Remembering a Great Irish Doctor

As St. Patrick's Day approaches, columnist Greg Kelly remembers a family friend and family man who proudly proclaimed his Irish heritage.

“To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”

—Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Certainly, one of my favorite holidays is St. Patrick’s Day. Every March 17 is a day to celebrate my Irish roots with family and friends and recall other outstanding Irish folks I have known.

One person being my very definition of a thoughtful and caring physician, Dr. Michael J. Connelly. He and his truly amazing family included 17 children. A family of wonder and awe, I knew them ever since I was a little boy growing up in the 1960s on the Jersey Shore (in Monmouth Beach, NJ).

For his time and place, my physician-dad did the proper Irish Catholic thing and had 8 children. But Dr. Connelly doubled up on him and then some. No matter, our families became fast and enduring friends. Indeed, I give Dr. Connelly and his household a lot of credit for making me understand and love my Irish heritage. They embraced it deeply.

And Dr. Connelly was their guiding light. Already a father of six by the time he graduated from Temple University Medical School in 1954 (and we think we have it tough today?), he had drawn inspiration from his physician-brothers, Thomas and Joseph. Dr. Connelly would go on to have a long and distinguished career as an emergency room physician at the busy St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Paterson, NJ.

Each day, Dr. Connelly made a 120-mile round trip from the Jersey Shore to deal with the rigors of a big city ER. He served for many years as the hospital’s ER department director and also worked a second job as a doctor for an insurance company. A Jersey City native, Dr. Connelly died in 2004 on his Virginia farm where he had retired after over 50 years of medical practice.

My family grew up with his family—went to school together, played together, and partied together. In the 1970s, good times rolled around our “Club Circle” neighborhood. All true Connelly family intimates know a few tales that can entertain as well as educate. Dr. Connelly and his wife Mary were faithful Christians to the core—their doors and hearts were always open.

The couple was married for nearly 60 years and broke the “Irish name” bank with their children: daughters: Mary, Colleen, Eileen, Kathleen, Maureen, Erin, and Tara; sons: Michael, Tom, John, Brian, Kevin, Dennis, Sean, Paul, Patrick, and Joseph.

For me, the Connelly gang were people of intelligence (I recall that they were always very good students) and good humor (their St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s parties were legendary).

For the close connection I had with this compassionate doctor and noble Irishman (and his epic family), I am forever grateful.