Aquinas Theology Teacher Chosen to Participate in Vatican Conference

 Aquinas Theology Teacher Chosen to

 Participate in Vatican Conference 


Patrick Connelly at Vatican


Patrick Connelly was chosen to attend the first Lay Conference on Catholic-Jewish Relations at the Vatican, October 21-25, 2007. Catholic and Jewish lay persons from twenty-five U.S. cities, representing their local Churches and Synagogues, met with Pope Benedict XVI and high-ranking Church Officials at the Vatican to create a greater understanding of issues between the two faiths.


Pope Benedict urged the conference participants to expand their dialogue in America and thus encourage other communities throughout the world.


Connelly was selected to attend because of “his extreme interest and dedication to promoting good Jewish and Catholic relations locally and globally,” said Deacon John Brasley, Diocesan Coordinator of Community Services


Connelly, wrote about the experience in a Speaking Out feature, published in the November 1 issue of the Democrat and Chronicle. He has been teaching at Aquinas since 1984.  His senior class course “Confronting Hate” and sophomore class involvement in theInternational Book Sharing Project challenge students to better understand the ramifications of predjudice, racism, and stereotyping. While Holocaust education is covered in Social Studies and English classes, Connelly believes that including the topic in Theology curriculum directly supports Aquinas’ mission statement. “Personally, there is not a topic that has impacted me more. My own work with Holocaust history has challenged me in so many ways, beginning with facing realities outside of my own comfortable, protected world. It raises essential questions about faith in God, the nature of humankind and allows for a sober consideration of the consequences of the choices we make,” he said.


Students rise to the challenge, welcoming the opportunity to discuss the subject matter with their peers at Aquinas, and with the greater community. “We explore each topic from a variety of perspectives,” Connelly explained. “We learn that the power to impact others comes through understanding. By listening and asking questions, our personal beliefs and opinions are less likely to be shaped by fear or misunderstanding.”


Sophomores interested in further pursuing an English class unit on “Literature in the Holocaust” participate in the International Book Sharing Project. Facilitated by staff atThe Ghetto Fighters’ Museum of Western Galilee, Aquinas students are paired with Israeli students. The students learn common lessons about the Holocaust and read Night byElie Wiesel. Using the on-line museum message board, students post quotations from the book and share their insights. The dialogue between students is shaped by reflecting upon passages from the book, and involves cultural exchange, interfaith dialogue, and current events. In fact, in 2001, Connelly earned the prestigious Janusz Korczak Teaching Award from theAmerican Friends’ of the Ghetto Fighters’ House for his work on the project.  In 2005, he received the Louis E. Yavner Teaching and Citizen Award.  This award provides recognition of a teacher and citizen who has made outstanding contributions to New York State education about the Holocaust and other violations of human rights. The award was established by the late Regent Emeritus Louis E. Yavner.


The content Connelly presents in class inspires students to reach beyond Aquinas, to participate in forums focused on the Holocaust and other human rights issues as well.  In recent years, students have received awards from essays written on the subject, and have earned praise from local teachers, survivors and Federation Staff of the Center for Holocaust Awareness and Information.


“One cannot study the topic and remain unaffected,” says Connelly. “It challenges me to be a better person and this is something I wish to share with my students.”