The Priest on Board the USS Indianapolis

I was watching ***Ocean of Fear ***(it’s Shark Week on the Discovery Channel). It’s about the *USS Indianapolis, *the famous ship hit by Japanese torpedos. Most of those who survived the initial blast were killed by sharks. My grandmother’s cousin died either in the blast or was taken by the sharks.

They mentioned the chaplain on the ship, a Father Conally, who swam from group to group, comforting the survivors, praying with them, giving the Last Rites, etc. He died in the water. I’m trying to find out more about him. I googled him, but drew a blank. I want to try to find out more about this good priest who may well be a saint. Does anyone know any more about this man?

I’m going to bump this mercilessly.

Could you be referring to Fr. Conway?

I was unaware of his story, but he was obviously a hero who helped many.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Conway! I got the name wrong. I’m going to research this holy priest and find out if he has his own memorial.

And I’m going to start a new thread, with your link, so everyone can read about Father Conway.

I saw the same thing on television. Absolutely Amazing. The fact he was in the water with them to hear confessions and do gods work is amazing.

:signofcross: Fr. Conway pray for us. :signofcross:


I saw it too! The Discovery Channel actually produced a good show with a complimentary view of a Catholic priest! I could hardly believe it.

The survivors made me weep. What amazing men. Hard to find dudes like that anymore.

This is the story that Quint tells in the movie Jaws (not including the story of the priest). That’s my favorite scene in the movie – the actor tells it so movingly. Here’s the text of his monologue if anyone’s interested.]


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.



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

Niagara University
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.


Continued Part II

Katherine D. Moore, excerpts from letter dated August 29, 2001

“…I know that Fr. Conway went on board the INDIANAPOLIS at Saipan in August, but when the ship came to Mare Island in December 1944, everyone was moved off while the ship was being painted. My husband was in Damage Control School at Mare Island but we lived in San Francisco and saw almost nothing of his shipmates.
When the ship returned to Mare Island in April 1945 after the damage at Okinawa, most of the single officers were moved to BOQ, and again, I saw almost nothing of those whom I usually saw at dinner.
All this is to say that I did not know Father Conway, and after the ship was lost I heard of his heroism from Dr. Haynes and Lt. Redmayne.
I am glad that efforts are being made to honor a man who served his God and his country so valiantly. One will not find a true account of the lives of many men aboard the INDIANAPOLIS from much that is currently said and written. Much pain has been needlessly inflicted, and for myself, I am sure it will never end.”

USS Indianapolis Sinking - Lieutenant (Rev.) Thomas M. Conway, Chaplain – excerpts from primary sources and published works:

30 July Discovery Channel – Mike Kuryla transcript excerpt
The Sinking “(The night of the sinking) was Sunday. And I went to church and the chaplain was Father (Thomas) Conway and he’d run the Catholic mass and then he would have the Protestant mass or service after that. I was a churchgoer before I went into the Navy so I did keep it up when I was in the service. And that night I went on watch the 8 to 12 midnight. So I was up in sky aft on watch, and I was just getting relieved just before midnight…”
This would be Fr. Conway’s last celebration of Eucharist

30 July – 2 August - Frank J. Centazzo, Survivor, USS Indianapolis
In a letter recent letter to Mayor Anthony M. Marsiello, City of Buffalo, Centazzo writes, “I am a survivor of the ill fated cruiser, Indianapolis. Please consider my request to rename First District Park to Conway Park in memory of Father Conway. The heroic chaplain who gave his life to save others in the open sea disaster of July 30, 1945.
Father Conway was in every way a messenger of our Lord. He loved his work no matter what the challenge. He was respected and loved by all his shipmates.
I was in the group with Father Conway, Cmdr. Lipski, Capt. Parke, Ensign Hill and Dr. Haynes. I saw him go from one small group to another. Getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued. He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached me and Paul McGiness. He was thrashing the water and Paul and I held him so he could rest a few hours. Later, he managed to get away from us and we never saw him again.
Father Conway was successful in his mission to provide spiritual strength to all of us. He made us believe that we would be rescued. He gave us hope and the will to endure. His work was exhausting and he finally succumbed in the evening of the third day. He will be remembered by all of the survivors for all of his work while on board the “Indy” and especially three days in the ocean.

