By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary
Harry Connick Sr. will be 93 on March 27, and now that he’s all grown up, he feels as though he may have discovered what he wants to do with his life.
For 30 years – from 1973 to 2003 – Connick was the Orleans Parish District Attorney, a pressurized cauldron that forced him to confront society in its darkest moments. In 1994, a virulent drug war that created a turf battle, led to 424 murders in New Orleans, the most in the city’s history.
When people are being killed at a rate of more than one per day, the impact is searing.
“I remember that year and the year preceding that and the year after that,” Connick said. “In those days 300, 400 murders in a year weren’t unusual. Now, if we have 150 murders in a year, that’s a lot. I know there is such a big correlation between drugs and crime.”
In the last 16 years, Connick has had the chance to reflect more deeply on his own life and on his Catholic faith, so much so that he is spearheading a personal project in May that he hopes will “pack St. Dominic Church” in the five weeks leading up to Pentecost on June 9.
Connick has written “The Spiritual Mysteries” of the rosary, which will be the centerpiece of five nights of bringing the Holy Spirit to the forefront of the rosary devotion.
In May and early June, Connick’s five “Spiritual Mysteries” – the prophets, the Incarnation, the gifts of the Spirit, the fruit of the Spirit and the forgiving of sins – each will be the theme of a rosary night at St. Dominic, highlighted by presentations from four priests and Archbishop Gregory Aymond.
Connick shared his bold vision with Father John Restrepo, pastor of St. Dominic.
“I told Father Restrepo that I’m going to pack his church,” Connick said, laughing.
Even for a seasoned D.A., that’s quite an opening statement – showing all your cards.
Connick’s kinship with the rosary started as a child in the home, first in Mater Dolorosa Parish and later at St. Dominic when his family, which ultimately included six boys and two girls, moved to Lakeview.
His father, James Paul Connick, was a civilian employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and there was a routine the family had to follow each evening.
“We would eat dinner around this big oak table,” Connick recalled. “After dinner, we would get up from the table and go up to my parents’ bedroom. We would kneel at the foot of the bed. There was a big picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the wall. With eight children, we had a lot of friends. Our door was always open, as all doors in Lakeview were at that time. Our friends would walk in and hear us reciting the rosary, so they’d just come up the stairs and join us. Sometimes that bedroom got pretty crowded.”
The Connick family moved to Georgia in Harry’s senior year, and he wound up graduating from Russell High School in East Point, Georgia, in 1944. There were only a handful of Catholic churches in the Atlanta area at the time, but the family would take a 30-minute bus ride every Sunday to St. Anthony’s.
In 2010, Connick was in Mass when he read the missalette and compared, side by side, the Apostle’s Creed to the Nicene Creed, which was much more expansive on the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation history.
That got him thinking about the current set of rosary mysteries – the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous. While the Holy Spirit is referenced in the Annunciation (the Incarnation), Connick said he “felt that the Holy Spirit and the Incarnation deserved more than just a passing mention.”
After more closely reading the 20 current mysteries of the rosary – as well as reading Old and New Testament passages about the Holy Spirit – Connick said “it became obvious to me that some of the most fundamental mysteries involving the Holy Spirit which are related to our Catholic faith were not included. I wondered if I could do something to bring about more attention to the importance of the Holy Spirit.”
Until he “retired,” Connick said, “I never would have had a chance to write any of this.”
Connick is hoping people will come in May and enjoy a different perspective on the rosary. After all, he needs to pack the church.
What keeps him going?
“I have at least most of my marbles,” Connick said, laughing. “My wife (Londa) takes very good care of me, and I have doctors who take good care of me. Harry Jr. says, ‘Pop, you’re here to take care of me! The Lord wants you to watch over me.’ I’m so grateful for it.”
Connick has traveled often to see his son perform in concert and on Broadway, and sometimes, as the grandfather behind the scenes, he’s been able to share his love for the faith.
“I tend to give my rosaries away,” he said. “Harry was in New York and playing in ‘The Pajama Game,’ with Kelly O’Hara, a beautiful woman, married with kids. We got to talking because I was backstage a lot. I found out she was Catholic, and I asked her, ‘Do you say your rosary?’ She said, ‘Not really, I don’t have one.’ So I said, ‘You have one now.’ I gave her one of my favorite rosaries. I’ve given about 10 of my favorite rosaries away. That’s an opportunity, in a quiet way, just to say, ‘Listen, come on back.’”
The Pentecostal Devotion to the Holy Spirit will be held at St. Dominic Church, 775 Harrison Ave., at 6 p.m. on the following days: May 7, “The Prophets,” Father Dennis Hayes; May 13 (a Monday), “The Incarnation,” Father James Wehner; May 21, “The Gifts of the Spirit,” Father José Lavastida; May 28, “The Fruit of the Spirit,” Archbishop Gregory Aymond; and June 4, “The Forgiving of Sins,” Dominican Father John Restrepo.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.