He inspired students and colleagues alike as a longtime professor at St. Catherine University.
Each year when it came time to choose an adviser, theology students at St. Catherine University routinely asked for Prof. Russell Connors.
"If we didn't watch out, he would have more than his share of advisees," said Bill McDonough, Connors' friend and longtime theology colleague.
For years, Connors taught theology and served as chairman of the college's Theology Department.
He died of liver cancer Tuesday at his St. Paul home, said his wife, Patty. He was 62.
Former Archbishop Harry Flynn is scheduled to say the funeral mass for Connors, a former Catholic priest, on Saturday at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in St. Paul.
Born in 1948 in Cleveland, Connors was the youngest of five children. He graduated from St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland and later entered Cleveland's St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology and became a Catholic priest. He earned his doctorate in Christian ethics at Rome's Alphonsianum.
He returned to the United States and taught at St. Mary Seminary. In 1995, he accepted a teaching position at what was then the College of St. Catherine. There he met Patty, a music professor, at a faculty meeting. He auditioned for the community choir directed by Patty, and the rest is history, she said. After 20 years as a priest, he was granted a release from his priestly vows, and at the age of 48, he and Patty married.
They had two children -- Elizabeth and Patrick -- and family life became his chief priority, his colleagues said.
He had a passion for teaching and, as with the priesthood, saw it as a way to help society.
"It was through his teaching most especially that he hoped to continue this idea of making a difference in the world," Patty Connors said.
A favorite among students, he taught several courses, including Christian ethics, his specialty, and another course that he designed to serve the growing number of nursing students on campus. It was called: "Suffering, Compassion and Healing: Theology and Spirituality in Health Care."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children, Elizabeth, 14, and Patrick, 11, of St. Paul; sisters Maureen Maldonado of Avon, Ohio, Linda Carlin of Westlake, Ohio, and Ellen Meyer of Avon, Ohio; a brother, Timothy Connors of Westlake, Ohio; 24 nieces and nephews, and numerous great-nieces and nephews.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Randolph at Albert Avenues in St. Paul. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, with a parish vigil at 7 p.m. at O'Halloran & Murphy Funeral Home, 575 S. Snelling Av. in St. Paul.
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488