The Connell family, and the Lasallian Community of Bedford Park


Narragansett, RI – In September, in Our Lady of the Sea Chapel at Christian Brothers Center, long time Lasallians Yvette and John Connell were Affiliated to the Institute.

John is a former Brother who had assignments in New York City and on the missions in Africa. Yvette is a nurse who joined the Holy Ghost Fathers Lay Volunteer Program. One of her assignments was to Africa and she needed a Visa to travel there. John was returning to Africa, and also needed a Visa. They met on the Visa application line, and eventually married.

After serving in Africa, they joined the new adult education program as volunteers at St. Augustine School in the Bronx, NY, where the Christian Brothers taught. A few years later, they became lay volunteers with the Maryknoll Missionaries, and were assigned to Awasa, Tanzania, which was close to Musoma, where the Brothers worked. Next, Maryknoll assigned them to Bethlehem, where they often enjoyed the company of the Brothers at Bethlehem University. In fact, John was persuaded to join the faculty. Their following assignment was to Xiamen, China, where they, for the first time in their careers, did not have De La Salle Christian Brothers nearby!

In 1997 they returned to New York, and began to work hand in hand with Brother Edward Phelan at the Highbridge Community Life Center. In 2007 at age 80, John retired. Then, just to keep busy, he became a Eucharist minister at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in the Bronx! Yvette continued at Highbridge until 2012. Always keeping in touch with the Brothers, they are visitors to Christian Brothers Center in Narragansett, RI, and De La Salle Hall in Lincroft, where they visit retired Brothers with whom they once worked.

A warm congratulations to two most deserving of the Letters of Affiliation, the highest honor the Brothers’ Institute can bestow.

Excerpts of the Lasallian Community at Bedford Park’s letter requesting Letters of Affiliation for the Connells…

Two characteristics of Lasallians are their humble embrace of vulnerable families and their willingness to go beyond borders. Official documents and chapter resolutions emphasize this humility by saying that Lasallian men and women serve “with” the poor more than provide services “to” the poor. Jack and Yvette Connell – the couple the members of the Bedford Park Community propose for affiliation to the institute epitomize these characteristics.

Jack grew up in New York City and attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School for a brief time where the example of some extraordinary Christian Brothers inspired him to join them by going to the Juniorate. Jack’s Uncle Marty, himself a Christian Brother of Manhattan College fame, was Jack’s sponsor at Barrytown on September 7, 1945. By far his number one model was his brother Billy, Brother Alfred Peter, who began teaching at Loughlin that same year.

By contrast, Yvette Dumont grew up on a farm in a small Canadian town, Kennedy, in western Canada. In a one room schoolhouse for her first eight grades, she heard about great men and women who served the mission of the church in far-off continents of the world. Nursing was her call and soon after graduation as a nurse she joined a lay volunteer program run by the Spiritans, formally the Holy Ghost Fathers. Her first assignment was to a Government Hospital in St. Kitts and three years later to Africa. After three years in a Bush Clinic in Kenya, the Spiritans sent her to start another bush clinic in very rural Ethiopia. That year was 1976 and the Catholic Secretariat required her to gain a visa clearance at a local police station before beginning her mission. Jack happened to need the same clearance on the same day for his work.

As a Brother, Jack heard the call in 1960 to go beyond his personal borders, as well as our national borders, to serve with the Brothers at St Joseph’s School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Eight years later he returned home to connect with his native culture only to return to Addis in 1971. This pattern of coming home only to leave again has been his adult life pattern. He has spent exactly 30 years in Africa and 30 years at home. While in Ethiopia, Jack gradually moved closer to vulnerable families; that is, he moved beyond the schools to being a teacher trainer in the outlining areas closer to small villages. One particular photo of him traveling across a stream on a mule to give a workshop is our favorite.

In 1978, after having met in the police station and before they left Ethiopia again, Jack and Yvette married in the small Chapel at St. Joseph School in Addis. Many Brothers were in attendance. Brother Louie Ruch was best man and even supplied the wedding ring from his own hand.

After a few years of teaching with the Brothers at a new adult education project at St Augustine School in the Bronx, Jack and Yvette joined the Maryknoll Lay Mission Program and were sent back to Africa, this time, to Awasa Tanzania close to the Brothers working at Musoma. Six years later during the Gulf War, Maryknoll assigned them to Bethlehem where Jack taught at Bethlehem University while Yvette ministered to the new-born babies in the local hospital. They were often guests of the Brothers’ community for prayers and meals. Their final Maryknoll assignment, at their request, was to be part of the Maryknoll return to Xiamen, China. Both taught English to students in a local college. For the first time in their married life no Lasallian project was nearby.

In 1997 Jack and Yvette again returned home to the USA and to the Lasallian Family to minister to vulnerable families of the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx. They worked hand in hand with Brothers and Partners at the Highbridge Community Life Center. In 2007, Jack retired at 80 years of age and Yvette continued to teach vulnerable adults with other Lasallians until her retirement in 2012.

Not surprising, Jack has reinvented himself in retirement. For the last few years Jack has assisted in the chaplain’s office at the Veterans Administration in the Bronx. He brings Eucharist and a willing ear to many vets after attending daily mass himself at Our Lady of Angels Church. As they grow older, the time that they give to a mission has decreased. At the same time their mission has become more and more one of modeling for all of us how to age humbly and with dignity, with a smile and with the Lord of the Ages.

Yvette and Jack keep in regular touch with Brothers with whom they served in Africa and Bethlehem. They have been frequent visitors to Christian Brothers Center in Narragansett and De La Salle Hall in Lincroft where many of them have resided in recent years as well as to our Bedford Park Community. A group of former Lasallian Volunteers in NYC meets together in the community every two months for prayer and sharing and Jack and Yvette are always honored guests.

Jack’s continual involvement in mission as he becomes 90 years old is a powerful role model for De La Salle Christian Brothers who themselves are similarly aging. Likewise, both Yvette and Jack are powerful models of lifetime volunteer commitment for all our young Lasalllan Volunteers. Despite the fact that Jack collected a regular salary for only three years of his long life and Yvette for just a few more, both are very generous to their parish of OLA, the Lasallian Volunteers, and every mission site where they have ever served.

A neighbor of Jack and Yvette, Colleen McGeehan, has been the beneficiary of their concern and kindness. As a single mom without nearby family, Colleen has welcomed Jack and Yvette as substitute grandparents for her daughter, Maeve. Colleen, herself a Lasallian Volunteer earlier in life, is often heard reminding them that their Lasallian roots show in their care of Maeve. Yvette on the same topic says of Jack, ” he has never left the Brothers.”  Both of them are lifers in the Lasallian Family.