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Société des Missions Africaines - Province d’Irlande

J Conway Michael né le 8 février 1918 à Kilsallagh
dans l’archidiocèse de Tuam, Irlande
membre de la SMA le 30 juin 1940
prêtre le 19 décembre 1943
décédé le 23 février 1997

1945-1949 vicariat d’Ondo-Ilorin, Nigeria

1950-1988 diocèse de Ondo, Nigeria
1988-1997 Comté Mayo, retiré

décédé à Cork, Irlande, le 23 février 1997
à l’âge de 79 ans


Father Michael John CONWAY (1918 1997)

Michael Conway was born at Kilsallagh, Westport, Co Mayo, in the archdiocese of Tuam, on 8 February 1918. He died in the Bon Secours hospital, Cork, on Sunday, 23 February 1997.

Michael (Thady) was born into a family of five girls and three boys. He completed his primary education in Lecanvey, Westport, in 1931. His decision to join the Society of African Missions was greatly influenced by Sister Theresa from Lecanvey who gave him information on the Society and its missions. His first formal contact came in 1933 when he was interviewed by Fr. Martin Kenny S.M.A., a native of Ballyhaunis, for admission to the Society's apostolic school at Ballinafad (the Sacred Heart college), Co Mayo. Two years later Thady later went to St. Joseph's college, Wilton, Cork, to complete his secondary education. He matriculated in 1938 and then commenced his novitiate and philosophical studies in the Society's college at Kilcolgan, Co Galway. He was received as a member of the Society on 30 June 1940 and in the following September began his theological studies in the Society's major seminary, at Dromantine, near Newry, Co Down. Thady was ordained a priest on 19 December 1943, at St. Colman's cathedral, Newry. He was one of a group of twelve ordained on that day. The ordaining prelate was Bishop Daniel Mageean, of Down and Connor diocese. Thady's first Mass was celebrated in Lecanvey parish church where he was assisted by Fr. J.J. Diskin C.C.

After ordination Thady returned to Dromantine to complete his theological formation. Then, in September 1944, he was appointed to the vicariate of Ondo-Ilorin, in south western Nigeria. However, because of the difficulty in securing a sea passage at the height of the second world war, it was February 1945 before he was able to reach his mission. He travelled out with the Provincial superior, Stephen Harrington. The vicariate of Ondo-Ilorin had been erected in January 1943 when territory from the vicariates of the Bight of Benin and Western Nigeria was detached. In April 1950 the Ondo-Ilorin jurisdiction was erected as the diocese of Ondo. The founding bishop was Thomas P. Hughes, and an extract from his second annual report to the Prefect of Propaganda in Rome, written on 15t December 1945, gives a flavour of the conditions in the region. He wrote: '...The demand for education has never been so keen with the result that we have been kept busy in providing new schools and in enlarging existing schools.. We have succeeded in building the greater part of our Elementary Training Centre and the first class for training was taken in at the beginning of this year...The country is prosperous, good prices are being obtained by the farmers for their exportable surplus of oils etc and for crops produced for export, and this happy condition is reflected in the readiness to pay for education and to give increased financial support for the missions. As a result of the big plans for development being undertaken by the Government it is likely that this prosperity will continue for many years'.

Thady was to work in Ondo jurisdiction until his retirement in June 1988, a total of forty-three years of unbroken service. He served first under Bishop Hughes, then under Bishop William Field who succeeded Dr. Hughes in 1958, and finally, from 1976, under the Right Rev. Francis Florounso Alonge, first indigenous Bishop of Ondo. Thady did some eighteen tours of duty in all. Thady's first tour of duty in Nigeria lasted until the summer of 1949. During this period he served first in Oka, where he was introduced to the missionary life and learned to hear confessions in the local language. Next, in July 1946, he was posted to Ondo town, where he remained until December 1946 when he was appointed superior of Effon-Alaye mission. Finally he served in Ado-Ekiti between July 1947 and his departure for Ireland in March 1949. It was in Ado-Ekiti, where Joe Carew was superior and the other priests included Anthony Oguntuyi (one of the then handful of Nigerian priests) Thady's skills as a builder were first recognised. Subsequently, during his long missionary career, he was to become one of the Society's leading builders, putting up numerous fine schools, colleges, churches, hospitals, clinics and convents. He was usually the architect, engineer and contractor and his many fine buildings are admired to this day. In this connection there can be no doubt that Thady learned much from his father who was a builder. But Thady's reputation extended far beyond his practical and technical skills. He was known everywhere as a caring and devoted pastor with a keen interest in catechetical work and the training of catechists. He was particularly interested in priestly vocations and it is known that he gave financial help (privately) to several in the minor seminary at Akure.

Among Thady's many achievements in the service of the Gospel was the development of the Marian Shrine of Oke Maria (a Yoruba phrase meaning 'Mary's Hill'). In 1972 Thady was in charge of St. Patrick's parish, Oke-Oka. Aware that there was a long-standing devotion to Our Lady in the parish, associated with a nearby hill, Thady encouraged the local community to begin work on the erection of an elaborate and permanent shrine. Having grown up under the shade of Croagh Patrick and near to Knock, he knew the importance of places of pilgrimage to Catholics. Under his supervision, steps were painstakingly cut in the hill and these, with the new pathways and sanctuary area, had to be well engineered so as to withstand the heavy tropical storms and flooding during the annually rainy season. The beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was donated by the family of Dr. Alberto Olivoni, who has since become a member of the S.M.A. Oke Maria received a special papal document from Rome, recognising it as a place of pilgrimage where special indulgences could be obtained. The formal blessing of the shrine was performed by Bishop Field on 8 December 1973 and the first Ondo Diocesan Pilgrimage took place on 24 March 1974. Since that time Oke Maria has become one of the major centres of pilgrimage for Christians in Nigeria.

Thady was to serve in all the principal stations of the jurisdiction, in Akure (the diocesan headquarters), Ado-Ekiti (now the headquarters of a separate diocese), Ikere, Ilawe-Ekiti, Igborodo-Ekiti, and in his last years in Owo. For his years of retirement he returned to his roots, to Kilsallagh, over-looking the magnificent Clew Bay and in the shelter of Croagh Patrick, the reek which he had so often climbed barefooted on pilgrimage. During these years he frequently helped out in the local parish and he kept an open house for his S.M.A. confrères. Serious ill-health manifested itself in 1995 and Thady came to Cork, to the Bon Secours hospital for treatment on a regular basis. He was admitted to the hospital for the last time on 17 February 1997 and died peacefully six days later. Michael bore his long illness with remarkable faith and bravery. Even though he was sometimes in pain he remained cheerful and always light-hearted and in good humour.

His funeral Mass, held in Kilsallagh church, was attended by a large congregation of family, confrères and friends, as well as many priests from Tuam archdiocese including their leader, Archbishop Michael Neary.

He is buried in Murrish Abbey cemetery, Co Mayo.