A Man of Many Words

A Man of Many Words

Michael Connolly's interests range from translating ancient texts to state-of-the-art computer technology

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

It is easy to imagine Assoc. Prof. Michael J. Connolly, in another time and place, breaking top-secret Axis codes between Oxford tutorials and oratorios in the cathedral.

The Slavic and Eastern Languages Department chairman is a scholar of wide-ranging pursuits, as a translator and archaeologist of language, an archdeacon in the Armenian Catholic rite, a singer and instrumentalist in early music ensembles, and a computer expert.

"Am I complex? No, I'm fairly simple," Connolly said during a recent interview at the Faculty Microcomputer Resource Center, the computer lab in the Gasson basement that he helps run, and where, in a reflection of his eclectic interests, a digital keyboard played harpsichord music from its perch among the Apple desktops.

"I'm just a scholar," he said. "This is what scholarship is all about as a vocation: living the life of the mind and the soul."

A glance at Connolly's schedule indicates the sweep of his interests.

This past Saturday, he was a featured lecturer as the Burns Library unveiled a rare special reproduction of the earliest surviving Armenian Gospel Book, the Etchmiadzin Gospels, considered akin to an Armenian Book of Kells. He then assisted as deacon at a Mass in the Armenian Rite in St. Mary's Chapel at which the book was solemnly blessed and used for the readings.

Assoc. Prof. Michael Connolly (Slavic and Eastern Languages) describes features of a rare reproduction of an Armenian gospel text to visitors who attended a lecture he and Prof. Pamela Berger (Fine Arts) presented at Burns Library last Saturday.

Earlier this month, he served as a deacon at a Tridentine High Mass for the Feast of All Souls at the Holy Trinity German Church, in the South End, home to the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass in Boston, and performed in concert at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Brockton.

Later this month, at St. Theresa's Parish in West Roxbury, he will serve as deacon at solemn vespers for the "Anglican Use" Congregation of St. Athanasius, Anglo-Catholic converts to Roman Catholicism who incorporate High Anglican liturgical forms in their Masses and devotions. Next month he will serve as a deacon when a series of Byzantine Catholic Masses gets underway at St. Mary's Chapel every first and third Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

Each week since October he has met with five undergraduates to lead them through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as part of a 23-week retreat series to incorporate spirituality into everyday life. This is the third yearlong Ignatian retreat he has led. Last year he led nine students in a shorter retreat series that was conducted entirely in German.

As a moderator of the Faculty Microcomputer Resource Center, he assists professors with the technological challenges of research. Connolly serves on the Academic Technology Committee, and is involved in an e-learning pilot on campus encompassing 20 courses with 1,600 students.

Connolly specializes in the Indo-European languages, with a particular interest in the linguistic archeology of dead languages. He currently is studying the use of language in Roman, Anglican and Eastern liturgies, while developing grammar teaching aids for Old Irish, Sanskrit, Church Slavonic and Classical Armenian.

He brushes aside the standard question of how many languages he speaks, but allows: "Give me something in any tongue spoken east of the Urals and I'll tackle it." (He notes he taught Swedish last year.)

A facility for translation has been a constant for Connolly. As a Boston College High School sophomore, he was browsing in a secondhand bookstore when he happened across a primer on Hindustani. "I took it home and was hooked," he recalled.

A Jesuit teacher convinced him to put aside his ambition to become a Marine officer and instead study biblical archaeology at Boston College. By the time he graduated BC in 1965 with a degree in modern languages, he had worked his way through the catalogue. "I went from German to Russian, then I ate up any other languages we had - Middle English, Italian, Medieval French." Summers he studied Hebrew and Middle High German at Harvard University, where he earned a doctorate in linguistics in 1970.

While at Harvard he became active in the Holy Cross Armenian Catholic Church, then in Harvard Square, and was ordained a deacon in the Armenian rite 33 years ago. He has taught at BC for 31 years.

"My life is teaching linguistics and languages, church and religious ministry, music and computers," he said. "I see these as all being part of one thing - they all spill over.

"Music is language, and this ties into liturgy. Computer operations are basically another language - and even that I view as a kind of ministry, bringing technology to colleagues."

Connolly's list of responsibilities have forced him to take a hiatus this year from leading the Faculty Early Music Group at sung Masses at St. Mary's Chapel during Lent and Advent, breaking a tradition of 25 years. Trained in voice and classical ballet at the New England Conservatory as a young man and also schooled in Gregorian chant, Connolly ranges as a vocalist from bass to high tenor, and plays an assortment of early wind instruments, including recorder, baroque flute, baroque oboe and viola da gamba. "Anything written before 1750 has priority with me," he said.

Connolly was both a choir and altar boy growing up in Sacred Heart Parish in Roslindale in the 1950s, and the rubrics he memorized serving Latin Masses as a youngster, he said, still serve him today. "It's like riding a bicycle," he said. "When you adapt to Byzantine use or Anglican use, it's just like riding a different bicycle."

Connolly said, "I view what I'm doing as part of a calling. I don't like to describe it as a 'profession' or 'job,' terms I view as abhorrent. It's a vocation, a calling."


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