30 July 30 – 2 August Edward J. (Big Ed) Brown S1/c Survivor USS Indianapolis
From a recent email: This story about Father Conway just about tells it all about the man. There were no Agnostics around the USS Indianapolis Chaplain. Everyone loved and respected him. He had a smile and a good word and a kind word for every man aboard. I was with him in the water and with him with the Doctor when he passed into the grave of the Pacific, with so many more of our shipmates. For me to watch him go was a kick in the stomach and Danny Spencer and I had a terrific let-down at that moment in time. We had lost a great friend and a great deal of inspiration in fighting for our survival.
There was a reason for Father Conway to be with us and I can only remember him today by his ever present Irish Smile.

God has blessed him. He did his job here extremely well. I loved him. We all loved him.

5 August 1945 – Fr. William F. Frawley
Fr. William F. Frawley, Chaplain at Base Hospital #20, Peleliu Island; where the majority of survivors were taken for medical attention immediately after rescue. Fr. Frawley was ordained June 13, 1937, and released from the Diocese of Pittsburgh on October 6, 1943, to serve as a Chaplain. In a letter to Archdiocese of Military Services, Fr. Frawley writes about, “The true facts concerning the death of Fr. Thomas Conway…” The letter is dated two days after the rescue and during the government news blackout. Fr. Frawley writes, “He along with about eight hundred others, got off the ship into the water when the explosions occurred. On the evening of the third day in the water, completely exhausted, he drowned.

All the survivors who were brought to our Base Hospital have the highest praise for him. They report that he had been aboard the cruiser for the past year; that he had done much to improve the Ship’s facilities; that he treated the personnel indiscriminately, devoting as much attention as possible to the non-Catholics; that on the Sunday preceding the disaster two mess halls were needed to take care of the overflow crowd at General Services; that he spoke on the parable of the Pharisee and publican, likening them to two sailors appearing before the Captain of the ship; that, while in the water he went about from group to group organizing prayer groups.

A Master at Arms by the name of Mulvey (William R.) became the Padre’s buddy… Mulvey tells me that Fr. Conway spent his leave flying to the homes of nine boys who had been killed by a suicide plane which struck the ship near Okinawa (that is the reason the ship was on its way from the States. It had been reconditioned and left the States on 16 July and was hit somewhere between Guam and Leyte on 30 July at 0010.)
Doctor Medescher, his name is not spelled right (Melvin W. Modisher, M.D.FACS), roomed next to Father Conway…The Doctor and Fr. Conway had a recording machine in common and a supply of classical records. The Doctor told me about the Padre organizing prayer groups in the water and that he, himself, had done the same. The Doctor claims that Fr. Conway did remarkably well in increasing the attendance at General Services. In fact, every one of the patients here has the highest praise for the Padre.

If I get any further information I’ll send it along. It is hard to tell when the government will release the news of the terrible disaster…”

In Harm’s Way (2001) – Doug Stanton, author:
“…Father Conway, meeting with a sailor in his makeshift confessional in the ship’s library, ordered the boy to write his mother. “ I got a letter from her, and she said you weren’t writing, “ he admonished. You’re gonna write her right now. We’ll mail it from Leyte…”
The boys usually confided in Father Conway. During the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, most of them had been scared out of their wits…As the kamikazes dove at the ships, the boys cried out from their battle stations for the kind priest…
Conway, in his early thirties, was relentless and fearless in his duty. Once, while saying Mass, battle stations had been called suddenly, and the astute Father shouted out, “Bless us all, boys! And give them hell!” the boys loved him for this. He was a priest, it was true, but he was a priest with grit…”
Dr. Haynes, Captain Parke, and father Conway found themselves in charge of the largest group of survivors, which consisted solely of boys in life vests and some inflatable life belts…
Conway and Haynes spent the bleak early morning hours swimming back and forth among these terrified crew members, sometimes dragging loners back to the growing mass…the priest also never stopped swimming among the boys, hearing their confessions and administering last rites.”

