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St. Thomas More    Monsignor Edward J. Howley, Pastor 1966 to 1997

Father Ed - Rest in Peace

Monsignor Howley, May 2012
Monsignor Howley, May 2012, Arcadia, Florida.
Monsignor Howley passed away June 6, 2012, in Florida. He was 89 years old. He was the founding pastor of Saint Thomas More Church.

Msgr. Howley served as Pastor here from 1966-1997. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 15, 1947, by Bishop Henry J. O’Brien of Hartford. He served in four parishes throughout his years of active ministry: Saint Mary, Stamford, CT (1947-1954); Saint Mary, Bethel, CT (1954-1960); Saint Joseph, Norwalk, CT (1960-1966); Saint Thomas More, Darien, CT (1966-1997). At the time of his retirement Msgr. Howley had been a priest for fifty years, thirty-one of which were spent as Pastor of Saint Thomas More Parish. Bishop Walter Curtis established Saint Thomas More Parish on September 16, 1966. In addition to being the parish’s first pastor, Msgr. Howley is credited, along with many other accomplishments, for having overseen the planning and construction of the parish church. He began the fund raising campaign in 1971. The church was dedicated on October 27, 1973. Said Father Murphy, "We continue to stand, both literally and figuratively, on the sure foundation laid down for us by Msgr. Howley."

Zita O'Brian wrote from Florida that "Father Ed passed peacefully at 12:15 pm today, June 6. Linda and I were with him,and his passing was gentle. Our first reaction was such sorrow, and then grateful thanksgiving to God for his life and his peaceful end to his suffering."

Jack Leonard was a member of Father's Youth Group at St Mary's in Bethel in 1954 and has been a friend of Fr Ed's through the years. He and his wife Sue wrote a letter to Fr. Howley before he died that Zita read to him daily in the time before he died.

Dear Fr. Howley,

Your good friend Zita called and told me of your illness. I know that Zita will read this to you. I will not burden you with a long letter, so I will offer just a few thoughts that might be helpful to you.Of all the priests I've ever listened to, your messages on the Gospels were the best. If Jesus were here today,
  • He would share time WITH YOU to build a house for somebody who needed a place to live. Then He would enjoy a great laugh and a good meal with you after swinging a hammer all day.
  • He would thank you for being kind and preaching kindness toward others.
  • He would thank you for loving the world that God has made for us.
  • He would think it was cool that you were so much like Him.
  • He would thank you for being such a loyal friend.
  • He would thank you for understanding what He came to do.
  • He would tell you to relax now and not worry about a thing.
  • He would tell you to trust Him now as you have your whole life.
Ed, thank you for being such a great influence in my life and for teaching me and so many others how to find God in our lives. Rest and heal - you're in God's hands.

With love, respect, and prayers,
Jack and Sue Leonard

Fr. Nick's Blog

Fr. Nick Punch had this to say in his June 2012 Blog:

I know I benefitted from Ed’s friendship; I know I am a different priest because of his influence. I think many people know themselves to be loved by God because of Ed’s preaching and kindness. I know God has welcomed him home and said. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
See Fr. Nick's Blog.

Fr. Nick's Homily

A Memorial Mass celebrating the life and ministry of Msgr. Howley was held at Saint Thomas More Church on July, 28. The celebrant was Father Paul Murphy and the homilist was Father Nick Punch. A reception followed. Here is Father Nick's homily:

Monsignor Edward Howley was a good friend, so I hope I can be excused for calling him “Ed”. This means no disrespect, rather affection. I know that for all of you here today, Ed was your priest and your pastor. We can all say that he was a great man and that is why we honor him today. His biography has already been recorded and so I don’t need to share those details. Instead I would like to explain why I honor his memory. I have obviously been helped and would like to acknowledge Zita O’Brian who knew Ed for longer and better than me for her thoughts. Other people too have told me of their memories. A priest isn’t ordained for himself but for others. It is a ministry of service. He also acknowledges that he does not minister in his own name but in the name of Jesus Christ. How was Jesus a priest for his people, how is Jesus a priest for us? The priesthood of Jesus Christ was present to us through Ed Howley and his lifetime of service. He was Christ for us.

