Seven years after a young Hillary Rodham (later Clinton) wrote her senior thesis for Wellesley College about community organizer Saul Alinsky, Michael Connolly wrote his doctoral thesis on Alinsky.
Connolly, who retired from Barry University’s School of Social Work in 2002, thoroughly researched Alinksy’s life and career after his death in 1972. His doctoral dissertation was for the University of Minnesota in 1976; Rodham’s was in 1969.
Alinsky, called the “father of community organizers,” worked with poor American communities from the 1930s to 1960s. The St. Paul, Minnesota-born Connolly, who died on Aug. 9 at 82, was similarly passionate about social welfare. He worked a lot with seniors and children with psychiatric issues.
He started out as a group worker at Pillsbury Settlement House in Minneapolis. Next, he worked at a residential treatment center for older adolescents with the Community Services Society in New York City, and practiced hospital social work with psychiatric patients in New Jersey and Minnesota before joining the world of academia.
In 1974, Connolly was a founder of the North Miami Foundation for Senior Citizens’ Services and served on its board until earlier this year. Since 1990, he was a director on the board of the Miami Institute for Children and Family Health (formerly Children’s Psychiatric Center). He was twice named Social Worker of the Year by his peers.
“As a social work professor, he was a great asset to our social work staff, and also acted as chairman of the board's program committee, providing consultation on the development of new programs for our frail elderly clients,” said Debbie Kleinberg, executive director of the foundation. “He was a quiet, dignified man and although I knew him for over 30 years, it always felt best, as a sign of respect, to continue to call him ‘Dr. Connolly.’”
After he earned his doctorate, his wife of 44 years, the late Annette Connolly, made sure that was how he was addressed.
“Every time people said, ‘Mister,’ she’d say, ‘That’s Dr. Connolly. He didn’t talk a lot about his accomplishments,” said his daughter Kathleen Connolly. When the seven children were young they’d often wonder why Dad was always at Barry. Later, they understood. “He used it as an office to do his community work, especially with the aged. That was his expertise.”
His presence of faculty was very powerful. He was a dedicated professor who was always available to his students.
Phyllis Scott, dean of Barry University’s School of Social Work
At Barry, Connolly, an acting dean and director of the doctoral program, taught social work courses at the doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s level, initiated the school’s first course on social work practice with the aging and chaired 16 doctoral dissertation committees. He was elected University Teacher of the Year in 1976 and remained at Barry for over 30 years.
“I had the privilege of taking a course from him before joining faculty,” said Phyllis Scott, dean of the School of Social Work. “He was passionate about the social work profession and social justice, particularly social policies that did not sufficiently address the healthcare needs of the poor. He gave voice to the frail and elderly and challenged students to look beyond the obvious and discover a greater truth. Now, as the dean, I am inspired to continuously build upon his legacy.”
Connolly is survived by his children Kathleen, Mary, Kevin, Christopher, Meaghan, Tara, four grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and brothers Rev. Patrick and Thomas Connolly. He was predeceased by son Neal. Services were held.