Fatal Voyage (1990) - Dan Kurzman, author:
“…Commander Lewis L. Haynes… But when Lieutenant T. M. Conway, the Catholic Chaplain aboard, asked him what he planned to do on his leave, the doctor dejectedly replied: I don’t know. I can’t afford to go to Connecticut to see my family or to have them come to Mare Island.” That night Father Conway visited Haynes’ quarters and dropped a wad of bills on the table. “Doc,” he said, “now you can go home.”
No, he couldn’t accept the money, Haynes protested. But the priest insisted. After all, weren’t they good friends? Lew even sang hymns at the Protestant services that Conway, the only chaplain aboard, conducted every Sunday…men like Father Conway, who considered the whole crew his flock…”

Ordeal by Sea (1963) - Thomas Helms, author:
“Doctors Haynes and Modisher were in the same general group, but they did not aware of one another’s presence for many hours. Father Thomas Michael Conway was there and so was Captain Edward L. Parke who had charge of the Marine detachment on board.”
“Father Thomas Michael Conway swam from group to group, never stopping to rest, praying with the men, encouraging those who were frightened, trying to reason with the maddened. His faith and his prayers gave solace to many.”
Father Conway, like Ensign Park, Seaman Rich and many others, burned himself out keeping up a constant patrol among the men, ministering to the dying, talking reason into others who had become momentarily deranged and calming the frightened with prayers until all at once he reached the limit of his endurance, and his life drained away. A sobbing seaman clutched the lifeless body to him, refusing to remove the (life) jacket and commit his padre to the depths.
“He’s dead because of us. He used up his life helping us. He prayed for everybody-not for himself but for me and you and you,” he sobbed. “I don’t know how to, but I can’t let him go until he’s been prayed over… When the prayer was finished, the young sailor slowly and gently removed the jacket and committed Father Conway’s body to the depths”

Saturday Evening Post, August 6, 1955 - Lewis L. Haynes, Captain, Medical Corps, USN
[Fr. Conway’s final hour] “… All thoughts of rescue are gone, and our twisted reasoning has come to accept this as our life until the end is reached. A life with nothing but the sky, a shimmering horizon and endless wastes of water. Beyond this we dare not imagine.
But we have not lost everything. To the contrary, we have found one comfort - a strong belief to which we cling. God seems very close. Much of our feeling is strengthened by the chaplain, who moves from one group to another to pray with the men. The chaplain, a priest, is not a strong man physically, yet his courage and goodness seem to have no limit. I wonder about him, for the night is particularly difficult and most of us suffer from chills, fever and delirium.
The moon has been up for some time when I hear a cry for help. It is Mac, the sailor who has given so much to so many. When I swim to him, Mac is supporting the chaplain, who is delirious.
“Doctor - you’ll just have to relieve me for awhile!” Mac gasps. "I - I can’t hold him any longer!"
I take the chaplain from him; thrust my arm through the chaplain’s life jacket so that I may hold him securely through his wild thrashing. Then I look around for Mac, for I know he needs help. He is completely exhausted, his head forward, his nose in the water.
Mac! Mac! I call. There is no answer - and the last I see of Mac is his head sinking lower and lower as he drifts away in the moonlight.
The chaplain’s delirium mounts, his struggles almost too much for me. He cries a strange gibberish - some of the words are Latin - but in a little while he sinks into a coma. The only sound is the slap of water against us as I wait for the end. When it comes, the moon is high, golden overhead. I say a prayer and let him drift away, along the path to follow Mac….”

Fr. Conway awarded Purple Heart posthumously. Frank J. Centazzo, survivor writes, “I’m sure that Father Conway was recommended for a medal. In fact, if my memory serves me well, I believe Dr. Haynes (Lt.Cmdr.) was the one who put forth Father Conway’s name. However, more than half of the recommendations were set aside by the brass at Guam. I suspect that they didn’t want to bring too much attention to the disaster by awarding too many medals. I believe my name along with many others were also put forth for consideration but got lost in the shuffle. But the real loss was not awarding any medal to Chaplain Conway.

Fr. Thomas Conway VFW #5800
March 4, 1946 mustered (organized) in South Buffalo by returning WWII veterans.

May 27, 1952 post declared defunct; men get on with lives – many move out of city

Continued: Part III

Continued Part III

1954 Fr. Conway Park May - According to Tom and Jim Griffin, “Scummy” Basin was filled-in during the early 1950’s. Jim returned from Korean War and remembers playing ball on the field. The basin was a part of the canal, and an area utilized as a ‘turn-around’ for boats (ships?). It was also a dangerous area for children who frequently played in the vicinity of the basin. After a few children drowned in this area neighborhood residents wanted the basin filled-in. The neighborhood was successful and the filled-in basin area became known as Fr. Conway Playfield (14.5 acres). The park was officially named by the City Council on May 11th, but presently there is no plaque or memorial to commemorate the event.
Even after death Fr. Conway reaches out to victims and family survivors of those who drowned.