Ed was the founding pastor of Saint Thomas More’s parish, he labored here for over 30 years. He built the church and built the parish. With the help of leaders whom he recruited, he built a wonderful parish. Let us look at this church he built. It is a reflection of his character. It is not ‘churchy’ in the form of a grand cathedral. But it is a holy place where, for a long time people people have encountered Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, the sacraments and one another. Its design is for that purpose. We talk of ‘participation’ as an essential part of Eucharistic Liturgy. From the sloping floor to the focus on the altar and sanctuary area, it is designed for that. Priest and people celebrate the Eucharist together; that was Ed’s idea and his accomplishment. Even in the back of the church, people are relatively close to the altar. It has a high tower with a cross that is visible from quite a distance, and announces to all around that here God dwells amongst God’s people.

Above the altar we have that beautiful sculpture honoring the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit that represents our act of faith. We have a Mary chapel based on Mary in scripture, and a Saint Thomas More Chapel representing the life of our parish patron. And we have the powerful organ representing the music ministry that unites us – one in heart and voice. All this reflects Ed’s idea of parish and liturgy. He was intelligent, prayerful and thoughtful, all evident in the church he built with you.

Let us look at the people who have come to this church. Ed said something once to me – and I know the staff. “I am a minister of God’s love, not God’s hate – everyone is welcome here!” That was his intention and his accomplishment. He told me that to some people it might seem to be a parish for educated, wealthy people, but that is not the reality – there are rich and poor, young and old. Everyone was welcome and it was my observation that by and large everyone wanted to be here! They received the friendship of God and one another; they were nourished by the sacraments; they were involved in service together. That too was Ed’s pastoral plan, cooperating with the grace of Jesus Christ.

The Children’s Mass was unique to Ed. I have always loved Masses with children but coming to this Mass was something special. Some may have considered it irreverent, but I consider it ‘holy’. At the Children’s Mass, the children ministered to the adults, they taught us, their devotion inspired us. And I hope that the memory of this led them to an adult faith. He had assistants – especially “Uncle Ed” and Angelo and Joan, a great involvement from dedicated people and there were others before them.

Ed involved people in ministry, many of these still going. It was well known that if you offered Ed an idea, you often ended up with a job! The RCIA in which parishioners share their faith with those who wish to embrace it, was ahead of its time. “All Are Welcome” , and they have been made so through the lifetime of this parish; also the CCD programs, a mammoth effort to educate the young. The parish began “Happiness Pre-School, “The Center for Hope”, the “Rainbow Program”, (where did those names come from?) They also are unique! The Stephen Ministry provided outreach to the needy as did the “Grief Ministry” “Exploring Catholicism” was a group I love, but it was Ed’s idea and led and organized by parishioners.

Ed loved the poor and involved all us in their care. The mountain of clothing donated by parishioners was personally delivered to Hartford and Bridgeport, much of it delivered by Ed. He was a HANDS ON priest – he led by example. The Appalachian Housing Project was another of Ed’s ‘hands on’ ministries going with teenagers, staff and parishioners year after year to build a house for the poor people of Appalachia. Along the way, all those kids had conversations with Ed and knew of his love. There was no need for any young person to grow up without being influenced by him. “Let the little children come to me, do not stop them.” Ed lived the words and teaching of Jesus.

We say of generous people: “Their right hand does not know of what their left hand is doing.” This was certainly true of Ed, and he never talked about it. Maybe Sr. Madeline could give a few names, but nobody else knew the extent of his charity. People trusted him and he told me that he had only to recommend a charity and people were generous. He did all this in the name of the parish, and with its blessing. I don’t know of how many funerals Ed celebrated, but there would have been over 1000. The Gospel today was one of his favorites, and he used it at funerals most of the time. “In my Father’s house there are many rooms. Trust in God and trust in me! I will return to take you with me, so that you may be with me where I am.” That was his deep faith, it comforted many. I don’t think Ed was waiting to be set free from his body, but he did have great hope and trust in God. I cannot recall a single time when he expressed a fear of God. In fact he preached against that form of religion.

