John and Josephine Connelly’s greatest joy came from helping others. From big grants to everyday (often anonymous) acts of simple generosity, they delighted in the opportunity to bring whatever measure of happiness, encouragement, or support they could to the people of this region. To them, charity was not an obligation, but a blessing.
The children of Irish immigrants, they were faithful Catholics, patriotic Americans, and proud Philadelphians. As John Connelly would (perhaps impatiently) remind family members entertaining a notion of moving away: “Philadelphia has everything – why would you ever want to live anywhere else?”
John Francis Connelly grew up in North Philadelphia and left school at a young age. Quick-witted, independent, and indefatigable, he found rapid success in business, but was always mindful of the value of a good education – particularly a Catholic school education. He viewed education as a ladder to lift people out of poverty and into success.
John Connelly prized entrepreneurship, fairness, personal responsibility, and faith. In 1945 he started his own corrugated box company, Connelly Containers, Inc. located in Bala Cynwyd, along the side of the Schuylkill River just west of the Philadelphia city limits. Through hard work and inspiring leadership the business soon grew to become one of the region’s leading manufacturers of corrugated boxes and tri-wall packaging. In 1957 John Connelly took over the leadership of Crown Cork and Seal, Co., Inc., a can-and-bottle-cap manufacturer based in Baltimore that had fallen on hard times. He moved the company’s headquarters to Philadelphia, and over the next 30 years built Crown into a globe-spanning industry leader.
During his time at Crown, Connelly Containers also prospered under the leadership of his son, Tom Connelly, and the business diversified into paper-making and food processing. The company was an important part of the community for decades and each year a well-lit Christmas tree was perched high atop the Connelly Containers water tower as a seasonal greeting to all the travelers on the nearby expressway and neighbors across the river in Manayunk.
John F. Connelly died in 1990, but his legendary work ethic, innovative thinking, and relentless attention both to costs and customer service are still taught as business school case studies today.
Although less well-known, Josephine O’Neill Connelly was equally remarkable. She grew up in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia and attended Catholic schools, including Rosemont College. Her wit and humor were matched only by her decency and elegance. At her funeral in 1999 her family was surprised by the sheer number of people they had never met before – people for whom Mrs. Connelly had at some point done some kindness without ever telling anyone else about it. She treated everyone she met with respect, good cheer, and grace.
John Connelly’s hard work and commitment to his fellow man has resulted in over $500 million being invested since 1955 in helping the people of the Philadelphia area. A modest man who shunned publicity and praise, Mr. Connelly once reflected, “I just sit in awe about how much has been given and thank God every minute of every day for the privilege of being able to help all of these people.”