The newspaper account of the original dedication, which took place in 1954. The report stated, “The Ohio Basin yesterday was dedicated as the Father Conway Playfield in tribute to a Buffalo priest who gave his life as a Navy Chaplain in World War II. About 5,000 persons witnessed the ceremony…”We dedicate here this field to the activities of the youth today as a means to strengthen them in their battle against the subversive enemies of our times…The children who play here, we hope and pray, will be guided by the spirit of Father Tom Conway, a truly great priest, a true and honest sportsman, a brave and loyal soldier-sailor of God to the very end.”

1997-99 Attempt to move Delaware Park Zoo to Conway Park.
In the fall of 1997, the Buffalo (NY) Zoo announced plans to relocate from its 125 year-old home in beautiful Delaware Park, to a site in a mixed residential/industrial area along the Buffalo River. This announcement provoked a firestorm of opposition, beginning in the Parkside neighborhood, where the existing zoo was located, and in the Old First Ward, site of the proposed new zoo. The opposition eventually coalesced into two new organizations, Save the Old First Ward and the Committee to Keep the Zoo in Delaware Park. Leaders from Save the Old First Ward joined the Committee worked collaboratively with the Committee to Keep the Zoo in Delaware Park.
September 2, 1999, the Buffalo Zoological Society announced its abandonment of a plan to relocate the Zoo to a site on the Buffalo River. If the move had been successful, there was a chance the name of Fr. Conway’s Park would have been at risk.

Structure within Conway Park named “Old First District Park.” Foreboding potential for losing the association of Fr. Conway’s name to the park. Those who mostly remember Fr. Conway are senior citizens, not the youth.

2001July, Captain Charles Butler McVay III was exonerated

August 2, 2001. An anniversary memorial mass organized by Thomas Griffin.

Sunday edition of the Republican-American (Waterbury, CT). The front page story was titled “A Candidate for Fame.” Excerpt from the article…
“A native son whose final days were spent dispensing hope to sailors in the shark-infested waters after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945, has been nominated to the city’s Hall of Fame. There is a good chance the all-but-forgotten Lt. Thomas Michael Conway will gain long over-due recognition and make the city proud. A decision to add the Catholic priest’s name to the roster of 59 others will be made in March by the Hall of Fame Committee, which operates under the Silas Brown Library Board of Agents. Committee Chairmen Michael DeLeo said he nominated Conway after reading about him in The Sunday Republican. Although much work remains to be done to more fully document Conway’s life, DeLeo said Conway seems to fit the criteria for inclusion into the Hall of Fame. ‘Its that whole thing above and beyond,’ DeLeo said. “The thing that strikes me is that his deeds could inspire future generations, which is what the Hall of Fame is all about. He is a candidate for sure.’ ”
Contact information for Mike DeLeo at the Bronson Memorial Library is 203-574 8234 and e mail is

2001 September 23, 2001 Fr. Conway memorial mass and Fr. Conway Park rededication ceremony scheduled

Excerpts from letter, Thomas Meade Conway (August 2001)

I am Thomas Meade Conway, the oldest son of William J. Conway, Father Conway’s younger brother. I’m nineteen years older than my youngest brother Mike that you talked to and I heard a bit more about my Uncle Tom, for whom I was named. I was born in May 1944, so I never got to know my Uncle Tom, but I know my father loved him very much.
My mother told me that the only time she saw Dad cry was when his brother Tom died. Tom did a lot for his little brother Bill. He was a great older brother and put Bill through college. Tom spent some time with my parents in Glendale, CA. I remember my mother telling me about the time she called Tom and told him she had an important urgent issue that she needed to talk to him about. Tom rushed right over and about collapsed in laughter when she told him she wanted his opinion on what kind of camera to buy for Bill. Tom was sure it had to be a marital problem that was so urgent.
Tom had a great sense of humor as well as being a good caring person. I’m very proud of my Uncle Tom and his life. Like my brothers and sister, I feel no need to pursue any posthumous recognition for Tom. He had a very good productive life and touched many people who think very highly of him.