He loved his dogs! He said they kept him sane! “Sir” Michael, and “sir” Fred, so often tucked under his arm were not always worthy of our admiration. After all, even though they were small , they were terriers and guard dogs! Ed never apologized for them nipping people – that is what they were born to do! But “Saint” Thommo who was in the care of the sisters somehow overcame his “terrier” nature! Maybe Ed could have learned from the sisters!

If I can be permitted, I would like to say what Ed meant to me. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” That is my abiding memory. From the moment I first came, I was part of the family. He loved spontaneity – we would go for a drive on an impulse, all over the place but hardly ever on a freeway – he hated them. In fact we got pulled over by the police on a freeway for going too slow, he tried to drive and talk at the same time! That is how I got to know the geographical parish and area. He introduced me to his family. We went camping in California with his brother and wife, and visited friends of his from the time he worked in Norwalk. I cannot remember him ever having a sick day! We would often talk about the Sunday homily, but he only ever wanted one idea. He said that was all people remembered anyway so why tell them too much? Ed loved talking, easily sharing his ideas about scripture, the Church and its future. He had a favorite word for many leaders – Dummies! One of St Paul’s biographers says about Paul: “He is no “Yes” man, submitting to authority before he had thought through the propositions. He is a great example of authentic humanity; he is sensitive, impulsive, obstinate, moody, thoughtful, demanding, driven, caring.” Most of hat could be applied to Ed – a modern St Paul! We were together in a restaurant a few years ago with a couple of parishioners – the whole restaurant had no doubt about who he was, and what he thought about a number of controversial subjects – he was never very private about his opinions!

After leaving Saint Thomas More’s, did he ever retire? He was part of a retirement community in Florida, but even there built a little Mass community around him. His death has grieved those people too – but he has many praying for him.

We have need to be grateful for Ed – his life, his ministry, his guidance. We pray that where he has gone we may follow, that was the faith he shared with us.

Monsignor Howley Born in 1922

Saint Joseph Church
Saint Joseph Church, New Britain, Connecticut. Built in 1897 with four class rooms on the second floor that were replaced by a new school in 1931.
Edward Joseph Howley was born on October 13, 1922, in New Britain, which is in Hartford County, Connecticut. Edward's parents were Patrick and Mary Lynch Howley. He was baptized at Saint Joseph Church. His Godparents were his uncle, Edward Howley, and his aunt, Genevieve Lynch.

Warren Harding was President of the United States. Pius XI was Pope.

There were three older children: Mary, Daniel, and Claire. Two more children were born after Edward: Francis and Patricia. The Howleys owned a home in New Britain, practically next door to Saint Joseph Church. Edward's father Patrick Howley was a policeman and builder.

John Howley 1847-1905 Irish Flag
Patrick Howley
1879-1959
Mary Kelly 1847-1893 Irish Flag
Edward J. Howley
b. 1922
Daniel Lynch b. 1854 Irish Flag
Mary Lynch
1886-1961
Mary Hastings b. 1859 Irish Flag

Edward's father, Patrick Howley, was born on in 1879 a farm on Woodside Avenue in Long Island City, New York. His paternal grandparents were John and Mary Kelly Howley.

Edward's grandfather, John Howley was born in Ireland in 1847, raised in Glasgow, Scotland, and emigrated to America with his family in 1869. John worked as a cooper, an ironworker, and a farmer.

Edward's grandmother, Mary Kelly was born in Ireland, raised in Manchester, England. She married John Howley in 1870. They had eight children. In 1871, John bought a plot in Old Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, Queens, to bury their first child, who died at six months. The family lived on Bushwick Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn and on a farm on Woodside Avenue in Long Island City, Queens, where they were in Saint Mary of Winfield parish, then Saint Sebastian Parish after it was formed in 1894.

Patrick Howley

Father Howley's father, Patrick Howley, suffered many hardships as a youth. With the help of some Good Samaritans, whom Father Howley used in his homilies, Patrick survived and went on to lead a successful life because of the Good Samaritans.

