In his life he was a devoted husband and father, a brother, a grandfather, a policeman, a fireman, a war hero; he loved and honored his family, his country, his community and his God.
This week, The Forum marks his passing and shares with you some of the details
of the remarkable life he shared with all around him.
Prepared by Stephen Connolly
Patrick Joseph Connolly was born August 5, 1921 on 133rd St. in Harlem. He was the 2nd of 9 children born to Patrick and Anna Connolly. His parents met while migrating from Ireland on the Lusitania in 1912 and married in 1919. As a young boy his family enjoyed their summers in Rockaway Beach and moved to 81st in the mid 1920’s. They were members of St. Rose of Lima Parish until moving to Howard Beach to be part of Our Lady of Grace Parish in 1932. Patrick spent 85 years as a member of the parish and community of Howard Beach.
As a young boy he became fascinated with the adventurous new aviation industry. He and his friends would ride bikes out to Curtis Field now the Green Acres Mall, and over to Floyd Bennet Field to see the planes landing. They would be especially excited whenever they heard Charles Lindbergh would be flying in. Mr. Connolly also saw the Hindenburg on numerous occasions flying around the skies of NYC.
On December 7, 1941, Patrick was playing basketball in a semi pro league for a team called “The Americans” in Our Lady of Grace School hall, when the announcement that Pearl Harbor had been attacked came. He immediately signed up for the US Army Air Corps and became a Bombardier for the 8th Air Force stationed in Mendlesham, England. He flew 33 combat missions over Germany including multiple times to Berlin. On one of those missions his aircraft sustained heavy enemy fire and crash landed behind Allied lines and the crew made their way back to England. Within a few days they were back in the skies for more missions. On one occasion he heard a familiar voice over the radio of the Command Pilot of a group of 600 B-17’s and escorts– it was the voice of the famous actor, Jimmy Stewart, also was a member of the 8th Air Force.
Upon returning home, Patrick married Breeda Walsh, who had migrated to Howard Beach from Limerick City, Ireland and happened to live a few doors away on 99th St. They were married on February 15, 1947 and raised 8 children in their home on 97th St.
In 1952, Patrick joined the NYPD as an officer in midtown and moved over to the FDNY in 1954. He attained the rank of Captain. Like many Fireman he sustained his share of injuries including a very serious injury on February 25, 1964 in lower Manhattan. Having just rescued some people off a roof of a building on White Street, he was making his way down when the building collapsed. Reports at the time had him DOA at Bellevue Hospital. Fortunately, he was revived and after a lengthy, somewhat miraculous rehab he picked up his active life.
The injury left him unable to continue on full duty and he spent 3 years in the FDNY Training Division of the Fire Academy. After retiring from the FDNY, he became a school bus driver for Varsity.
Before and after retirement, his life was very full. He was extremely active in various charitable organizations including Project Children which brought children from the war in Northern Ireland to the U.S. For a number of decades he ran the intramural sports program in Our Lady of Grace. He ran the Amazing Grace Prayer Group in Our Lady of Grace which kept him very busy all the way through to his early 90’s. To celebrate his 90th birthday he traveled to Ireland to climb a mountain called Croagh Patrick. He did this as a pilgrimage to the holy site and to thank God for his parents and his in-laws for bestowing the faith on him. As far as anyone there knows, he is the oldest person to ever summit the mountain.
The thing that kept him busiest though, was his family. At his passing, his downline of children, In-laws, grandchildren and great-grandchildren numbered 65 people in whose lives he was extremely active.
On December 9, 2013 Patrick suffered a major brain hemorrhage. Doctors gave him no more than 4 days. He defied the odds again, and while his physical body was paralyzed, his intellect remained intact and he led as full a life as possible. On August 20th, 2017 at 6:57 AM Patrick peacefully passed away in the ER of Jamaica Hospital surrounded by his wife,children and in-laws, as well as the Pastor of Our Lady of Grace, Fr. Marc and Fr. Andre, the Chaplain of Jamaica Hospital.
He is survived by his wife of 70 and a half years, Breeda; his eight children and son-in-law and daughters-in-law; his 22 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.