After 44 years as a teacher and administrator in Catholic schools, Connie Brady still bubbles with enthusiasm as she describes the people whom she’s known through Elmira’s Holy Family Primary School.
“There’s such wonderful learning that has taken place here. The children are wonderful, the teachers, all the priests,” Brady said.
All that wonderfulness was at its peak during a Mass that took place on Monday evening, June 6. Hundreds of people gathered to honor Brady, who is retiring as Holy Family’s principal.
The liturgy was held in the school gymnasium, on the campus of St. Mary’s Southside Church. Brady has been principal at that location since 1983 and has logged 34 years in Elmira overall.
She grew up in Pennsylvania and spent 12 years as a woman religious in the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, teaching for 10 years. Brady left the order in 1971, the same year she began teaching first grade at St. Casimir’s School in Elmira. She was then known as Connie Dunn; she and her husband, Larry, married in 1992.
Brady spent 12 years at St. Casimir’s before moving to St. Mary’s School in 1983 as principal. Three years later a consolidation brought about the present Holy Family structure, in which a three-school system operates in former parish schools. The other schools are Holy Family Junior High, in the St. Casimir’s building; and Holy Family Intermediate, in the Our Lady of Lourdes building. Brady remained in the St. Mary’s facility as principal of Holy Family Primary, a grades pre-kindergarten through 3 school.
“I just love this old building. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean you can’t have a wonderful life within the walls,” she remarked about the school that opened in 1898.
Brady, 65, said her love for Catholic schools hasn’t lessened, yet she had been contemplating retirement for a couple of years because she feels that “it’s time for me to just move on.” She explained that she’d like to spend more time with her family and pursue volunteer opportunities in the community as well as her parish, St. John the Evangelist in South Waverly, Pa., in the Diocese of Scranton.
“I would like to just give myself time to take a few months, just think about what the future years will bring to me. I don’t have any specific plan. I’ve always wanted to volunteer for hospice, Red Cross, something within the church,” she said.
Brady plans to still be a presence at Holy Family, assisting over the summer in the transition with her successor (that person had not been announced at press time) and volunteering in other ways from time to time.
She will head into the next phase of her life with great memories from her retirement Mass, which was attended by more than 200 people. The gathering included former teachers and students of Brady’s — including, she noted, “at least six people whom I taught as first-graders at St. Casimir’s. I thought that was phenomenal.”
Brady was presented an array of gifts: roses; a handmade quilt that students had created; and other artistic renderings, including a montage of writings where students commented on their principal with such statements as “she sings to us about God,” “she’s pretty and beautiful,” and “she’s just like the pope.”
Rather than conspicuously stick out as the honoree, Brady opted that night to fill her familiar role of leading the student musicians.
“They sang their hearts out, they really did,” she said.
She added that being involved with the music helped keep her mind off the intense emotion surrounding the event. Even so, Brady became overwhelmed when several parents got up to present her with gifts and express their gratitude.
”Those types of things — you don’t realize how many people appreciate you until you hear them say it,” she remarked.
All in all, this warm, early June evening was a perfect send-off for a principal who was well deserving of the spotlight.
“I was tired and I was hot, but I felt great,” she said.