In 1893, Patrick's mother, Mary Kelly Howley, died at age 46, leaving her husband John and six children. Mary was buried in Old Calvary Cemetery in Woodside.

In 1894, at age 14, Patrick came down with pneumonia and was near death. He survived, but his twin sister Catherine came down with the same illness and died shortly after.

After the deaths of his wife and daughter, John decided to sell the farm on Woodside Avenue and take the boys out West. Patrick was afraid of the Wild West and snuck off the train in Manhattan. He was homeless in New York City. He shined shoes in Bowery saloons, which gave him a right to his customers' free lunches.

Patrick remembered his father had visited relatives somewhere in Connecticut. There is one story that he walked to Stamford, Connecticut, from the Bowery. Finding no Howleys, he went to the Catholic Church, Saint John the Evangelist. He wanted to sleep in the vestibule, but the priest told him he had to leave. A Good Samaritan, homeless himself, found him huddled in a storefront and took hin to the Police Department where he was taken in for the night.

Later, Patrick decided to look for relatives in Brookfield in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He took the train this time, but found no relatives and was standing on the train platform with no money to get back to New York. A Good Samaritan, John S. Thornhill, came upon him, listened to his story, gave him room and board and a job working on his farm. Thornhill had little interest in farming, and Patrick ended up managing the farm. Thornhill went on to serve in the Connecticut legislature. By 1900, Patrick was living with and working for John Wetmore, who had a farm on the Still River. Later, he worked for Daniel Murphy, an Irish farmer.

Patrick had vivid images of his dying mother and would go back to the old neighborhood in Woodside and visit the graves of his mother and sister at Calvary Cemetery. Back in Connecticut the day after one such occasion, he felt a need to go right back to the cemetery. Upon returning, he met a boyhood friend working at the cemetery who told him that his brother William, called "English Bill," was about to be buried in the potter's field. William, having returned to New York from out West, had been "rubbed out" after reading a letter from Sicily telling of a gangland murder.

Patrick several times had gone out West in unsuccessful attempts to find his father and brothers and sister. In 1905, when Patrick was 25, while again visiting in Woodside, he learned that his father had returned to New York and lay dying in Bellevue Hospital. His father on his deathbed asked him to go out West and collect what was left of his estate. It turned out that his father had set up a trading post in Ware, Texas, a forlorn whistle stop on the Fort Worth and Denver Railway, on the huge XIT cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle. After his father died, Patrick went to Ware to claim his father's property, but he was run out of town.

Edward's mother Mary Lynch was born in 1886 on a farm on Pumpkin Hill Road in New Milford, in Litchfield County, Connecticut. She was a public school teacher. Edward's maternal grandparents were Daniel and Mary Hastings Lynch. Both were born in Ireland in the Catholic Diocese of Killaloe in West Clare, an area wedged between the Shannon Estuary and the Atlantic Ocean. They were from fishing villages on the Loophead Peninsula. Daniel Lynch, who was from Carrigaholt, emigrated in 1875 and settled in New Milford, Connecticut, after a brief time in Danbury. Mary Hastings' father was killed in a storm while fishing in a currach near the mouth of the River Shannon. Mary, who was from Cross, emigrated around 1875 with two teenage sisters and settled with an aunt in New Milford. Daniel worked at a hat factory in Danbury, and later got a job for the railroad, walking the track from New Milford to Gaylordsville. Mary worked at the New England House hotel in New Milford, eventually becoming a chef. They were married in New Milford in 1885. They saved their money and bought an abandoned 40-acre tobacco farm on Pumpkin Hill Road.

Mary Lynch Howley

Father Howley's mother, Mary Lynch, was a teacher. Her fourth year at New Milford High School was spent student teaching. She later attended the State Normal School in Danbury (now Western Connecticut State University) which had opened in 1903. Her first job opportunity came in 1903, at age 17. It was in a one room school house on Second Hill Road back in New Milford. The school board was about to reject her application, when a Good Samaritan, the woman she worked for in her fourth year of high school, interceded, and Mary got the job. It is a wonder that anyone would have wanted the job. The previous teacher had been thrown out the window by the students. Fortunately, she got their confidence, avoided defenestration, and went on to become a successful teacher. In 1913, Mary Lynch married Patrick Howley.

