Richard Connolly, March 2003
|Born||10 November 1927|
|Occupation(s)||musician, composer, broadcaster|
|Associated acts||James McAuley|
His published and performed works allow him to be counted as among Australia's most prolific composers of Catholic Church music, particularly with regard to the hymns he composed for the Church in Australia, and which are now published and used inter-denominationally. His hymns have been composed to accommodate and adorn the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
From 1946 to 1950, Connolly pursued theological studies for the priesthood in Rome. A few months before his ordination, he abandoned his studies and returned to Australia, where he completed an Arts degree from the University of Sydney. At that time, Connolly was a member of the Holy Spirit parish at North Ryde. In 1955, he was introduced to McAuley by Father Ted Kennedy. Kennedy asked Connolly to compose hymns to sing at various points during the Mass. Thus began a long-standing partnership between McAuley and Connolly. Their subsequent musical collaboration during the 1950s and 1960s contributed significantly to contemporary Australian hymnody. Their compositions were first released in a collection titled Hymns for the Year of Grace in 1963. In 1960 Connolly's work had anchored the Living Parish hymnbook, edited by Tony Newman and published by a group gathered around Roger Pryke, which would sell one million copies over the next decade, enabling congregations to sing hymns in a distinctively Australian voice. Many of the hymns published in both collections are still widely sung across all Christian denominations in Australia and abroad.
In 1956, Connolly joined the ABC, and by 1960 worked in the ABC Education department, working mainly in Schools Broadcasts. In 1967 he joined the Radio Drama and Features Department, becoming Features Editor. In 1971 he undertook a Churchill fellowship in Italy, Radio France, and Bayerischer Rundfunk, and spent several months working in the BBC's radio drama script unit. During this time, he also composed music for the BBC TV series, The British Empire. He returned to Australia and was appointed Head of Radio Drama and Features.
He composed music for the first Australian visit of a pope, Pope Paul VI at both Randwick and at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. In particular, for this occasion he composed a "papal entry and march" version of Psalm 85.
Back in 1844, the bishops of Australia had chosen the Virgin Mary, under the title "Help of Christians" as patroness for the Australian nation, and the words are nationalistically resonant for Australian Catholics. While personally remaining largely aloof from in-house Catholic politics, Connolly's setting of these words in his hymn "Help of Christians, Guard this Land" became the battle hymn of the Catholic Right in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s.
In December 2009, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Arts by the University of Notre Dame Australia in recognition of his "extraordinary contributions to Catholic liturgical music in Australia". In his acceptance speech he said the hymns he had made with James McAuley were "the centrepiece of my liturgical work and, of all the things that I have made, apart from my family, the best".
Connolly fell ill prior to his ninetieth birthday on 10 November 2017, and celebrated with his family in Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital; but went on to make a full recovery.
A few of his hymn tunes have particularly Australian names. Connolly's tunes include (but are not limited to) the following: