NAUGATUCK — Mary Hanlon’s parents came to the United States from Counties Limerick and Cork in Ireland. Joseph Connolly’s grandparents and great-grandparents had come from Counties Cork and Killarney.
Connolly and Hanlon met in 1961, when she joined a Naugatuck Valley ski club that he was the president of.
“It was love at first sight,” said Joseph Connolly, now 84.
They married 50 years ago last Thanksgiving and settled in the borough, where Joseph Connolly grew up. Now the borough chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians is honoring the couple as this year’s Irish Mayors of the Day.
“They’re tremendous assets to our community, especially in the Irish-American community,” said Kevin Knowles, chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day event this Sunday. “They’re just both great people, period.”
Joseph Connolly began his career in education at Central Avenue School before joining the U.S. Navy in 1951. He said he was a lieutenant, junior grade, on a destroyer radar picket ship in the western Pacific for almost five years during the Korean War, serving as the eyes and ears for his division.
He continued in the Naval Reserves for 24 years, retiring as a lieutenant commander, while pursuing his career in education. Connolly said he taught mathematics and social studies at Hillside Middle School before moving to City Hill Middle School, where he became principal in 1976 and held that position for the next 16 years.
Connolly said he decided to be a teacher when he was in the seventh grade, and he was the borough’s first male elementary school teacher.
“There was a certain cadre of people who needed a man, or someone with a little more authority than they were giving to the women,” Joseph Connolly said.
Mary and Joseph Connolly had five children, and as they grew older Mary went to work at the Waterbury Republican, typing obituaries and information from stringers, she said. She worked for the United Way of the Central Naugatuck Valley for 10 years before becoming executive director of the United Way of Naugatuck and Beacon Falls.
Mary Connolly, now 75, said she was drawn to the United Way because the organization helps people.
“So much of the money that’s raised goes directly to the people that need it,” Mary Connolly said. “I found them to be extremely efficient.”
The organization now gives out the Mary H. Connolly Community Caring Award every year in her honor.
“During her tenure the agency enjoyed significant growth in donations and volunteers, and Mary became recognized as an enthusiastic and effective champion of local causes,” family members wrote in a biography for the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Mary Connolly said she comes from a large family, and her parents’ home was always full of Irish family members, visitors, music and dance. She and her husband have, in turn, worked to keep their Irish roots alive in the minds of their children.
“My parents came here and were completely immersed in America — my father started his own business — and truly became Americans, but they did not forget their heritage,” Mary Connolly said.
Mary and Joseph Connelly will be honored as Naugatuck’s Irish Mayors for the Day Sunday. The day’s events include a mass at 11:30 a.m. at St. Francis Church, 318 Church St., followed by a program honoring the couple at 1 p.m. at the Naugatuck Portuguese Club, 110 Rubber Ave.