Excerpts from email from Diane Ryan (October 2001)

Hello, Bill!
Yes, my mother-in-law reminded me that Wm Pape was also a relative of Father Conway, so I called Brigitte to let her know. I received a call today from state representative Andrew Rorabeck’s office letting me know that Congresswoman Nancy Johnson is supporting the idea of awarding a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Father Conway’s mother, Margaret, is buried in Old St Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterbury, CT. My mother-in-law knows where. I believe she died suddenly around 1934. Up until that time my mother-in-law was supposed to come here to live from Ireland.
My mother-in-law has the phone numbers of other relatives in the midwest. Also there is another cousin, a retired professor, named Howard Clarke who lives in Santa Barbara, CA and writes to my mother-in-law at Christmastime.
My mother-in-law’s phone number is 203-756-9317. At onetime she also had a recording from Fr. Conway which she had inherited from her Aunt Nellie; but unfortunately it was badly damaged and therefore she discarded it. The “family tree” Mary Cullen has no dates pertaining to the Conways and is inaccurate.
Best Wishes,
Diane Ryan

Excerpts from email between Bill Pape’s and Brigitte Ruthmam (October 2001)

Bill, this note comes from THE PUBLISHER of this newspaper no less. Can you believe this- he’s actually related to Father Conway!


----- Original Message -----
From: “W. J. Pape”
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2001 11:34 AM
Subject: (no subject)father tom conway

Dear Brigitte:
I called Margaret Ryan. Haven’t seen or talked to her
in ages. She confirmed that my mother’s mother was Briget Meade, sister to Margaret Meade, Father Tom’s mother. He used to stay with us when he visited Waterbury. Once while at Farmington Ave., he tried to teach me to make photographic prints. He stayed with us in Madison in the summer of either '44 or '45. We made a box kite 4 or 5 feet tall but could never get it to fly, not enough wind. Hope you are well. Keep in
touch. Bill Pape


2006 MAY Western New York Catholic

Memorial honors fallen priest who ministered at naval disaster

Bishop Edward U. Kmiec will dedicate the Father Thomas Conway Memorial at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park on Saturday, May 20, at 1 p.m. Guest speaker at the dedica-tion will be Rear Admiral Louis V. Iasiello, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy, chief of chaplains. Admiral Iasiello is familiar with the Western New York area, having taught at Bishop Timon High School for many years before joining the Navy as a chaplain.Father Conway, a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo, was a chaplain on board the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) that was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on July 30, 1945. In the worst naval disaster in U.S. history, 883 men went down with the ship and another 316 sailors perished in the shark-infested waters of the Philip-pine Sea.Before drowning, Father Conway ministered to many of the survivors of the Indianapolis. Frank J. Centazzo, an Indy sur-vivor, wrote, “Father Conway was in every way a messenger of our Lord. He loved his work, no matter what the challenge. He was respected and loved by all his shipmates. I was in the group with Father Conway. … I saw him go from one small group to another, getting the shipmates to join in prayer and asking them not to give up hope of being rescued. He kept working until he was exhausted. I remember on the third day late in the afternoon when he approached Paul McGiness and me. Father Conway was successful in his mission to provide spiritual strength to all of us. He made us believe that we would be rescued. He gave us hope and the will to endure. His work was exhausting and he fi nally succumbed in the evening of the third day. He will be remem-bered by all of the survivors for all of his work while on board the Indy and especially three days in the ocean.” “If it wasn’t for Father Conway, many more sailors would have died,” said former Erie County Sheriff Thomas Higgins, general chairman of the memorial committee. “Father Conway swam among the survivors of the Indianapolis, encouraging them, praying with them, and probably hear-ing some of their confessions.”Born in Waterbury, Conn., Father Conway came to Western New York in the late 1920s and received an under-graduate degree from Niagara Univer-sity. He remained at Niagara to attend Our Lady of the Angels Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1934. Prior to joining the Navy during World War II, Father Conway served at a number of parishes in Buffalo, including St. Rose of Lima, All Saints, St. Teresa, St. Nicholas and St. Brigid. The effort to have a memorial in Father Conway’s memory was spear-headed by Father Michael Zuffoletto, a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo currently on assignment in London, England, as a U.S. Navy chaplain. He fi rst learned of Father Conway’s heroic service while reading the necrology for the diocese in 2002. “He saved countless lives at the sacrifi ce of his own. That needs to be recognized,” said Father Zuffoletto. “In times of turmoil and uncertainty, people who serve in the military look to their chaplains for support, guid-ance, spirit and strength. Here was an individual who proved that, even to the point of self-sacrifi ce.”Brian Porter created the bust of Father Conway clutching a fi stful of dog tags in his left hand and fl otation vests in his right hand. Father Conway re-moved the sailors’ dog tags as they died. “When they see it, I hope people will get the story of Father Conway and his connection to Buffalo,” Porter said. “There is an emphatic connection as humans that this is what Father Conway and the other men went through in the water with the sharks. And there is the spiritual connection of Father Conway to these men. Not only did he provide physical comfort, but gave comfort to their souls as well.”Veterans and members of the com-munity are invited to the dedication.The Naval and Military Park is located at the foot of Pearl and Main streets, across from HSBC Arena in downtown Buffalo.

