Fathers Connors, Murphy, prepare for seminary appointments at home, abroad


PROVIDENCE — No man becomes a strong, well-equipped and effective priest on his own.
The years of seminary are more than years of study, difficult as that may be, but years of forming “men after the heart of Christ; courageous and gentle shepherds who desire to share the joy of the Gospel,” said Father Ryan W. Connors in a statement announcing his appointment as rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary and director of Pre-Ordination Formation for the Diocese of Providence, effective July 1.
Father Connors will take over for the current rector, Father Christopher J. Murphy, who has been appointed as Spiritual Director for the Pontifical North American College in Rome.
The two priests share unusual commonalities; both were raised at St. Brendan Parish in Riverside and influenced by the “terrific example of priests in the parish,” said Father Murphy, and were ordained together at the same Ordination Mass. Extraordinarily, Father Connors attended seminary at the NAC and now teaches at St. John Seminary in Boston, while Father Murphy studied for the priesthood at St. John and is now bound for Rome and the NAC.
As classmates and friends, both priests spoke highly of each other and the work each has done in his respective roles. Father Connors praised Father Murphy’s management of Our Lady of Providence Seminary, and Father Murphy expressed his excitement and confidence in Father Connors as his successor.
Father Connors’ education at St. Brendan and St. Margaret Schools and later Bishop Hendricken High School helped pave the way for his vocation. “I came to a deeper knowledge of the faith at Bishop Hendricken where I graduated in 2001. It was there, especially through members of the theology department, that I learned to love the riches of our Catholic faith,” he said.
After graduation, he went on to Boston College before working in Washington, D.C., as a legislative aide and speech writer.
However, he credits his parents, Joseph and Lisa Connors, with sending him along the path to the priesthood.
“The two biggest influences on my vocation were the faith of my parents and the life and teaching of Pope John Paul II. Attending World Youth Day in 2002 in Toronto played an important role in my discovering the grace of a priestly vocation,” Father Connors told the Rhode Island Catholic.
To that end, he started his priestly education at Our Lady of Providence and Providence College before receiving degrees from the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Angelicum in 2011 and 2013, respectively. He also holds a doctorate in moral theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome.
Father Connors calls June 23, 2011, “the great joy of my life,” when Bishop Thomas J. Tobin ordained him to the priesthood at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Providence. In his years of priestly ministry, he served briefly at St. Elizabeth Parish in Bristol, then for three years as associate pastor at Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich before being assigned to the formation faculty at St. John Seminary, currently serving as professor of moral theology and Dean of Men. Another great achievement in Father Connors’ life was authoring the recently released book “Rethinking Cooperation with Evil: A Virtue-Based Approach,” as well as publications in several academic journals.
“I am humbled by Bishop Henning’s appointment as Rector of Our Lady of Providence,” Father Connors said of his new assignment, stating that it is an excellent seminary.
“We are blessed with great men, convinced Christians who desire to serve Christ and His Church as priests,” he said,
Being called to help shape and embolden the spirituality of seminarians is a heavy responsibility.
“Priestly formation really is a privileged assignment. I feel blessed to work with future priests who have heard God’s call to follow Him,” Father Connors said.
The rector of St. John Seminary, Father Stephen Salocks, conveyed his gratitude to Bishop Richard G. Henning and Bishop Thomas J. Tobin for the years they have allowed Father Connors to serve at the seminary.
“Father Connors has been an outstanding priestly presence at St. John’s Seminary. He exemplifies excellence for those engaging the four dimensions of priestly formation; namely, human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation,” Father Salocks said.
He also praised Father Connors’ intellect and the priestly example he gave the young seminarians.
“We will miss his presence and contribution to our mission, but we wish him every success and many blessings as the new rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary,” Father Salocks concluded.
Bishop Henning also expressed his gratitude.
“I am grateful to Father Connors for his willingness to serve in this role. Seminary formation is not easy, and it demands a certain generosity of spirit. His experience and intellectual gifts prepare him well for this important role,” Bishop Henning said.
The bishop spoke highly of Father Murphy’s work and his new assignment as well.
“Our Lady of Providence offers an essential service to the Church in this part of the country,” Bishop Henning said.
“Thanks in large part to Father Murphy’s excellent work, the seminary continues to provide a solid formation for the priesthood according to the mind of the Church. The men are well-prepared to enter theology studies and one day serve as priests after the heart of Christ. Father Murphy will be a terrific asset to the North American College.”
In his journey to the priesthood, Father Murphy attributes his vocation to three things: the faith his parents handed down to him, the aforementioned priests at St. Brendan and his education at Our Lady of Fatima High School in Warren, where the faith was imparted by the Sisters of St. Dorothy. Sister Isabel Borg-Cardona, particularly, taught him how to prayerfully discern his vocation.
Father Murphy shared an especially meaningful insight that he gained over his 12 years of priesthood. Necessary for priests – but also for the laity – is the importance of continual learning.
“Priests need to be committed to their own ongoing formation – in other words, that we’re never completely a finished package,” Father Murphy said.
“We need to listen to our brother priests, we need to listen to our bishop and there’s a great joy, I think, a real vitality and freshness in that, because it makes our life exciting. You’re never done learning; you’re never done growing.”
He stated that he’s never felt fully prepared for any assignment he’s been given, which included two years at St. Thomas More in Narragansett, nine at Our Lady of Providence Seminary and nine as chaplain at Bishop Hendricken High School. For him, though, “there’s been … a kind of freedom in realizing that you’re never fully prepared for any ministry that you do; that’s why you need to continue to learn.”
While this assignment came as a surprise to Father Murphy, he said he is “very much humbled and honored to be thought of as someone who might do this work. It’s not lost on me that it’s important … I approach it with great respect, a little bit of fear and trembling, but great respect for what this entails,” Father Murphy said.
As spiritual director, he will be responsible for counseling young men from dioceses across the country, a large responsibility. He sees this as another learning opportunity, to be inspired by the young men he will be listening to, and also with and the lives of the saints whose lives are entwined in the Eternal City. “Bishop Henning has made very clear that the priests are engaged in ongoing formation, so for him, it’s an investment in my own formation,” he said.
The rector of the NAC, Msgr. Thomas Powers, S.T.L., requested that Father Murphy be allowed to take up this position. In a press release, Msgr. Powers stated how grateful he was to Bishop Henning for his generosity and to Father Murphy “for his ‘yes’ to this request. Along with the breadth of experience in seminary formation he brings, I am confident that he will also model for the seminarians a prayerful, joyful and priestly example.”
Msgr. Albert Kenney, S.T.L., vicar general for the Diocese of Providence, added, “I truly believe these assignments will bear considerable fruit for the Church in the years ahead. Fathers Murphy and Connors are outstanding priests, and both seminaries are blessed to have them.”