Mary Lynch's mother, Mary Hastings, worked as a governess for a family in Ireland. The head of the family was an English schoolmaster. This Good Samaritan took the time to educate her as if she were one of his students.

Edward Howley went to Saint Joseph's Parochial School in New Britain, just a few doors down from where he lived. The school was staffed by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chambery. Father Walsh, a parish priest, had a special Mass for children, which Edward attended.

Following graduation from elementary school in 1935, Edward decided to study for the priesthood and attended Saint Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Connecticut, the minor seminary for the Diocese of Hartford. After six years at Saint Thomas, he went on for six more years to the major seminary of Saint Mary's in Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1791, St. Mary's Seminary was the first Catholic seminary established in the United States. Saint Mary’s was founded and is still operated by the Sulpician Fathers, a community of diocesan priests dedicated to the formation of priests.

In place of his sixth year in the major seminary, 1946-47, Edward was prefect of discipline back at Saint Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.

Father Howley
Newpaper photo of Edward J. Howley, 1947. (Bachrach Photo).
Father Howley's first wedding
Father Howley after his first wedding, August 30, 1947.

Monsignor Howley Ordained in 1947

Edward J. Howley was ordained a priest on May 15, 1947, by Bishop Henry J. O'Brien at Saint Joseph Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut. His brother, Francis P. Howley, a student at Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, was master of ceremonies at Father Howley's first solemn high mass at Saint Joseph's Church in New Britain.

At the time of Father Howley's ordination, the Diocese of Hartford included Fairfield County, which is where Father Howley served, in four parishes.

Saint Mary in Stamford, 1947 to 1954. Following ordination in 1947, Bishop O'Brien gave Father Howley his first assignment, Assistant Pastor at Saint Mary's Parish in Stamford.

On August 6, 1953, Pope Pius XII established the Diocese of Bridgeport and installed Lawrence Shehan as its first Bishop. The new Diocese covered Fairfield County. As a result, Father Howley became part of the new Diocese of Bridgeport.

Saint Mary School
Saint Mary School, Bethel, Connecticut.

Saint Mary in Bethel, 1954 to 1960. In 1954, Bishop Shehan transferred Father Howley to Saint Mary's Parish in Bethel, where he served as Assistant Pastor and then Administrator. Father Howley was charged with the responsibility of building a school. Actress Barbara Britton, a Methodist, donated 10 acres of land on Dodgingtown Road, where the new school was built.

On December 21, 1959, Father Howley's father, Patrick Howley, died at age 80 in New Britain, Connecticut.

Saint Joseph in Norwalk, 1960 to 1966. In 1960, Bishop Shehan transfered Father Howley to Saint Joseph Parish in Norwalk, as Administrator.

During this time, Father Howley received a Master's degree in Education at Fairfield University. He also served at the university as a lecturer in Education.

In 1961, Pope John XXIII appointed Lawrence J. Shehan as Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore. The Pope named Walter W. Curtis as the second bishop of Bridgeport.

On October 9, 1961, Father Howley's mother, Mary Lynch Howley, died at age 75 in New Britain, Connecticut.

St. Thomas More Church
St. Thomas More Church, completed in 1973. Photo by Father Nick Punch, OP, 2008.

Saint Thomas More Parish, 1966 to 1997. Bishop Curtis created Saint Thomas More Parish on September 16, 1966, by carving it out of St. John's Parish. The new parish covered the part of Darien north of the railroad tracks. Originally the home of St. John's Parochial School, the property which included the school, a rectory, and convent, became the new parish. Mass was in the school's auditorium.

In 1968, Father Howley started a Children's Mass on Sunday, which continues to this day. Young children are involved through simple music, serving as altar boys and girls and readers, a Q&A homily, bringing up toys at the Offertory, and singing Happy Birthday at the end of Mass. It has always been a popular Mass for parishioners, some from surrounding towns.

