Funeral Mass for Deacon Tom McConnell held at basilica

Retired Army colonel, Junior ROTC leader served at Sts. Peter and Paul in many ways

By The East Tennessee Catholic

A funeral Mass for Deacon Tom McConnell, who served at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, was held Oct. 9 at the basilica, with basilica rector Father David Carter serving as the celebrant.

Bishop Richard F. Stika was in choir, with priests of the Diocese of Knoxville concelebrating the funeral Mass.

The basilica announced that Deacon McConnell died in his sleep at his home on Sept. 28. He was 75.

Deacon McConnell, a veteran who was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, had served at the basilica since 2017. He retired as a colonel in the Army and then directed the Junior ROTC program for the Hamilton County Department of Education for 24 years before retiring there in 2018.

At the basilica, Deacon McConnell served as deacon for English- and Spanish-speaking communities, a homilist for Masses, founder of “The Deacon’s Table” adult faith formation program, was founder and chief of the security team, led ecumenical outreach in addition to leading other church activities.

Most recently, Deacon McConnell was overseeing the basilica’s major facilities projects to replace the roof, upgrade the HVAC, and secure meeting space for Hispanic ministries.

Deacon McConnell was born in Charlotte, N.C., and raised in the Charlotte suburb of Mount Holly, where he graduated from high school in 1964. He was a middle child with a younger brother and older sister.

He received his Army commission and a bachelor’s degree in 1968 when he graduated from West Point, where he was active in varsity sports and music. He also earned a master’s degree in business administration from Boston University and was a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College and the Army War College.

He was a Senior Service College Intra-Governmental Fellow with the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration.

Deacon McConnell married his high school sweetheart, Brenda, on graduation evening in the West Point Cadet Chapel. They spent the next 26 years in the Army living on three continents in five countries, with extensive travel to every European, Central American, and South American nation as well as many other countries around the world.

Deacon McConnell and his wife have two daughters and two adopted sons (Korean brothers), and four grandchildren. Their daughters and their granddaughters attend the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul.

As a teenager in the Methodist Church, he began to feel God’s call on his life, a call that persisted for over 45 years but remained unfulfilled until his ordination to the Diocese of Knoxville’s permanent diaconate in 2007.

Deacon Tom and Brenda together enjoyed a long spiritual journey from the Methodist and Pentecostal denominations to the Episcopal and several other Protestant denominations until coming “home to Rome” as millennial converts to the Catholic faith at Easter Vigil in 2000 at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Chattanooga.

They bought the house in which they now live in Hixson in 2002 and moved to St. Jude Parish, where they both served as readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion for the parish and Memorial Hospital, and members of the Schola Cantorum.

After his ordination, Deacon McConnell started and led a prison ministry for the Chattanooga Deanery.

Deacon McConnell and his wife were excited to be transferred by Bishop Stika to the basilica in 2017 and to join the basilica family to serve the parish.

As one of his parish assignments, he became involved in the Chattanooga interfaith community and developed an ecumenical apostolate that will mutually benefit all faiths. He and Brenda also started an adult Sunday school class called “The Deacon’s Table” to nourish spirituality and discipleship among its members with Scripture, prayer, and a right relationship with Christ.  Deacon McConnell also served at Masses celebrated in Spanish.

Deacon McConnell is survived by his wife, their daughters, their sons, and their grandchildren.

Deacon McConnell’s body lay in state at the basilica on Oct. 8 preceding the funeral Mass, with a vigil service held the evening of Oct. 8.

A private burial service for Deacon McConnell was held Oct. 11 at Chattanooga National Cemetery.

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