[2014 Preface: As noted on the introductory page, this reminiscence was written in 2004 after the death of +William C. Koneazny. It was republished five years ago on the fifth anniversary of his death. It is my privilege to republish it yet again ten years to the day after the death of this legendary figure, a man who cooperated with the graces to accept the true state of Holy Mother Church in this time of apostasy and betrayal no matter what it cost him in terms of human respect. Please pray for the soul of this gregarious Catholic gentleman, whose larger than life presence is missed so much by his widow, his children and grandchildren.]
News of the death of William C. Koneazny reached me late on the evening of June 16, 2004. He had died around the time of the Angelus earlier that morning, according to an e-mail sent to Richard and Silvana Cowden-Guido by his daughter, Mrs. Jean Koneazny Pollock. There was a Solemn High Requiem Mass for this indescribable apostle of the Catholic Faith at the former Saint Patrick Church in Falls Village, Connecticut, on Wednesday, June 23, 2004, at 10:00 a.m. As one who met Bill Koneazny and his remarkable family nearly eighteen years ago, I want to renew on this fifth anniversary of Bill’s death an assurance to his devoted widow, Mrs. Eloise Koneazny, and to his children and grandchildren and great grandchildren (as well as the rest of his family members) that we pray for his soul every day. And I also want to take this opportunity to revisit a few reminiscences of a remarkable Catholic man, William C. Koneazny, who was 77 years of age at the time of his death.
The Providence of God leads us to meet many people in the course of our lifetimes. As the late Father John A. Hardon, S.J., noted frequently, “There is no such thing as a coincidence. Everything happens within the Providence of God.” I was led to meet Bill and Eloise Koneazny and their clan back when I was running for Lieutenant Governor of New York on the Right to Life Party line in the summer of 1986.
Jean Pollock, who ran what was called the “Summer Catholic Rendezvous” at the Canaan Valley Sporting Club in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in an area where the border between northwestern Connecticut and southwestern Massachusetts meanders and weaves in an almost incomprehensible manner, called me to ask my running mate, Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, and/or me to speak at their Summer Rendezvous. Mrs. Marjorie Garvey, who helped to put out The Parents’ Guide to Opus Dei, had recommended that Jean contact me.
Well, Mr. Dillon, who died on August 15, 2010, was unavailable. Thus, Jean had to settle for me. I can say in all truth that my agreeing to speak at the Rendezvous in the summer of 1986 helped to set me on the path to correct the errors of my Americanist ways and thus become an advocate of the Social Reign of Christ the King. As you will discover below, Bill Koneazny himself played a major role in my “conversion” in this regard.
Mrs. Pollock gave me meticulous directions to the Canaan Valley Sporting Club. Although I made a wrong turn or two on the mountain roads that were on the final leg of my journey from Long Island to Sheffield, Massachusetts, I made it there late on a Friday afternoon. The children of Jean Pollock and her husband Patrick were holding down the fort at the dilapidating structure that was the sporting club. Little did I realize that those six children, who ranged in age at that time from eleven to one (God blessed them with four more siblings), had been exposed all throughout their lives to some of the most influential Catholics, men and women who had participated in the phenomenon (and there is no other word to describe it) known as the Catholic Rendezvous, both in Sheffield and at the Ragamont Inn in Salisbury, Connecticut, in November of each year.
The Catholic Rendezvous was organized by Bill and Eloise Koneazny in the early 1970s to gather together a variety of Catholic speakers for a combination of talks, spiritual devotions, debates and discussions, all interspersed with a considerable amount of the consumption of adult beverages and the smoking of oversized cigars, neither of which interested me in the slightest. That, however, did not deter me from enjoying the camaraderie of the Rendezvous.
The Rendezvous was an outgrowth of Triumph magazine, which had been started by the late Brent Bozell in 1964 when he broke with his brother-in-law, William F. Buckley, Jr., over the secular conservative thrust of National Review. The late Brent Bozell, the father of the Brent Bozell who is known as the “conservative” bird dog of the “mainstream” media, came to understand the necessity of promoting the triumph of the Social Reign of Christ the King as the only way to retard the evils of modernity.
