It was a wonderful day for Saint John's Seminary in Rome today, as the Degree of Doctor of Theology was awarded to Father Ryan Connors, a member of our own Faculty. I was delighted that Father Romanus Cessario, O.P. was on hand to offer the toast at the Doctoral Dinner following the Reverend Doctor's successful defense.
Toast of Honor upon Receiving the Ecclesiastical Doctorate For
Reverend Ryan Wilson Connors, S.T.D.
Rome, 1 June 2018
Romanus Cessario, O.P.
Saint John’s Seminary
In 1636, an English divine named Roger Williams was banished for his liberal religious views from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In order to escape Puritan pursuit, this exiled preacher had to travel a great distance into the New England wilderness. Once across the Seekonk River, Williams met Narragansett Indians who greeted him with the words, “What cheer, Neetop.” Neetop in Algonquin means “friend.” Thus began felicitously what today we know as the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. The sachem or chief of the Narragansett Indians whom Williams met bore the name, Canonicus. Nomen est omen. The name speaks for itself. Williams called his new settlement “Providence.” For he believed that God himself ordained his reaching this delightful corner of New England that, because of its extensive exposure to the sea, came to be called the “Ocean State.”
Events in Rome around 1636 exposed a different side of human culture. No animal skin–clad natives teaching Roger Williams how to eat raw quahogs. No low–church dissenters preaching religious liberty and freedom of conscience. No Baptist ministers bashing Constantine the Great. [Williams considered Constantine more the Church’s enemy than Nero!] No, none of these humors. By contrast, the pontificate of Pope Urban VIII (1623–44) displayed urbane sophistication, polite but firm correction of Galileo’s then controversial hypothesis about the sun, and a very strong defense of the Papal States and their integrity, even their territorial augmentation.
Today Providence and Rome come together in the successful achievements of a very gifted young priest, Father Ryan Wilson Connors. Eventually, Catholics came to populate Rhode Island. Eventually too, Pope John Paul II came to succeed Pope Urban VIII. The former greatly influenced the erstwhile Capitol Hill intern to choose a vocation higher than marriage and lay life. Ryan was ordained in June 2012. Providence then moved Providence to put Father Connors at the service of seminary instruction. What Cheer, Neetop! Again, Providence (with its several secondary instruments) arranged for his studying with Father Sherwin and the Angelicum Dominicans. What Cheer! Now Father Connors returns to take up his priestly work on the Boston side of the Seekonk River. Many voices resound with the words, “What Cheer.” Surely his parents, Joe and Lisa Connors, rejoice. After all, Brighton stands closer to Providence than does Rome. Cardinal O’Malley and the Rector of Saint John’s Seminary, Monsignor James Moroney, rejoice. Talented, credentialed, and young seminary professors are difficult to come by these days. And the Saint John’s seminarians rejoice, especially those from Providence. They will find in Father Connors an image of Christ’s priesthood with which they can identify. What Cheer divine Providence ordains for Christ’s Church, especially at a time when the promotion and formation of diocesan priests require her best efforts and best priests.
Now, dear friends who have gathered in Rome from Providence, Boston, Fribourg, and other places, I invite you to join me in honoring Doctor Ryan Connors, who today receives the awesome responsibility of sustaining young men in the grace that leads to their priestly ordinations. What better toast may we offer than that of his Rhode Island forebear, Canonicus, the Narragansett sachem? So let us raise our glasses and say together, What Cheer!