Dr. Joseph Connors,1914-2008

Please remember in your prayers Dr. Joseph Connors, professor emeritus of English

Dr. Joseph Connors, professor emeritus of English at the University of St. Thomas, author, historian and lifelong reader and hiker, died Saturday, Jan. 26, at Martin Luther Manor, a care facility in Bloomington.

Connors, 93, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, was among the university’s most respected faculty members. Author of the 1986 Journey Toward Fulfillment: A History of the College of St. Thomas, he was elected Professor of the Year in 1973 and received the St. Thomas Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1986.

A visitation, Mass and reception will be held Wednesday, Jan. 30, at St. Helena Catholic Church, 3204 East 43rd St., Minneapolis. Visitation will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m.; Mass will begin at 6 p.m.; a reception will follow. The Mass will be celebrated by Father James Reidy, a longtime friend of Connors and retired professor of English at St. Thomas.

Connors’ wife of 41 years, Catherine, died in 1985. The couple had resided in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Anthony. Later, he moved to the Becketwood retirement facility on West River Parkway in Minneapolis, and more recently had lived at the Rosewood Estate in Highland Park. Connors is survived by three nieces: Maureen Adams, Mary Conklin and Kathleen Fehr, and several great nieces and nephews.

Connors had many close friends, especially in the St. Thomas community. Minneapolis attorney Martin Costello, a 1969 St. Thomas graduate, was among them. Connors taught Costello many classes and was his adviser not only for his undergraduate years, but later when Costello went on to earn a master’s in English and a doctorate in American studies.

Every Sunday afternoon for the past 20 years, with few exceptions, Costello would pay a visit to his former English professor.

“When he was at Becketwood he was my neighbor in Minneapolis and I’d stop over for coffee. Sometimes we’d go to Mass, or take walks or drives to see the leaves change in the fall.

“He was the gentlest of men,” Costello said. “He was a true gentleman. I never heard Joe say anything about someone else unless it was true, necessary and kind.”

Costello is a benefactor for the Joseph B. Connors Scholarship, given in honor of Connors to an outstanding senior English major who has financial need.

Another friend is St. Thomas alumnus and retired University of Notre Dame executive Richard Conklin of Mendota Heights. “Connors taught virtually every English course in the catalog during 27 years on the faculty of the English Department,” Conklin recalled. “He impressed students and colleagues as a gracious person, careful scholar, encouraging teacher and engaging writer.

“He considered words and language the means by which human beings arranged their thought. His reading reflected a broad intellectual curiosity – from Romantic era poetry to Sherlock Holmes trivia – and he was a perfectionist in his research and writing, which included a widely praised history of the College of St. Thomas.

“In many ways, he summed up the commitment to teaching and scholarship that has always been the goal of the liberal-arts professoriate,” Conklin said.

A native of Ashland, Wis., Connors was raised in Minnesota. He came to St. Thomas in 1933 and worked on the grounds crew during the summer before his freshman year, pushing a hand mower. After graduating summa cum laude in 1937, he taught at the St. Thomas Military Academy until 1942.

He served in the U.S. Army from 1942 until 1946, when he returned to earn a master’s and doctorate in English at the University of Minnesota and to begin teaching at the College of St. Thomas. From 1955 to 1962 he was an associate editor of the Catholic Digest, a magazine formerly owned by St. Thomas. He served two years, from 1962 to 1964, as assistant director of development during St. Thomas’ first capital campaign, Program for Great Teaching. Connors then returned to the classroom until 1982, when he gave full attention to writing the history of St. Thomas.

A member of both the Minnesota and Ramsey County historical societies, Connors spent more than five years researching and writing the 500-page Journey Toward Fulfillment, which was published in conjunction with St. Thomas’ 1985 centennial celebration.

In the book’s preface, Connor’s wrote that “The college’s journey, like many pioneer treks across the western plains, has had its privations, frustrations, and torments as well as its satisfactions and its triumphs.

“The satisfactions have come with increasing frequency throughout the last five decades, and today St. Thomas students and faculty enjoy some fruits of fulfillment beyond anything predicted even 20 years ago.”

In a 2005 essay on Connors that appeared in St. Thomas magazine, Conklin wrote that, “The word ‘gracious’ is perhaps the one most frequently applied by those who know him, and it can be found in the written critiques he gave student writing. Consider the probably hapless condition of the essay that elicited this gentle instruction (reported by the essayist many years later): ‘Your aim must be to make your expression match your thinking.’

“When a future historian of St. Thomas tries to define Joe Connors’ institutional contribution in a chapter subtitle, let that person ponder this 1977 evaluation by his department chair: ‘Joe Connors continues to be the main source of strength and inspiration (in the department). Nothing ostentatious – just superb teaching, continual intellectual and professional commitment and well-reasoned counsel.’”