Blanchet coach faced cancer with strong faith and grace

  • Written by Louis McGill
  • Published in Local
Chris Connors, a popular math teacher and boys varsity soccer coach at Bishop Blanchet High School, died Nov. 17 of stomach cancer. Photo: Stephen Brashear Chris Connors, a popular math teacher and boys varsity soccer coach at Bishop Blanchet High School, died Nov. 17 of stomach cancer. Photo: Stephen Brashear

SEATTLE – Saturday’s funeral Mass won’t be the first time the Bishop Blanchet High School community has gathered to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of math teacher, soccer coach and alumnus Chris Connors.

“We’ve been grieving all fall,” said principal Sheila Kries.

Blanchet’s faculty, staff, and students made the most of the time they had left with Connors, 41, since learning of his inoperable stomach cancer diagnosis in August. They were blessed with being able to say goodbye, Kries said.

Before Connors died Nov. 17, many of his colleagues visited with him at home while substitute teachers filled in. “The most important thing was to be with him,” Kries said.

Kristin Kuzmanich, Connors’ wife and fellow Blanchet teacher, has been amazed by what she calls the remarkable acts of kindness their family received from everyone at the school.

“To see it in action is absolutely astounding and humbling,” she said.

Chris and Kristin Connors on their wedding dayChris Connors and Kristin Kuzmanich, both teachers at Bishop Blanchet High School, were married June 7. Photo: Courtesy Bishop Blanchet High School

Kristin and Chris married in June at Seattle University’s Chapel of St. Ignatius, and their reception was held at Blanchet. They didn’t know it was possible to feel more loved than on their wedding day, Kuzmanich said, but the community’s outpouring of love and support after Chris’ diagnosis surpassed even that.

The family, including Connors’ two daughters, ages 10 and 12, received all kinds of relief and comfort from their Catholic school community, from meals to a donation page created for them, to a flood of cards and prayers. Knowing so many people were praying for them was especially comforting, Kuzmanich said.

Kuzmanich has grocery bags full of cards from students, alumni and faculty. She plans to display them during Chris’ funeral, along with posters and other gifts, as a tangible sign for his two daughters of the impact their dad had and the love community has for him.

Through his illness, Connors displayed an unwillingness to give up and a graceful handling of suffering, said Rick O’Leary, Blanchet’s athletic director, who taught math next door to Connors. Those qualities showed Connors’ strength as a person and the strength of his faith, O’Leary said.

The school community tried to support Connors’ family throughout the ordeal. All of their efforts — from remodeling the family’s bathroom with an accessible shower to taking over Connors’ volunteer hours at his daughters’ school — were a way to give something tangible that would allow the family one less thing to worry about, O’Leary said. 

“We just thought, What can we take off their plate so they can spend more time as a family?” he said.

Hand print posterStudents at Bishop Blanchet High School made a poster of their handprints in the school’s colors in memory of teacher and soccer coach Chris Connors. Photo: Courtesy Bishop Blanchet High School

At Blanchet, there were prayer assemblies and student-body art projects, including a large poster of student handprints in Blanchet’s gold and green school colors and hundreds of origami cranes in a chain that now hang in the school chapel.

“We’re going to miss him greatly,” Kries said. “He was a true son of our school.”

After graduating from Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake School, Connors went to Blanchet, graduating in 1991. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in teaching, making his way back to Blanchet in 2000, where he became a math teacher and soccer coach.

During his illness, Connors’ soccer team did their best to show their coach what he meant to them. With the help of players at O’Dea High School, they got a video of Seattle Sounder and O’Dea High School alum Deandre Yedlin offering Connors a message of support, said Blanchet senior and soccer player Nicky Hamel.

Connors’ death has affected his entire family, Hamel said. They became close to Connors over the years as Hamel and his brothers played soccer for him. “His personality was so bright. He always made your day better and put a smile on your face,” Hamel said. “It’s just so weird to have your coach just be gone. There’s nothing like it.”

The Blanchet soccer team plans to add an armband or patch to their uniforms in remembrance of Connors for the upcoming season. The cross country team put Connors’ name on their uniforms, Kries said, and the school is discussing other ways they can honor his memory.

Kuzmanich said she and Connors felt Blanchet was their home. As a proud alumnus of Blanchet, a Catholic school was the only place Connors wanted to work, she said, and the couple have been blessed to have the Blanchet community around them.

“It’s never been clearer that this was the right place to be,” she said. 

Connors coachingChris Connors coached the JV girls and varsity boys soccer teams at Bishop Blanchet High School. Photo: Courtesy Bishop Blanchet High School

Funeral Mass

The funeral Mass for Blanchet teacher and coach Chris Connors will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at Our Lady of the Lake Church, 8900 35th Ave N.E., Seattle.

A reception and celebration of Connors’ life will be held immediately afterward at Bishop Blanchet High School, 8200 Wallingford Ave N., Seattle.

View Chris Connors’ obituary.