When Doug Stanton’s book was published, Fr. Thomas M. Conway was a footnote with no research data. As a Catholic Historian I decided to research his life. The following is a copy of my research. I hope in a small way I have been the catalyst to preserve this man generous life.
LIEUTENANT (REV.) THOMAS MICHAEL CONWAY
CHAPLAIN, U.S. NAVY
Date of Birth: April 5, 1908, Waterbury, Connecticut, 224 Cooke Street
Father – Thomas F. Conway, age 32 – born Ireland
Mother – Margaret (Meade), age 30 – born Ireland
Buried in Old St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterbury, Ct – circa 1934.
Brother – William J. Conway
Sister – died during teenage years
According to Mike Conway (Fr. Conway’s nephew) Fr. Conway’s father was hard drinking, Irish laborer (steamfitter). The family income was divided between cash for drinking and cash for providing the necessities of food, clothing and housing for the family.
Pre-depression years. Thomas M. and William J. are enrolled in Lasalette Junior Seminary. Tuition was about $100 – a lot of money at this time. But it was common for scholarships for young men who may have a vocation. It was hoped that young men attending LaSallette Junior Seminary would enroll in the LaSallette novitiate after high school. At this time the Lasalette Fathers were a missionary religious congregation active in Burma, Madagascar, and South America
Circa 1928 Thomas M. & William J. enroll at Niagara University, founded by the Vincentians. The Congregation of the Mission, more commonly the Vincentians, is a Roman Catholic Apostolic community of Priests and Brothers founded by Saint Vincent de Paul to follow Jesus Christ, evangelizing the poor.
According to the records Thomas M. attended Niagara University 1928 – 1930. He received an A.B. degree on June 10, 1930.
According to Mike Conway, during the years at Niagara University, Thomas mentioned to William that he didn’t think William had a vocation to the priesthood. William J. became an aeronautical engineer and raised a family in Glendale, California. Mike Conway is one of six children born to William. Mike mentioned that his dad did not speak too much about his brother, or WWII. What information they have is from author, Richard F. Newcomb and his book Abandon Ship (1958, 2001).
1932-34 Our Lady of Angels Seminary (Niagara University)
June 8, 1931, Thomas Michael Conway enrolls in the Vincentian Seminary, Our Lady of Angels. The seminary was located on the campus of Niagara University at this time.
May 17, 1934 ordained a deacon, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Buffalo, New York.
May 26, 1934 ordination to the priesthood, in St. Michael’s Cathedral, Springfield, Massachusetts, by Most Reverend Thomas M. O’Leary, Bishop of Springfield.
The following information was provided by Fr. Carven, C.M., archivist, historian
Thank you for the Chronicle. Here’s what I could glean from the records of SOLA that I have. Thomas Conway was a seminarian for the Buffalo diocese. As you have listed, he worked in the diocese before he entered the service.
Steps toward ordination:
Tonsure—received it in the Bishop William Turner’s private chapel in Buffalo on Dec. 15, 1932. On Dec. 16, 1932 he received Minor Orders from the same Bishop at St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
Subdiaconate: June 2, 1933; at the Cathedral, by Bishop Turner
Deacon: March 17, 1934; Bishop Turner, at the Cathedral
Priesthood: May 26, 1934. Priesthood was conferred by Bishop O’Leary of Springfield, Mass. He ordained two men at the Cathedral in Springfield: Thomas Conway for Buffalo and Joseph O’Connell for Rapid City. I do not know the reason for this, although a couple of speculations come to mind.
That is his sacramental journey to the Priesthood.
I spotted this in my search. He was a member of the (Fr.) William F. Likely (C.M.) Pool Association----a dues paying member (.50—after a one time iniation fee of 1.00). He was a member from 1929-1934.
The Seminary of Our Lady of the Angels was a seminary run by the Vincentians. In any one year there would be men from some 8-12 dioceses around the country. The Diocese of Buffalo sent me to Niagara and also to Christ the King Seminary at St. Bonaventure University.
I hope this makes some small contribution.
Fr. Carven, C.M.
