Andrew Connolly is a father in two ways.
He is a Roman Catholic priest, well-accustomed to the word by which parishioners call him. And he is a foster parent, a role born of circumstance nearly four decades ago when he took in a 16-year-old who had been living on the streets of Babylon, housed him in the parish rectory, and eventually became his legal foster father.
Today, Louis Krieger, 52, credits the priest with helping turn his life around.
"He made me what I am," said Krieger, a successful customer service manager and IT director at a Brentwood precision metal products manufacturer. Connolly "definitely is a true father figure."
This year, the two are celebrating a special Father's Day: Connolly, 84, has moved in with Krieger and his wife in the couple's Copiague home.
"I love Louie as if he were physically, naturally, my own son," Connolly said. "I would not give up that experience with Louie for anything."
Their story is unusual. Connolly said he does not know of another priest in the Diocese of Rockville Centre who has become a foster parent or adopted a child. Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the diocese, said he did not know of any similar cases.
Church found safe haven
The two met in 1978, when a social worker visited Connolly at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church in Wyandanch, which Connolly then headed, and asked if the parish could find "safe haven" homes for children in a new program called Project Safe.
Connolly and another parish priest, the Rev. Bill Brisotti, agreed. The next day, the social worker returned, bringing Krieger. The teenager had been taken in by Suffolk police, who had found him sleeping in the hallway of an apartment building. He had spent the previous two months on the streets, sleeping under buses, in parks, anywhere he could find.
Krieger said he left home partly because his alcoholic father often beat him -- sometimes, he said, they had fistfights in the middle of the street. His mother had left years ago.
The social worker asked Connolly and Brisotti if they could house the teenager in the rectory for about two weeks. They agreed.
The weeks stretched on. After about three months, with no relatives offering Krieger a home, he was going to end up back on the streets. That prompted Connolly to consider becoming his foster father.
One day, he started the conversation by asking Krieger what he thought of him.
"I think of you as my father," Krieger said, breaking into tears.
Connolly broached the foster-father idea. The teenager was immediately on board.
The priest believed strongly that he needed approval of his pastoral team and parishioners. So, during his homily in every Mass, he explained his plan and asked the congregation what they thought.
"I got a standing ovation from every single Mass," Connolly said. "They were thoroughly in agreement."
Connolly said then-Bishop John McGann initially was against the idea. It was an unorthodox proposal, but Connolly persuaded him.
"I was convinced it was thoroughly the right thing to do, because I was afraid for Louie's life," he said. "If he was out on his own [on the streets], he'd be dead in a month, he was so mixed-up at that time."
Krieger found he not only had a new father, but a new mother -- actually, many of them.
"All of a sudden everyone wanted to be my mother," he said, referring to women in the parish. "That's how I got adopted by 50 mothers."
Life turned around
He slowly put his life back together. He graduated from high school and took courses in aerospace engineering at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury.
He could not finish his degree at NYIT, he said, because he ran out of money and his biological father became sick. By then, through Connolly's encouragement, the two had reconciled, and Krieger helped care for his father, who died in 2002.
Connolly, meanwhile, was on assignment in the diocese's mission in the Dominican Republic, where he worked for 17 years.
Krieger worked in a variety of jobs before landing five years ago at the Brentwood business. He also is a trained paramedic who has volunteered with the Wyandanch-Wheatley Heights Ambulance Corp. He has been married for 15 years.
"I think he has conquered his past to an enormous extent," Connolly said. "He's become a good, healthy, responsible human being despite the hell he went through."
Krieger introduces Connolly to newcomers as "my father." Connolly calls Krieger "my son."
Often, Connolly said, that provokes a puzzled look from people who know he is a priest, until he explains the story.
His years with Krieger, he said, are "an experience that has enhanced my priestly ministry, given me an understanding of parents and kids I didn't have before."
"It's been a blessing," he said. "I am very proud to say, 'This is my son, Louie.' "