Those We Lost

Left to Right: Galway Kinnell; Joan Durcan with Dr. Kevin Cahill; Msgr. William O'Brien.

By Irish America Staff
December / January 2015

Msgr. Lawrence M. Connaughton

1944 – 2014

ConnaughtonFor the last 44 years, Monsignor Lawrence M. Connaughton was a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. Ordained by then Archbishop Terrance Cardinal Cook at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1970, Connaughton died in September at the age of 70. He was appointed a Prelate of Honor of His Holiness, Reverend Monsignor in August 1990 and was currently serving as pastor of St. John Nepomucene Church and administrator of St. John the Martyr Church in Manhattan, where he had served since 2012.

He was born in West Brighton on Staten Island April 24, 1944 to Longford emigrants Frank and Elizabeth Connaughton and spent his entire life in and around New York City. After attending St. Peter’s Boys High School in New Brighton, he did his seminary training at St. Joseph’s in Yonkers, New York.

After his ordination, he would hold a number of administrative roles within the archdiocese, first as dean of students and procurators at his alma mater between 1983 and 1988, and later being appointed to vice chancellor and director of priest’s personnel for the archdiocese from 1988 to 1990, when he was appointed monsignor.

He is survived by his two siblings, along with nine nieces and nephews and 11 grand nieces and nephews. – A.F.

Joan Durcan

1945 – 2014

Joan Durcan, a fixture of the Irish American community in New York and the long-time office manager of Dr. Kevin Cahill, died unexpectedly November 11th at the age of 69. Durcan, who had dedicated the last 40 years of her life to Dr. Cahill and his patients, was dressed for work when she was found deceased in her apartment.

“I talked to Joan usually once a week. I had in my mind to call her that very morning,” Niall O’Dowd eulogized on IrishCentral.

“It was that peculiar friendship that only Irish emigrants can share, the sense of absurdity about life in America, the gossip, the jokes, the latest from the old country, the often understated affection that grows between emigrants in a different land together,” O’Dowd wrote.

She was born in and raised in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo, graduated from University College, Dublin, and began working for Dr. Cahill two days after their first telephone meeting. She had a “confident, solid lilt with a soft Sligo accent,” Dr. Cahill said in his eulogy. “Somehow I knew that I had discovered something wonderful.”

But it was her generosity and selflessness that made her an integral part of Dr. Cahill’s practice, both in the office and outside of it. In the early days of the AIDS crisis, she would personally deliver homemade soup and other meals to Cahill’s patients in their homes after work. And in an office that saw many patients from the United Nations, she “had the inbred sensitivity, and unique capacity, to make people from different cultures and traditions feel comfortable in that strange and confusing time of illness, when fears can be overwhelming, and confidence has to be restored to allow essential decisions,” Cahill remembers.

She was also down-to-earth, ready for gossip and treated all with the same sense of duty and care, even if it sometimes meant the occasional social faux pas. She once hung up on Ronald Reagan’s White House, thinking it was a prank call.

“Nothing was so serious that her booming laugh and quick wit could not make you catch yourself and smile,” O’Dowd wrote. “There was no one better to while away a conversation and have a laugh with.” – A.F.

Galway Kinnell

1927 – 2014

Famed Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning Irish-American poet Galway Kinnell passed away this past October from leukemia. He was 87.

Throughout his extensive career, Kinnell was able to tap into the heart and spirit of American poets Emily Dickin-son and Walt Whitman by exploring themes of mortality, spiritual renewal, and sex. He was particularly influenced by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats whom Kinnell was introduced to by his friend and United States Poet Laureate W.S Merwin. Kinnell enjoyed Yeats so much that he named his first two children Fergus and Maud after characters in Yeats.

More than just a poet, Kinnell gave voice to a number of civil rights causes. He joined CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality), and marched for workplace integration in Louisiana, for which he was briefly jailed. Kinnell would explore themes of equality and social justice in his early works, particularly the poetry collection Body Rags (1968) and The Book of Nightmares (1971). Liz Rosenberg of the Boston Globe said he is “a poet of the rarest ability, the kind who comes once or twice in a generation, who can flesh out music, raise the spirits and break the heart.”

Galway Kinnell was born in Providence, Rhode Island on February 1, 1927, the son of immigrant parents. His father, was a carpenter from Scotland and his mother, Elizabeth, was from Ireland. Kinnell would cherish his mother’s brogue, finding inspiration in the musicality of the Irish voice. He attended Princeton University and later went on to receive his master’s degree from the University of Rochester. Kinnell served in the navy and travelled extensively across Europe and through the Middle East. This inspired his first and only novel, Black Light, a tale of an Iranian carpet-mender.

Kinnell taught at a number of prestigious universities including the Univ-ersity of Chicago and started to publish well received poetry, beginning with his first collection What a Kingdom it Was in 1960. He married his first wife Ines Delgado de Torres in 1965, but they divorced 20 years later. Kinnell continued to publish for the rest of his life and received both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for his Selected Poems in 1983. He continued to teach and was poet resident at a number of universities, most recently at New York University where he was Erich Maria Remarque professor of creative writing.

Kinnell is survived by his second wife Barbara, two children, and two grandchildren. – M.S. 

Monsignor William O’Brien

1924 – 2014

Monsignor William O’Brien, one of the innovators in treating drug abuse addiction, has died at the age of 90. O’Brien was a Roman Catholic priest, but had made his name as one of the co-founders of Daytop Village, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Staten Island. Daytop has treated over 200,000 people with a success rate of 80%. O’Brien alongside his three partners: Dr. Daniel Casriel, Joseph Shelly, and social worker Alexander Bassin, started the project in 1963. He was inspired by Synanon, a therapeutic community in California. While a painstaking program, O’Brien described it as “tough love, not a sympathetic love.” Daytop’s model set the standard for future treatment centers around the world.

William O’Brien was born in Yonkers in 1924 to Irish-American parents William and Margaret O’Brien. He attended St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers where he was ordained in 1951. He was first assigned to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, and later St. Brendan’s Church in the Bronx.

While a priest at St. Patrick’s, O’Brien was introduced to the harrowing drug problem that afflicted many of his parishioners. Options for many who battled drug and alcohol addiction were slim – either jail or hospital lockdown. O’Brien, however, wanted to make a change. That change happened with the opening of Daytop.

After its opening, O’Brien’s name and work spread far. He became one of the leading faces of advocacy programs in the United States, with everyone from politicians to Pope John Paul II seeking his advice on drug rehabilitation. O’Brien also become a vocal critic of the “War on Drugs” program set up under President Reagan. He took to media, published books, and appeared frequently on news programs where he denounced the War on Drugs saying, “The American people are on a high. They think law enforcement can solve a major social problem like drug abuse, and politicians are following suit, insulating the public from the truth – that American society is in trouble – to make them feel good with simplistic solutions.” – M.S.

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