Among some of the writers of Triumph apart from Mr. Bozell who were recruited to participate in the Rendezvous in the early days were Warren Carroll, who founded Christendom College in 1977, Garry Potter, and Donald D’Elia, a professor of history at the State University of New York College at New Paltz (and a prominent figure in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars and the Society of Catholic Social Scientists). Among those who would participate as the years wore on were Richard Cowden-Guido, Father James LeBar (the chief exorcist of the Archdiocese of New York), the late Dr. William A. Marra, and a whole host of others whose names I simply cannot recall at this point.
My own participation in the Rendezvous came relatively late in the phenomenon’s life. Many of the Rendezvousers were early participants in Operation Rescue. Some of them were brutalized in the police riot that took place in West Hartford, Connecticut, in June of 1989. The Rendezvous was an eclectic mix of sometimes quite eccentric personalities. Each Rendezvous had enough combustible material to ignite heated conversations about First and Last Things, to say nothing about the state of the Church and the world. And it spawned a few imitations. Garry Potter had a Washington Catholic Rendezvous in February of 1987.
Most of the participants in the Rendezvous were earnest “conservative” Catholics who were devoted to the Social Reign of Christ the King but who had yet to come to realize the importance of restoring the Traditional Latin Mass. Nonetheless, contacts were made there that helped many of us to find our way to tradition. The late Dr. Marra helped the Koneaznys find their way back to Tradition, just as he had helped me, along with Bill Koneazny, to come to understand the incompatibility of the American founding with the Faith. The Rendezvous thus brought together a variety of disparate souls who came to profit from the interchanges provided thereby.
I met Bill Koneazny and his wife Eloise late that Friday afternoon in July of 1986. He was sitting in a plastic chair on the veranda of the Canaan Valley Sporting Club, bedecked in a large shirt that he wore outside of his pants and festooned with a straw Panama hat. A cigar, which I came to realize was an ubiquitous feature of his, was being puffed quite merrily as he shook my hand. He began speaking about his early days in the tree and pest business, describing also his days as a stand-up comedian in some of the local establishments in western Massachusetts. I had no idea, however, of the Catholic profundity of this man until the next morning, although I discovered the piety of the home in which his wife and he lived later that evening. They had created a very impressive outdoor Way of Cross that led to a stone shrine in honor of Our Lady. “These are serious Catholics,” I thought to myself at the time. I learned just how serious by the following morning.
Jean Pollock had asked me to give a talk to the young people gathered for the Summer (or Youth) Rendezvous about the sin of “human respect.” The first part of the talk centered on the obligations we have to be soldiers in the Army of Christ and to resist peer pressure and popularity in order to stand fast in defense of the Holy Faith. I would not change a word of the first part of that talk. The second part, however, centered on how we had the opportunity under the framework of the American Constitution to speak as Catholics and to restore once again the primacy of God’s laws over human law as the foundation of the administration of justice. I not only would change everything about the second part of that talk; I am embarrassed by the fact that I gave it.
Bill Koneazny really stuck it to me immediately after I had completed my talk. As he took a puff on his cigar in the big plastic arm chair, he barked, “The Constitution is evil. It does not mention Christ.” I “defended” the Constitution by saying that it at least gave us the opportunity to compete in the marketplace of ideas, that we could use its framework to plant the seeds for the Catholicization of the country. I was quite wrong, of course, which is why I recognize only too well the arguments made by those who think me daft nowadays for my criticism of the American founding as antithetical to the Catholic Faith.
Bill Koneazny was unimpressed with my response. Speaking quite directly to a candidate for the second highest office in the State of New York, Bill said, “Politics is a sideshow.” I was not ready at that time to accept his comments. However, I filed them away. By the grace of our dear Blessed Mother I came to recognize the Catholic wisdom she had imparted upon William C. Koneazny and his brilliant ability to speak truth in a direct and forceful manner between puffs on a cigar. He was right, I was wrong.
Bill and Eloise Koneazny spent a great deal of money funding the food and the drinks served at the Rendezvous, to say nothing of paying for the expenses of the speakers. They cooked up many of the meals for the rendezvouers, especially during the summer rendezvous, and served their guests. They demonstrated both humility and graciousness, sprinkled with a lot of good humor, in the process.
