Br Charles Connor SJ was presented with the Papal Benemerenti Medal by Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare and Leighlin, on Sunday 16 June 2019 at Mass in the Church of St Patrick and St Bridget, Clane, Co. Kildare. Another recipient of the award was local woman Cáit Cullen who has worked tirelessly to promote the cause of Blessed John Sullivan SJ.
According to Fr Michael Sheil SJ, Rector of Clongowes, the Benemerenti Medal dates back to the 18th Century, when Pope Pius VI instituted it as a military decoration in the Papal army. In 1925 – when apart from the Swiss Guard, the Pope no longer had an army – Pius XI designated it as an award to clergy and laity for service to the Church. The current medal is the design of Pope Paul VI.
“The parish of Clane was en fête when Bishop Denis Nulty came to celebrate Mass on the Feast of the Holy Trinity,” according to Fr Michael. During the Mass, the Bishop awarded the medal to Br Charles, (affectionately known as Cha), and four other parishioners for their outstanding service to the community.
“The initiative for this award came from the parish and not the Jesuit Community. But –with the notable exception of Cha himself – we were delighted with the news,” says Fr Michael.
Brother Charles spent over 20 years in Zambia, in charge of an 8,000 acre Farm at Chikuni. He returned to Ireland in 1978 and has spent all his life (41 years) in Clongowes. Initially responsible for transport and maintenance in the College, Cha extended his work in a wider field as he succeeded Fr Brian Cullen, founder of the SRPA (Society for the Relief of the Poor and Aged) and became a well-known figure in the highways and byways around the county of Kildare.
During the presentation, Bishop Denis described Br Charles as “one-man meals-on-wheels”. As well as food, Charles also brought fuel (in the form of wood logs from the plentiful supply available in the grounds!) to many struggling homes for winter burning.
When not on the road, Cha has a special apostolate to people coming to Clongowes for a blessing with the Blessed John Sullivan SJ cross. “Everyone who comes receives an extraordinary welcome no matter what time of day or night – and no one goes away without feeling consoled and uplifted by the generosity of his giving and wonderful gift of wise counsel,” according to Fr Michael who adds that Charles also gives a lot of his time in service to the People’s Church and in ministry to those who attend Mass there. “Somewhat like the Secretary of the Department in Government he is the constant element in this precious outreach to our local community which has had many many priests-in-charge along the way!” says Fr Michael.
After the Mass Charles’ family joined the Community for a celebratory lunch in the Castle. “Whilst ‘horrified’ at the publicity which the award ceremony would bring, Cha really did enjoy the occasion,” said Fr Michael, adding, “We in the Community are justly proud of our deservedly decorated Brother!”