A fund-raising campaign to construct a church building was begun in 1971. Through the dedication and generosity of hundreds of people, the church building became a reality and was dedicated on October 27, 1973. Chairman of the Building Fund was Jackson Spears. Chairman of the Building Committee was Phil Sparton.

The November 1984 Dialogue included a request from Father Howley for parishioners to become involved in a new organization provided for in Vaticann II called Rite of Chiristian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

In June 1986, the Youth Group at St. Thomas More made its first annual trip to Appalachia to build a home for a needy family. Sister Nancy Sutton of the Good Shepherd Mission in Whitley City, McCreary County, Kentucky, provides the Parish with the name of a family in need. The pastor accompanied the Youth Group along with several adult chaperones.

In October 1986, a Visser Rowland pipe organ was installed in the Church. A booklet was published for the Mass of Dedication.

St. Thomas More Church
Father Edward Howley with Biggins family, First Communion, 1978.
Appalacia
Father Howley and a pal from Appalachia in 1991.
St. Thomas More Church
Father Howley at Children's Mass. Parade of Saints. October 1990.
Appalacia
Father Howley, parishioners, and Appalachia family in 1992.

Iin 1988, Pope John Paul II accepted the retirement of Bishop Curtis and replaced him with Edward M. Egan, the third Bishop of Bridgeport.

In 1989, Father Howley was in need of a priest to help out at Saint Thomas More temporarily, and a Dominican priest put him in touch with Father Nicholas Punch, OP, who had just concluded his second term as Provincial of the Australian and New Zealand Dominicans. That was the beginning of annual visits to Saint Thomas More. "This was one of those meetings that change a life, said Fr, Punch. "Fr. Ed became a close friend, in fact I called him my Godfather since he became a father figure for me. I am proud to acknowledge him in that role."

In 1991, the parish celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Bishop Edward M. Egan celebrated Mass with Father Howley and parishioners. A 25th Anniversary booklet was published outlining the history of the parish. Bishop Egan noted that Saint Thomas More was the first parish in the Diocese of Bridgeport to have a Parish Advisory Council after the Second Vatican Council. He also noted that the parish was a leader in evangelization, in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, and in "outreach" to parishes and institutions of the Diocese which serve those most in need.

The year 1997 was a significant year for Father Howley.

  • On April 26, Father Howley was made a Monsignor. The honor was bestowed by Pope John Paul II and conferred by Bishop Edward M. Egan.
  • On May 15, Monsignor Howley celebrated his Golden Anniverary of 50 years as a priest.
  • On October 13, Monsignor Howley celebrated his 75th birthday and retired.

Monsignor Howley Retires in 1997

Monsignor Edward J. Howley retired on October 13, 1997, his 75th birthday. All parishioners were invited to a party celebrating his retirement at the Italian Center in Stamford. He had been a priest for 50 years, 31 of which were spent as pastor of Saint Thomas More Church.

Father Howley
Monsignor Howley on the way to his retirement party. From left: Frank Valente, Monsignor Howley, and Lennis Koontz.

On January 2, 1998, Rev. J. Barry Furey was appointed second pastor of Saint Thomas More. Father Furey was ordained by Bishop Walter Curtis on May 15, 1971.

In 2006, the Parish celebrated its 40th Anniversary. A Mass was celebrated at Saint Thomas More Church by Bishop Lori with Father Furey and Father Post. Monsignor Howley was the homilist. He had three messages for his former parishioners.

  1. Trust in God.
  2. Do not let your hearts be troubled.
  3. Be an optimist.
Following the Mass, Monsignor Howley sat in the front of Church and greeted parishioners.

40th Anniversary
Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Saint Thomas More Parish, 2006. From left: Bishop Lori, Father Furey, Monsignor Howley.
40th Anniversary
Monsignor Howley greeting parishioners following the Mass celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Saint Thomas More Parish, 2006.
40th Anniversary
Monsignor Howley greeting parishioners following the Mass celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Saint Thomas More Parish, 2006.