1934 – St. Rose of Lima Parish
1935 – All Saints Parish
1939 – St. Teresa’s Parish
1939 – St. Nicholas Parish
1940 – St. Brigids’s Parish
Former parishioners remember Fr. Conway. Tom and Jim Griffin, former altar boys recall that Fr. Conway had a sailboat and would take them sailing on Lake Erie – sailing out to the break-walls. The little sailboat was a familiar sight parked adjacent to the rectory. Fr. Conway’s love for sailing may have influenced his decision to enlist in the Navy. He is remembered as a “man’s man,” a priest in touch and understanding of the realities of working families along the waterfront. Fr. Conway’s father was an Irish steamfitter laborer.
Fr. Michael F. Duggan
October 13, 1941, Fr. Michael F. Duggan, a diocesan priest from Buffalo, was killed while serving in the U.S. Army as a Chaplain.
September 17, 1942 Fr. Conway enlists in US Navy, commissioned a chaplain.
Fr. Conway records a voice message to Mary Noe (Mom)
I spoke on the telephone to Marie Horton this morning (August 20, 2001).
Attending the August 2nd memorial anniversary for Fr. Conway were many of Fr. Conway’s former parishioners. In particular was a lady who is the grand daughter of Mary Noe. It must be recalled that Fr. Conway had no relatives in Buffalo, only his brother who was living in southern California at the time. To Fr. Conway, Marie Noe, was like a mother to him. The Noe family residence was a ‘stones throw’ from Fr. Conway’s rectory when he was stationed at All Saints Parish. One of Mary’s daughters was the housekeeper in Fr. Conways rectory. It is recalled that Fr. Conway had a special medical condition that required particular attention to the types of food and the preparation thereof Fr. Conway ate. Mary’s daughter was responsible for preparing Fr. Conway’s meals. The Noe’s residence became a close family and home to Fr. Conway. Mary Noe had eight children, and one of them was also a Buffalo priest.
How do I know this? Fr. Conway recorded a message on a state-of-the-art, at that time, 78rpm recording machine. The record, though scratched, and difficult to understand at times, much can be transcribed.
Mary Noe’s daughter, Marie, married a man that enjoyed listening to music, and making recording on his equipment. Marie is still living at 86 years old I have spoken to her and still recalls the recording. The day after her wedding her husband left for four years in the Army.
Fr. Conway also enjoyed music and is remembered having a collection of recordings on board ship. After Fr. Conway enlisted he attended camp and returned on leave before shipping out on active duty. Together, Fr. Conway and Marie made a recording. Fr. Conway dedicated his recording to “MOM” (Mrs. Mary Noe).
Fr. Conway introduces the recording with these words,
“Well, Ma, your Sailor Boy
is going to dedicate a very special number to you,
a very, very special mom.
I’d like you to excuse the singing,
it’s not so hot.
Remember, it is always the thought
behind it that counts…
Fr. Conway sings two verses of the song, I Threw a Kiss into the Ocean. The song was written by Irving Berlin for the United States Navy Relief, in March 1942. Fr. Conway enlisted in September 1942. The song was made popular by Benny Goodman accompanied by Peggy Lee.
“I spoke last night to the ocean
spoke last night to the sea
And from the ocean a voice came back
‘Twas my Blue Jacket answering me
Ship Ahoy, ship ahoy
I can hear you, Sailor Boy
I spoke last night to the ocean
I spoke last night to the sea
And from the ocean a voice came back
‘Twas my sole love** answering me
**The true words to the second verse should have repeated Blue Jacket, but Fr. Conway sang sole love instead.
After singing Fr. Conway says,
Well Ma, how’d you like it?
I wrote that I’ve missed you when I’m gone
and now I’m going to miss you.
This phrase gives the clue that he had been away for a time before making the recording. He missed her while at camp after enlisting, and knew he was really going to miss her when he left this time.
The rest of the record is difficult to transcribe, but his message can be gleaned. Fr. Conway fondly talks about “…All the Friday evenings after confession…the many guests and …supper….you were never concerned with that…I liked it…It’s a great place to come into…What have you got to eat?”
The last audible words of Fr. Conway were,
“So, don’t miss me.
I’ll be back.
Remember me in your prayers
and I’ll remember you…So goodbye mom.”
On the flip side of the recording Fr. Conway and Marie sing the Army song “Caissons Go Rolling Along .”
Served at Naval stations along the East Coast. During 1943 he is transferred to the Pacific.
For several months he served on the USS Medusa. On August 25, 1944 Fr. Conway is assigned to the USS Indianapolis.