is a church and a chance to profit by it."

Father Tom closed his brother's eyes two days later.

He left with Kathleen when the funeral was over. His nephew accompanied them to the train and said with unction:

"Good-bye, brother, I shall pray for you," and Father Tom groaned down to his heart of hearts. 

Father Ilwin was at the train when Father Tom and his niece arrived home, though quite by accident. Kathleen's eyes danced when she saw him and she rushed to shake hands. Father Tom said:

"Sure, I had no idea that you knew one another."

"Yes, indeed, we do," cried the child. "Why, uncle, it was Father Peter who converted me."

Father Tom heard, but did not say a word.

It was only three days later when Father Tom stood in the miserable little room that Father Ilwin called his library. On the table still reposed the plans of the new church, but no sound of hammer was heard outside. Father Tom had little to say, but it was to the point. He had profited by his three days at home to think things out. He had arrived at his conclusions, and they were remarkably practical ones.

"Ilwin, me lad, I don't think I've treated ye just as a priest and Christian should—but I thought I was right. I know now that I wasn't. Ilwin, we can build that church and we will. Here are a thousand dollars as a start to show that I mean it. There'll be a collection for you in St. Patrick's next Sunday. After that I intind going about with ye. I think I know where we can get some more."

Then and there Father Tom Connolly began to be a Saint.