A decade ago, 93-year-old Harry Connick Sr. of New Orleans had retired from his 30-year stint as Orleans Parish district attorney and began to devote his time to the study of his Catholic faith. He was particularly intrigued by the important role of the Holy Spirit, but thought devotion to the Holy Spirit was lacking.
So he combined his new interest in the Spirit with his lifelong devotion to the Rosary and composed a series of Holy Spirit-themed meditations for the Rosary he calls the “Spiritual Mysteries.”
At the invitation of Father John Restrepo, his pastor, he launched a five-night recitation of the Rosary using the “Spiritual Mysteries” at St. Dominic Church in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans. The events ended Tuesday, just before Pentecost Sunday. They featured the praying of the Rosary using the mysteries and a presentation each night by Father Restrepo and four other priests associated with the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Among the priest-presenters was New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who approved the devotion for local use.
At the moment, the approval is limited to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, as the event flyers indicated: “The Spiritual Mysteries are a consideration of the mysteries of the life of Our Lord that have been the product of the personal work and devotion of Mr. Harry Connick Sr., with the permission and approval of the Archbishop of New Orleans. These mysteries are for the recitation and meditation of the People of God with the understanding that they are not meant at this time for the universal Church. All the Spiritual Mysteries are based on sacred Scripture and recognized by the ordinary magisterium of the Catholic Church.”
Father Jose Lavastida, pastor of New Orleans’ Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Church, said that while the “Spiritual Mysteries” are not official for the universal Church, “They are certainly scriptural and help people consider different areas of our faith.”
The archbishop’s staff reviewed the mysteries to ensure that nothing was in opposition to the Catholic faith, he continued, and then the archbishop granted permission for their use in the archdiocese. He said that a similar approval process would have to go through the Holy See for their promulgation for use by the universal Church.
Interested in the Holy Spirit
Connick was born in Mobile, Alabama, and grew up in New Orleans. His family was committed to the Catholic faith; he remembers as a boy kneeling before an image of the Sacred Heart each evening in his parents’ bedroom and reciting the Rosary with the family. Visitors were welcome to join in.
He went into the legal profession and was a high-profile member of the New Orleans community during his years as district attorney from 1973 to 2003. Drug-related activity led to a spike in the murder rate during his tenure; in 1994, there were 424 homicides in New Orleans, as compared to 146 in 2018.
He married and had two children, including his famous crooner/actor son Harry Connick Jr.
In retirement, Connick “got curious about things in my religion, and I started looking into them.” He studied sacred Scripture, with a particular interest in things related to the Holy Spirit, and developed his five “Spiritual Mysteries”: “The Prophets,” “The Incarnation,” “The Gifts of the Spirit,” “The Fruit of the Spirit” and “The Forgiving of Sins.”
Connick believes the Holy Spirit is key to a healthy spirituality. “He’s the one who sanctifies us and hence is vital to our spiritual lives,” he said.
He worked closely with priests he knew how to create the meditations, including a former pastor, Father Dennis Hayes. The St. Dominic’s series is the third time he’s publicly introduced the “Spiritual Mysteries”; the other times were at the archdiocese’s Notre Dame Seminary and at St. Rita’s, his former New Orleans parish.
Sandy Sanchez is a fellow St. Dominic’s parishioner who was helping Connick organize the devotion. “The Spiritual Mysteries,” she said, “are amazing. Mr. Connick has really done his homework and put together a wonderful meditation.”
She described Connick as “extremely devout” and noted that he had done much to assist the archdiocese. During the “Spiritual Mysteries” devotion held at the seminary, for example, Connick handed out prayer cards with requests that donations be made for the support of seminarians, and money started coming in.
His friendship with the archdiocese was such, she continued, that when Connick asked Archbishop Aymond for his support of the “Spiritual Mysteries,” he was pleased to offer it.
Father James Wehner is rector/president of Notre Dame Seminary and presented “The Holy Spirit and the Incarnation” May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
“When we reflect on the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation history, from the time of the prophets to the earthly ministry of Jesus to those early days of the Church,” Father Wehner explained, “we see how the Holy Spirit blessed the People of God in truth. The Lord Jesus was given the Holy Spirit, and it was the Lord Jesus who consecrated the Church in the Holy Spirit. I see the ‘Spiritual Mysteries’ as one way for us to recognize our need for devotion to the Holy Spirit.”
The Blessed Mother is key in understanding how to promote the devotion to the Holy Spirit, the priest believes: “The words of the Magnificat — ‘My soul magnifies the greatness of the Lord’ — is our own way of how the Spirit consecrates us for mission in the Church and in our world. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ — the dwelling among us, how God dwells with his people in Jesus, in the Spirit: This is how the Church, the Body of Christ, relates to the cultures of the world. The Holy Spirit, the Incarnate Word and Our Lady — the thrust of evangelization is understood in these mysteries.”
Father Wehner noted that Connick is a leading Catholic in the community and a good friend to the seminary, even commissioning an iconic painting of the Holy Spirit “that we have proudly positioned on the main floor of the seminary to remind us of how blessed we are as a seminary community.”
He added, “I believe Catholics can be inspired in their own faith when we better understand how the Holy Spirit consecrates us for the noble efforts of evangelization.”
Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.
This story was updated after posting to correct biographical information.