St. Mary Magdalen parishioner will be the next coordinator of the Office for Safe Environments
Michael Connelly, who becomes the Diocese of Wilmington’s new coordinator of the Office for Safe Environments April 24, first dealt with cases of children being sexually and physically abused during his 20-year career in the Delaware State Police.
The former captain, who served most of his career in the detective division in New Castle County, retired in 1998 as commander of Troop 2, then in New Castle, now in Glasgow.
His police work included learning about sexual predators of children. He was sent to a course in North Jersey during the mid-1980s, where he recalled his instructor saying, “we’re preparing you for the onslaught,” because both police and prosecutors at the time were sensing sex abuse cases were going to become more public than society had previously known. And that outlook assumed the cases would be those within the existing statutes of limitations.
The Delaware State Police then asked Connelly to teach a sex crimes investigations course for several years at the Delaware State Police Academy.
“Those cases were just heart-wrenching,” Connelly said recently. “I often wonder where those victims are today and if they’re doing OK.”
Becoming head of the Safe Environments office, isn’t the first time the diocese has called on Connelly’s experience. He was asked to work with the diocesan committee that helped plan the local response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 2003 charter, “For the Sake of God’s Children,” guidelines formulated in response to the tragic revelations of sex abuse of children by clergy.
Connelly was tasked with others at working on how the background investigations required of church and parish employees, as well as parish volunteers, would be handled, “because we were going to be hiring a company to do it. I was on the compliance committee.”
His new post will include keeping some 2,000 background checks on parish employees and volunteers up to date.
As the coordinator of Safe Environments, Connelly will also oversee the diocese’s “Keeping Our Promises” curriculum for school-age children that ensures they are safe and protected in parish and school communities.
Based on his previous safe environment work before he was asked if he’d be interested in heading the office after Sister Carroll Juliano leaves on April 24, Connelly said he thinks the diocesan measures to protect children have been working well.
“It was quite a scandal, quite a shock to everybody. We knew we had to take steps that it would never happen again,” he added.
“I really think the programs now are firmly entrenched in the minds of pastors, principals, and the people who are involved in athletics.” However, “there will be simple reminders, so we don’t end up getting complacent.”
“We are really fortunate to have someone with Mike Connelly’s vast experience to head up our Office for Safe Environments,” said Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, vicar general for the diocese, in a statement. “I am looking forward to working with him to continue to assure that the children and youth in our care are as safe as possible, and that all Catholic school and parish programs in Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore remain a safe, healthy and happy environment.”
Connelly, 61, and his wife Mary Ann live in north Wilmington, where they raised four daughters.
Following his retirement from the state police, Connelly was director of security at the Brandywine Town Center, founded his own security agency, Conmac, and worked as a private investigator, in addition to driving for Dynamic Physical Therapy.
A native of Christ Our King Parish in Wilmington’s Ninth Ward, Connelly and his wife are members of St. Mary Magdalen Parish, where he volunteered as a sports coach for many years.
Connelly, a graduate of Salesianum School and the University of Delaware, said his interest in helping people through police work was sealed when he was a member of Sallies’ Explorer Post that was run by members of the Wilmington Police.
“Service to people, helping people, that’s what drew me,” Connelly said.