Is Jack Connors the Last King of Boston?
When then-Archbishop Seán O’Malley approached Connors about the project that would ultimately become Pope John Paul II, Connors wasn’t exactly a beloved figure within the Church. A few years prior, Cardinal Bernard Law had called Connors on a Friday to tell him that the Globe was about to go with a story for that Sunday’s paper that said certain priests in the archdiocese had sexually molested minors. Law wanted Connors’s advice. Should he talk to the paper? Connors asked how many cases there were. Law said one or two. In that case, Connors said, he could wait until Monday to respond.
Of course, it wasn’t one or two cases. And as the sex abuse scandal unfolded, it became international news. Roughly a month later, Law called Connors again, asking if he should respond to queries from the New York Times. This time, Connors told Law he couldn’t offer any advice. “You lied to me.”
From that point on, Connors became one of Law’s most vociferous critics, even asking for his resignation. Leaders within the archdiocese remembered that. And so when O’Malley came to Connors for help in rebuilding Catholic schools, Connors said he’d do it, on one condition: He wanted to use his ideas, not the Church’s. “Because I have never volunteered for something where people hated me,” he says as he drives through Jamaica Plain.
Five years later, the approach of pooling parishes’ resources into one neighborhood academy has earned raves from O’Malley. “Jack is an example of discipleship in action,” O’Malley says. The academies were built in some of the state’s poorest areas — Brockton, Mattapan, and Dorchester — because, as Connors says, “If we fail these kids, then the [parish] closings are going to accelerate.” There are now four academies, and Connors, a year after the $2 million gift from Ted Kelly and Joe Tucci, has raised close to $60 million.
Driving on Columbia Road now, we see the school. It’s red brick, three stories, built in 1909. Around us are three-decker homes, some with gated windows. Connors pulls into the narrow parking lot and finds the one available spot, directly in front of the school. “Look at this, the luck of the Irish.”
He heads out and strides to the front door. But it’s locked. Connors doesn’t have a key.
“That wasn’t part of the script,” I say.
Connors looks up at the sky, and then mock yells, “We rehearsed it!” We begin walking away, looking for a side entrance, when suddenly the door swings open. Someone had noticed it was Connors at the door and rushed to let him in.
With Connors, it still happens that way.