Continued Part IV

Tribute paid to Navy chaplain killed in WWII
News Staff Reporter

Thomas M. Conway was a priest in the Buffalo area in the early 1940s, and wherever he served, parishioners remembered seeing a boat parked near the rectory.

It was Conway’s love of sailing that apparently prompted him to enlist in the Navy shortly after the start of World War II. Conway later became the last Navy chaplain killed in the war,and his story and his heroism were given long overdue tribute Saturday, when a bust in his memory was dedicated at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.

Lt. Thomas M. Conway died after three days of ministering to survivors floating in the Philippine Sea after a Japanese submarine attack on the USS Indianapolis in the last month of the war.

“He used up his life for us,” one of only 316 survivors later said. The Navy records the sinking as one its worst single at-sea losses, with 883 dead.

But not many people know of his story. The Rev. Michael Zuffoletto, a priest in the Buffalo Diocese now serving in England as a U.S. Navy chaplain, acknowledged in his remarks to about 100 people gathered for the dedication Saturday his own sense of frustration at not knowing about Conway.

"I said, "Who was this person?’ " Zuffoletto said. "I’d never heard who he was."
While Zuffoletto hadn’t heard of Conway, the chief historian of naval chaplains had, and the story he told Zuffoletto prompted Zuffoletto to pursue the memorial dedicated Saturday.

Conway came to Western New York from Connecticut to study at Niagara University and, after graduation, became a parish priest who served in a number of Buffalo parishes. One of his altar boys was former Mayor James Griffin, who attended the ceremony.

After enlisting in the Navy, Conway was assigned to the USS Indianapolis, and he proved popular with believers of all faiths, according to letters from crewmen.

The priest survived the initial submarine attack, when two torpedoes sank the 610-foot-long heavy cruiser in 12 minutes, pitching some 900 survivors into the sea. It was July 30, 1945 - only 16 days before Japan surrendered.

For four days, the survivors - many of them wounded, most wearing only life jackets - floated in the sea.

Survivors recalled that Conway, who was uninjured in the initial sinking, gathered together pockets of survivors, swimming among them to offer encouragement and soothe the frightened. But after three days, Conway himself grew weak and died.

Two sailors, who later acknowledged that neither was particularly religious, offered prayers over his body before removing his life jacket and allowing him to sink under the water.

A day later, search parties found those still living, many of whom credited Conway for helping them survive.

“All these great things that he’d done, he’d not been recognized for,” said Zuffoletto, who helped organize a fund-raising effort that produced $18,500, including a $10,000 donation from the Knights of Columbus.

The bust, by Buffalo-born artist Brian Porter, shows a handsome young man grasping dog tags in one hand, a life jacket slung over his shoulder. Placed on a granite stand, Conway’s bust will join the other tributes to fallen servicemen at the park.


Niagara University Legacy-Alumni of Distinction / 2007 Inaugural Class

Rev. Lt. Thomas Conway, '30, '34 SOLA

For three days before exhaustion resulted in his own drowning, Navy chaplain Rev. Lt. Thomas M. Conway swam among the survivors of the torpedoed USS Indianapolis praying with them, hearing their confessions, and administering the last rites. Those eventually rescued credited him with providing the spiritual strength and hope that allowed them to survive. Ordained a priest on May 26, 1934, Father Conway served in five Buffalo parishes before enlisting in the Navy in 1942. He served on the USS Medusa for several months before being assigned to the ill-fated USS Indianapolis on Aug. 25, 1944. A memorial to Father Conway stands in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park.

May He Rest in Peace

Bill Milhomme

That’s practically the only scene I like in that movie!


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit