Catholic community in Albany mourns priest killed in flash flood

Lit candle at the memorial for Orlando at St Patricks Catholic Church in Rome AlexeyGotovskiy CNA CNA 6 16 16 Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA.

The Catholic Diocese of Albany is grieving the death of a local priest who was killed when his car was swept up in a flash flood on Halloween night.

"We are so saddened to learn of Father Thomas Connery's tragic death, but we know that he died as he lived - serving the people of God without fear or concern for himself," said Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany in a recent statement.

"Connery was a devoted priest who served faithfully for 56 years and just weeks ago had accepted a new assignment as sacramental minister for Sts. Anthony and Joseph Church in Herkimer as well as St. John the Baptist in Newport."

The 82-year-old priest had been driving through Norway in central New York at around 10 p.m. on Thursday when he was caught up in a flash flood amid a large regional storm. He has been on his way to celebrate Mass in Herkimer and Newport.

According to ABC News, a witness told police that Connery's car had struggled against the high waters and, after the road collapsed, it became stuck. When the priest tried to exit the car, he was swept away. His body was found downstream about a quarter-mile away.

"Due to the dangerously high and strong current, the witness was unable to help Mr. Connery," the police statement read, according to ABC News.

Mary DeTurris Poust, communications director for the Diocese of Albany, said the priest was beloved by many in the diocese.

"He really did die as he lived, which was serving the people he loved," said Poust, according to News10 ABC.

"He really was a kind, and gentle, and really sweet spirit … as well as a magnificent priest," she added.

Father James Ebert, vicar for the clergy of the Diocese of Albany, had known Connery for 30 years.

"I just started crying," Father Ebert told News10 ABC of his reaction to hearing the news. "It was a shock because he sent me a letter about a month ago thanking me for everything that I do. That's the kind of guy he was - very thoughtful."

Bishop Scharfenberger said Connery was a faithful priest and active evangelist.

"Father Tom lived and died amidst the storm waters of life across which he led countless souls. His priestly life was itself a bridge to Eternity for many, firmly grounded in his Faith in Jesus," the bishop said.

"He met his death in the fury of the natural elements and, we pray with confidence, met the face of our loving Savior to whose Name he witnessed tirelessly and without fear. A lifelong martyr who died as he lived, with his boots on."

Connery was born and raised in New York. He was ordained a priest in Albany in 1963 and served as the pastor of several Catholic churches in the area, including St. Joseph's in Albany, St. Mary's in Little Falls, and the Immaculate Conception in Glenville.

According to The Evangelist, the diocesan newspaper of Albany, the priest also served in several parishes in Alaska in the 1960s and '70s. While serving at St. Mary's Parish on Kodiak Island, the priest became a commercial fisherman, seeking to connect with parishioners and provide extra money to the financially struggling parish.

Connery's funeral Mass will take place on Wednesday at the Church of the Immaculate Conception. The reception of the body will begin at 3 p.m. and Mass will start at 7 p.m.

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"May he rest in peace, and may his family be comforted by the faith that served as Father Connery's strength and foundation throughout his life of ministry," said Bishop Scharfenberger.

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