Connaghan, Father Eugene

1946, January 21

Date of Birth: 1906

June 10, 1946

Fathers and Dear Confreres:

Our American province has recently been afflicted with an unexpected tragedy: Father Connaghan, teacher in St. Patrick’s Seminary in the Diocese of San Francisco, died in an automobile accident.

Eugene P. Connaghan was born in 1906 at Paola, Kansas. His father was Hugh J. Connaghan and his mother was Elizabeth Danie Donohoe. He received his early education locally and made his secondary studies at Loyola University in Los Angeles, where his family had moved.

In 1924 he entered St. Patrick’s Seminary at Menlo Park to begin his Theology. Once those two years were over, he indicated a desire to enter the Society of St. Sulpice. Our Provincial of the time decided that the young aspirant should go to the Sulpician Seminary in Washington. There, for four years, Father Connaghan did his Theology and won a bachelor’s degree. Later, he kept on with his studies while engaged in teaching. So it was that he became a Master of the Arts and finally a Doctor of Philosophy at Stanford University in Palo Alto.

Meanwhile, Father Connaghan was ordained to the priesthood on March 25, 1930 at St. Bibiana’s Cathedral in Los Angeles by Bishop McGrath of Baker City.

Now a priest, Father Connaghan was appointed to teach at the minor seminary, St. Joseph’s, in Mountain View. He remained there until 1934. Within that time he made his Solitude. Beginning in 1935, he began teaching Moral at St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park. In September, along with that, he took on the job of Master of Ceremonies. Even before that, he had been put in charge of the library. Everywhere and in everything, he showed himself more than equal to his duties.

On Thursdays and during vacations, Father Connaghan, when he was not spending time with the seminarians, was spending it in the library where he had undertaken to reclassify the books and do over the whole catalogue. For certain, he had help. But considering the vast plan he had set himself to do in this twofold work, it was on him for the most part that the burden fell. Death was to keep him from successfully completing the work undertaken with such zeal and generosity.

A bit serious-minded, Father Connaghan went about preparing his classes with extraordinary conscientiousness so as to be able to reach the minds of the students, so as to make their own work as easy as possible. As a teacher at the minor seminary, St. Joseph’s, did he not think of putting in verse, easy to remember, the most difficult rules of Latin syntax?  At the major seminary, St. Patrick’s, if his method of teaching was less “poetic,” he found ways of capturing minds and opening up understanding, thanks to formulations – modern, exact, striking – but not dreamed of by St. Thomas, St. Alphonsus, nor by most American moralists.

With Father Connaghan the ministry of direction always seemed to be more important than that of teaching. He recognized the value of it. He weighed its heavy responsibilities. He strove to cultivate the mind and the whole soul from the spiritual point of view in order to stay abreast of his duties of state. The problems of his penitents became his own problems. He always dealt with them with the seriousness and the interest required in such matters. He never found the time devoted to direction too long. He was available to all. But more than anything else, his penitents besieged his room, and so did the many priests who came back to the seminary to seek his counsel and take his advice.

He loved living in the midst of the seminarians. “I am never happier,” he often said, “than when I am with them!”  It was part of his make-up to act like a boy with the boys. But you would be deceiving yourself if you stopped at that naïve judgment. Father Connaghan was going further and seeing beyond. His keen sense of humor and his youthful enjoyment of fun seemed to make the students happy and to hold up before them the example of a very priestly life which it was his concern to give them. “We are responsible to them for all that is in us, and especially for our example,” he remarked one day.

So in regard to this, as someone has said and written, he strove – in the Apostle’s words – “to make himself all things to all men in order to win them all to Jesus Christ. He was in the midst of the young like Jesus Christ in his dealings with the twelve apostles, like St. Paul with Titus and Timothy, leading them on till Christ be formed in them.” He lived with them; he lived for them. Through them he was convinced – and the conviction did not mask illusion – that he was making himself all things to all men in his connection with the multitudes of men and women whom his students of today would be evangelizing tomorrow. That is why living with future priests constituted, it can be said, his whole ambition. Thus it is not surprising that at the hour Father Connaghan saw death approaching, his last thoughts were for his “boys,” and his last words this petition: “Ask them to pray for me!”

On Sunday evening, January 20th, following the automobile accident (about which not much is known), Father Connaghan was taken to the hospital in Palo Alto. On arriving there he regained consciousness. It was then that his thoughts turned to his students and his spiritual sons. He was given the last sacraments and he received them with the greatest piety. Some moments later he gave his soul to God.

His funeral was held in the chapel of St. Patrick’s Seminary. It was honored by the presence of His Grace, Archbishop John J. Mitty of San Francisco, attended by our confreres, Fathers Mulligan, Quinn, and Wagner, and by the presence of His Excellency, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Connolly. Tuesday evening, January 22nd, Bishop Connolly presided at the Office of the Dead. This was followed by the recitation of the rosary by a large group of Knights of Columbus and by friends of the deceased. On Wednesday morning, January 23rd, the Requiem Mass was sung by Father Hugh Donohue, assisted by Fathers Allen and Donovan. The eulogy was preached by our confrere, Father Francis Rock, Superior of St. Joseph’s, the minor seminary. Archbishop Mitty gave the absolution.

Now Father Eugene P. Connaghan rests in Holy Cross Cemetery at Palo Alto in the priests’ plot. I recommend the dear departed to your prayers.

Please accept, Fathers and dear confreres, the expression of my fraternal affection in Our Lord.

P. Boisard

Superior General of the Society of St. Sulpice