The collections of photos kept into the Archives ot the Religious Hospitallers of Saint-Basile contain more than twenty photos of their former student William J. Conway. Some have been chosen to illustrate the life of this exceptionnal man who left his mark as parish priest of the Immaculate Conception in Edmundston. He was also known as a great builder and pastor, well aware of the material and spiritual needs of his parishoners and the people of the Madawaska region.
William John Conway, son of John Conway, was born in St. John, New Brunswick on January 4, 1876. After the death of his mother Hannah Muldoon in 1887, he was placed at the orphanage of Hôtel-Dieu in Saint-Basile along with his brothers and sisters. At the age of 13, he was admitted in Saint Mary’s College in Van Buren, Maine, where French and English language were included in the curriculum. Having completed the six first years of the classical studies in 1895, he was admitted in the Seminary of Chicoutimi, where he taught English while completeing his two years of studies in philosophy.
William aged 11. With his brothers and Father L.-N. Dugal. William aged 14 or 15.
In 1898, William made an important decision: he would become a secular priest. He entered the Major Seminary in Québec. As he used to, he continued spending his summer vacations at Hôtel-Dieu in Saint-Basile, where he joined his benefactors Mother Maillet and Father Louis-Napoléon Dugal. William was ordained a priest on May 12, 1901 in the Basilica of Québec. Afterwards, he stayed three more years at the Quebec Major Seminary, where he taught English as well as being master of the class of Rhetoric. In 1903, he became vicar of the Cathedral in Chatham. He remained there five years.
As seminarian in 1898. Ordination photo in 1901.
Parish Priest and Builder
In 1908, Father William Conway returned to Madawaska, as administrator of the Immaculate Conception parish in Edmundston. He became parish priest in 1911. He was a good pastor, and in 1917, he founded the mission of Saint-Joseph of Madawaska and had a church and presbytery built there. His talent as builder is proverbial. With the help of his parishoners in Edmundston, the construction of an imposing church made of fieldstone began in 1924; the presbytery also made of stone was built in 1934. Education of young people being one of his priorities, the dynamic parish priest had the Academy built in 1928. It was named after him and the Daughters of Wisdom took over the administration of the new Conway Academy. In 1932, Father Conway attended the International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland, country of his ancestors. The group of travelers he was with made visits in France and Italy. An audience with Pope Pius XI in Rome was the highlight of the trip.
Father William Conway in 1930 and 1940.
Msgr. Conway and Cardinal Villeneuve, 1941. Marian Congress in Saint-Basile, 1951.
Administrator and Pastor
In 1941, the interior ot the magnificient church of the Immaculate Conception, that became the Cathedral, was finished and Cardinal Villeneuve from Québec was invited for the solemn blessing. In 1943, Father Conway had the honor of becoming a Domestic Prelate and took the title of Monsignor that goes with it. Bishop Marie-Antoine Roy, first bishop of Edmundston, chose him as Vicar General in 1945. A few years later when the bishop died, Msgr. Conway became Capitular Vicar and Administrator to insure the interim at the head of the diocese. The next Bishop Roméo Gagnon chose him as Vicar General in 1949. In the beginning of the 1950s, Msgr. Conway saw to the construction of the Educationnal Center near the Cathedral and built the Mount Sainte-Marie orphanage and asked the Marist Sisters to take over the administration. In 1951, grandiose celebrations were organized for the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Msgr. Conway. In recognition for his works, Rome confered him the title of Apostolic Prothonotary, in 1955.
Apostolic Prothonotary, in 1955. Oil portrait by Claude Picard.
In 1958, the parish of the Immaculate Conception celebrated the 50th anniversary of Msgr. Conway’s arrival in Edmundston. Then, the venerable octogenarian retired at Mount Sainte-Marie, and died there on January 16, 1961. A first funeral celebration took place at the orphanage and then a more solemn one in the Cathedral. All the people who have known him and loved him recognize the value and virtues of this great man whose life was entirely given to God. He had an important influence on his milieu, in the religious area as well as in the cultural, social and economic fields.
Monument in memory of Msgr. Conway
The idea of rendering an hommage to Msgr. Conway by “erecting a bronze statue on the bank in front of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral” took form in the mind and heart of the journalist Rino Morin-Rossignol, who declares, more than fifty years after the death of the Father of the orphans ot Mount Sainte-Marie : “In the pleiad of colorful and visionary characters the Madawaska region has known, shines a figure, unique by his faith, his deep dedicadion and his deeds: Msgr. William John Conway.” (Free translation from the Dépliant de la Campagne de financement 2014-2015 pour le Monument Mgr Conway.)
A committee consisting of François Angers, Pierre Picard, Michel Gagnon, Maureen Rice and Don L. Martin believed that a monument in honor of Msgr. Conway was possible. The fundraiser was a success and a eigth feet statue will eventually be erected in front of the Cathedral.Translation, July 7, 2015