Obituary: Mary Catherine Regina Connolly (1942-2024)

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Mary Catherine Regina Connolly of Newport, R.I., former member of the Newport City Council, passed away peacefully on Thursday, June 13. A native Newporter who grew up on Bateman Avenue in the city’s Fifth Ward, she was born at Newport Hospital on December 11, 1942. Mary was a fierce friend and advocate who dedicated her life to the education, wellbeing and success of children with special needs.

Although Mary began her career as a first grade teacher in Uxbridge, Mass. after joining the Sisters of St. Joseph, her heart was always in Newport. She left the convent and returned to Newport as a special education teacher in Newport’s public schools, including Mumford School, Sullivan School and Thompson Junior High School. Mary enjoyed life to the fullest and she would often remark that her years spent working directly with children were the times she enjoyed most of all. She went on to serve as director of special education for the City of Newport, a position she retired from after a career of more than 34 years in education.

A lifelong learner, Mary graduated from the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee, Mass. with a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in education, and earned a master’s degree in education from Rhode Island College. She completed graduate coursework at Providence College, the University of Rhode Island and Salve Regina University. While serving as director of special education in Newport, she earned a law degree from Southern New England School of Law in order to gain a better understanding of the legal issues surrounding special education and help Newport students and their families more easily obtain the services they needed. She enjoyed working with other special education administrators across Rhode Island and meeting to discuss policy and troubleshoot issues that affected students statewide.

Mary was honored with many awards for her dedication and service to education. She was named as a Kennedy Foundation Scholar and has been listed in the Who’s Who Biographical Record of Child Development Professionals. In 2000, Mary was invited to present at a worldwide special education convention in Vancouver. Upon her retirement in 1999, Mary became a professional lecturer in the Education Department at Salve Regina University, where she mentored young teachers-to-be and passed on her 35 years of wisdom as an educator and administrator.

In 2004, Mary ran for Newport City Council, winning an at-large seat she would continue to win and hold through 2010. Mary was entirely dedicated to the council and the needs of the people of Newport, spending long hours listening to residents and weighing issues of importance to the city she loved. She cherished the ability to affect positive change for the city, as well as the new friendships she made and old friendships she strengthened, both with her fellow council members and her constituents.

Throughout her life, Mary was an active member of St. Joseph Church. She was a church trustee, and over the years served as director of religious education and president of the St. Joseph Parish Council. Long-time parishioners may recall Mary as a lector at weekend masses. In addition to her time at St. Joseph Church, Mary served on the Board of Governors for the Newport County Health Care Corporation and the Board of Trustees at St. Philomena School. She was president of the Association of Rhode Island Administrators of Special Education, chairperson of the Directors of Special Education for the East Bay Educational Collaborative, and president of the Residents Council at Village House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Mary was the daughter of the late John Connolly, former assistant police chief for the City of Newport, and Alice (Dwyer) Connolly, a pioneering advocate of special education who helped establish foundational services in the state. She was the sister of the late John Connolly, Edward Connolly and Alice Clancy. She leaves her sister-in-law Gertrude Connolly of Pawtucket and brother-in-law James Clancy of Tiverton, and several nieces and nephews: Thomas and Michelle Clancy and their daughter Jocelyn; Kristen and Heather Connolly and their daughter Emma; Katelyn and Gianni Petteruti and their children Gian, Owen and Maryrose; and Mary Alice Connolly Clancy and her husband John Nagle. She also leaves many close cousins, with whom she shared the happiest of memories.

Much like the students she loved to teach, Mary was an extraordinary person. To know Mary was to be her friend and to be forever loved by her.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Joseph’s Church, 79-93 Broadway, Newport, on Thursday, June 20, at 10 a.m.  Graveside burial services will follow in St. Columba Cemetery, Brown’s Lane, Middletown.

In lieu of flowers, donations to Rhode Island Special Olympics in Mary’s memory would be appreciated.


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