Indeed, Bill was an expert chef. He and Eloise had their own catering business, an enterprise that would bring them into the homes of people who found themselves exposed to the Koneaznys’ apostolic efforts. And Bill and Eloise would venture down the 120 miles or so from the Berkshire Mountains to New York City once or twice a year, staying at Howard Johnson’s hotel on the west side of Manhattan, affording them a good location from which to witness to the Catholic Faith to street walkers and drug dealers. Bill used these occasions to swagger into bars with his panama hat and walking stick, shouting out, “Listen up, everyone. Belly on up to the bar. We’re talking about God and the Catholic Church. Drinks are on the house.” Bill, who was a very good apologist for the Faith, took on all comers. God uses each man’s strengths to try to reach other’s souls. Bill Koneazny’s strength was that he was a showman who used his naturally gregarious bent for the sake of bringing souls into the true Church (or bringing the fallen away back into the Church).
Bill and Eloise’s generosity extended to the speakers they imported for the Rendezvous. They put up some of the speakers in their home, nestled in the foothills of the Berkshires in Sheffield, Massachusetts, although they spent a few months every year in a winter home in Picayune, Mississippi. I spent a few nights at their home in Sheffield back in July of 1986, sharing a bedroom with Dr. Don D’Elia. A typical Rendezvous moment occurred the first evening of my stay there.
Don D’Elia has worn hearing aids for years. He stored his hearing aids in a drawer of a bureau in the bedroom we were sharing in the Koneazny house that weekend in 1986. I heard a strange sort of buzzing sound emanating from the direction of the bureau, not knowing it was the sound of Don’s hearing aids. Don was sound asleep in his bed, stone cold deaf as he snored up a storm. Well, as one who treasures the opportunity to sleep, I was determined to stop the noise. So, I pounded on the bureau. The noise stopped.
We found out the next morning that I had killed Don D’Elia’s hearing aids. “I think I killed Don D’Elia’s hearing aids,” I announced the next morning at breakfast. Bill and Eloise just roared when the story was recounted. Indeed, Bill, who had been, as mentioned before, a professional comic and story-teller, was full of personal vignettes that had occurred over the years at the Rendezvous. And his broad sense of humor, which could range from the earthy to the dry, usually manifested itself in multifaceted ways during the course of any given Rendezvous.
One of the examples of Bill Koneazny’s dry humor occurred at the end of the “winter” Rendezvous at the Ragamont Inn in November of 1989. He posted a typewritten “schedule” for the final day, a Sunday, of the Rendezvous. It went something like this:
9:00 a.m. Rosary
9:30 a.m. Holy Mass
10:45 a.m. Brunch
12:00 noon Final talk
1:30 p.m. Everyone leaves the Ragamont Inn to return home
4:00 p.m. Farley Clinton speaks
If you don’t catch that one, I am sorry, folks. Bill was having some fun at the expense of Farley Clinton, who has been for some years now the Rome correspondent for The Wanderer, who was not present at that Rendezvous. Bill was also able to poke fun at himself, especially when he moderated Catholic trivia games. And he was not above trying bring a bit of levity to events that were a little pretentious, as he did at a fund-raiser for Christendom College in New York City in the 1980s. The precise nature of Bill’s prank is probably best not to publish here. Suffice it to say, however, that it brought down the house. And there was the time in 1987 during the youth Rendezvous that a large spider was lowering itself right next to where Ann Cillus, who heads the Padre Pio Society in Canada, was speaking. Mrs. Cillus was a little unnerved by the arachnid. Bill Koneazny was unfazed. He took the spider by its web, put it in his mouth and ate it with delight. “Could have used a bit more pepper,” he said as Mrs. Cillus tried to control a scream of surprise. Bill just licked his chops as Mrs. Cillus tried to regain her composure.
Above and beyond all that Bill Koneazny sought to do for the Church–and above and beyond the burlesque nature of the personality he used to good effect in public settings, though, he and his wife were first and foremost Catholic parents who were concerned about getting their children home to Heaven. Each of their four children (Jean, Joan, Jennifer and James, all “J’s in honor of Our Lord) continued on their parents’ apostolic efforts in their own way, welcoming their own children quite generously and training them, the Koneazys’ grandchildren, to be apostles for Christ the King and Mary our Immaculate Queen.
