Abbot Xavier Connelly died peacefully at the Abbey, just before 4:30 on April 8, 2021, Easter Thursday afternoon. Father Peter, his older brother and a monk of our community, along with other monks were by his side reciting the prayers for the dying. He had been anointed and received the Apostolic Pardon the evening before.
Abbot Xavier (Francis) Connelly was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the third son of Nancy (Kelly) Connelly and Thomas Connelly, and fourth of their seven children. He attended Sacred Heart Grammar School in Newton and Saint Joseph Grammar School in Belmont, afterwards attending high school at Saint Benedict Center in Still River. He joined the community of religious brothers in 1973, and was part of the community’s eighteen year transition (1975 to 1993) from a pious union of the Diocese of Worcester to an Abbey of the Swiss-American Congregation. He professed his first vows as a Benedictine with the other members of the community on September 8, 1981.
Brother Xavier attended Providence College Graduate School for a year, then entered Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts, to begin his studies for the priesthood. In 1987, at the recommendation of Abbot President Jerome Hanus, O.S.B., who was our superior at the time, he went to Collegio di Sant’ Anselmo to complete his priestly education. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 28, 1989 in Saint Peter’s Basilica by Pope Saint John Paul II, for which event his family, our monastic community and dozens of friends flew to Rome to join the celebration. After Pope John Paul II was canonized we used to say that Abbot Xavier was a third-class relic.
At the Abbey, Father Xavier served at various times as guest master and novice master, but his main role was prior under Abbot Gabriel. In all that he did, he worked with great diligence and single-mindedness. He oversaw some important projects at the Abbey, and the monks will greatly miss his knowledge and experience. After Abbot Gabriel’s death, the community voted for him to serve as abbot on June 16, 2010.
Abbot Xavier took as his abbatial motto (and put into practice) the compassionate principle which St. Benedict enjoined upon the abbot, namely, that he govern the monastery in such a way that souls may be saved.
Soon after his election, he directed the community’s energies towards vocation recruitment. In his almost eleven years as abbot, he also oversaw some needed renovations. In his spirituality he nurtured a devotion to the Mother of God and led us to reconsider some parts of our liturgical life.
Over the last year Abbot Xavier’s health slowly declined. He wasn’t sure what was wrong until he was diagnosed with ALS in January. We had thought that the treatments he was receiving were helping him improve, but during Holy Week he began to fail. The afternoon before he died, Father Anthony (who served him admirably as his caretaker) helped him raise his arm to give his mother a blessing. It was his final priestly act.
Abbot Xavier’s wake was held in the Abbey chapel on Thursday, April 15, and his funeral Mass was the next day at Saint Cecilia’s Church in nearby Leominster in order to accommodate the number of friends who wished to attend. Most Rev. Robert McManus, bishop of the Diocese of Worcester presided.
Because of an unusual snow storm on the day of his funeral, his burial at the Abbey was postponed to Saturday, April 24, 2021
In addition to his monastic family, Abbot Xavier is survived by his mother, Nancy Connelly, his two brothers and three sisters, along with their spouses and their children and grandchildren. Abbot Xavier is predeceased by his father, Thomas J. Connelly and his sister, Teresa Connelly Fitts.
We respectfully ask you to keep Abbot Xavier in your prayers. May he rest in the peace of Christ.