Bill Koneazny was man known to do great penances. He once announced that he was going to go on a strict bread and water fast throughout the forty days of Lent. I was very impressed when he said to this to me. He then deadpanned. “Yes, I am going to drink nothing other than beer during the entirety of Lent. What’s beer but bread and water compressed into a can?”
Although quite the jokester in public, Bill Koneazny was deadly serious about the salvation of his immortal soul, especially about prayer and real acts of penance and mortification. His daughter Jean Pollock told me in a phone conversation five days before he died that he prayed the Thirty Days’ Novena to Saint Joseph every day of his adult life. Bill Koneazny, although he had gone to the Novus Ordo for over twenty years before the late Bill Marra brought him back to Tradition, was not influenced by the new religion into thinking that he had his salvation assured for him. He worked out his salvation in fear and in trembling, spending countless hidden hours in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and to the Mother of God.
As a man of consummate faith and complete acceptance of the will of God, Bill Koneazny gave remarkable witness to others when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2003. After having been given the initial news, Bill went back for a follow-up examination. He brought some flowers for the nurse who had been attending him. Quite surprised, she said, “No patient’s ever given me flowers before.” Bill told her, “No one’s ever given me cancer before.” By the grace of our dear Blessed Mother, Bill Koneazny, who would frequently sing in a very loud voice “Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria” as he walked through the corridors of the Canaan Valley Sporting Club or the Ragamont Inn during a Rendezvous, was intent on demonstrating that a Catholic accepts the news of a terminal illness with faith in the will of God, being grateful for the opportunity to prepare for a happy and holy death.
Bill Koneazny has now encountered his true Catholic rendezvous. It can be said that the Rendezvous events he sponsored over the course of twenty years (the last one was in Kingston, New York in 1994, I believe) were really something of a foretaste of the Last Day, when all of the souls of the just will be rejoicing forever in the glory of the Beatific Vision.
Well, Bill has had his rendezvous with the Divine Master he loved so completely and served so well throughout his seventy-seven years of life. He would be the first one to implore his family and his many hundreds upon hundreds of friends and acquaintances to pray for the repose of his immortal soul and to have Masses offered for him ceaselessly, to say nothing of remembering him in their daily Rosaries. The legacy of Catholic apostolic zeal and fervor he imparted upon his children and grandchildren will include Masses offered for his immortal soul when his great grandchildren are having children or have entered the religious life.
What I did not note five years ago in the original posting of this article was that the late William C. Koneazny, the man who helped to steer me away from there heresy of Americanism, was also light years ahead of me about the simple truth that those who defect from the Faith expel themselves from the Church and thus cannot hold ecclesiastical office legitimately. Bill’s prayers from eternity, I am sure, helped us to find our way to the truth about our ecclesiastical situation. It was through the Koneaznys and the Pollocks that we met Father Joseph Collins in 2003, and it was through Father Collins that we met Father Denis McMahon, who brought my late father-in-law, Mr. John Collins, back to the Faith one month before he died in 2007 after having been away from It for over seventy years. We owe Bill a great deal.
Bill Koneazny was sent many graces by Our Lady in his life. He did not waste them. He is still working for us from eternity as his dear widow, Mrs. Eloise Koneazny, has Masses offered for his immortal soul on the sixteenth of each and every month and as his friends, including us, remember his immortal soul in our prayers every single day without fail.
Once again, in behalf of my wife Sharon and our daughter Lucy Mary Norma, I want to assure Mrs. Koneazny and her children and their spouses and their own children of our prayers for Bill Koneazny’s immortal soul each day, including this fifth anniversary of his death. The little church in Falls Village was indeed bursting at the seams five years ago when Father Joseph Collins, who is the pastor of Saint Michael’s Chuch in Glenmont, New York, offered Bill’s Requiem Mass, which itself was a testament to the affection that so many people continue to have for a giant of a Catholic apostle who had such love for Our Lord, Our Lady, Saint Joseph and all of the angels and the saints.
I have quoted Bill Koneazny several times on this site over the years. His daughter Jean told me of her late father’s unshakeable Faith in Our Lady’s Fatima Message. Bill knew full well that Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart would triumph in the end. As he told his children, “Our Lady will come and throw the bums out!”
Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace. Amen.
Anima ejus et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace. Amen.