This is the sixth in a series of profiles about friars commemorating major anniversaries of profession this year. A profile of Francis Kim, OFM, was published on June 11.
BOSTON — Thomas Conway, OFM, describes his many assignments over the past 25 years as a “potpourri.” They include teaching, administration, formation, and serving in campus ministry, as spiritual assistant and as a parish priest.
As this Long Island, N.Y., native marks his silver jubilee, he looks back on a varied religious life launched after finding his work in the public sector unfulfilling.
Tom grew up in Upstate New York and worked as an auditor for New York State for six years before considering a vocation to religious life. He is currently executive director of St. Anthony Shrine, the Province’s busy urban ministry center in downtown Boston.
“The state job was neat,” Tom said, “because it gave me insight into what the government does,” alluding to his work with prisons, bridges and other state projects. “It was a different type of job to be an auditor at a maximum security prison,” said Tom, who as a certified public accountant and certified internal auditor, never lacked for work.
But at 27, this Siena College graduate yearned for more and volunteered at St. Francis Inn, the Province’s ministry to the poor in Philadelphia. “Everyone thought I was crazy,” he said with a smile, “to take a week of vacation and live in the worst part of Philly doing volunteer work.”
It wasn’t crazy, though, that Tom liked the experience and was encouraged by Ronald Pecci, OFM, to pursue life as a Franciscan. Since both Tom and his father, Frank, had attended Siena, Tom was familiar with the friars, and decided to try religious life by spending a weekend at the Province’s friary in the Bronx, N.Y.
A Career Change
“I had a ball, and at the end of the weekend I wanted to begin the application process,” Tom said. He was received into the Order in 1988 at St. Francis Friary, Brookline, Mass., and professed first vows there one year later. He earned a master’s in theological studies in 1991 from Washington Theological Union and made his solemn profession as a Franciscan brother in 1993.
While still in temporary vows, Tom was assigned to Siena College, Loudonville, N.Y., in 1991, where he served in campus ministry and was an adjunct professor of accounting. In 1993, he returned to the Washington area to study for a doctorate in accounting from the University of Maryland, a degree that he hoped would qualify him to teach on the college level.
“That’s the great thing about Holy Name Province,” he said, “It is open to all kinds of studies, even accounting. It’s a great blessing that you can study what you want and what you are good at.”
After receiving his doctorate, Tom returned to Siena College in 1998 as an assistant professor of accounting and business law. From 2001 to 2002, he served as the interim dean of Siena’s school of business. He also served as vicar of the friar community.
During the 2002-2003 school year, Tom began to feel the call to ordained ministry as a friar. The following summer, Tom assisted at St. Francis Parish on Long Beach Island, N.J., a community that sees a large influx of summer parishioners. He then spent two years studying for a master of divinity degree at Washington Theological Union and was ordained in 2005 at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md.
Following his ordination, Tom returned to the Jersey Shore parish to serve as parochial vicar. While there, he was elected to the Provincial Council for the first time in 2008. He also became the spiritual assistant to the Secular Franciscan fraternity on Long Beach Island.
While at St. Francis Parish, Tom ministered to the newly retired people who moved to the beach, making them feel welcome all year long, especially when the crowds dwindled and Brant Beach and the neighboring towns became quiet.
In 2011, he returned to Holy Name College as formation director. “It was my fourth time at Silver Spring. It has been a fun ride. I have done a lot of things. If they (the Province leaders) ask me to do something, I always say, ‘I want to try that.’ ”
Directing an Urban Ministry
Change is not a scary word for Tom, who said that variety fits nicely with the Franciscan way of life.
In September 2013, he was assigned to St. Anthony Shrine, where as executive director he oversees the large ministry of 30 friars and 40 employees, and normally celebrates the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass.
Tom chairs the HNP Finance Directorate, and enjoys serving on the boards of St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y.; Mt. Irenaeus in West Clarksville, N.Y.; and St. Francis House, a ministry for the homeless in Boston. “These leadership roles on boards are fun, different and challenging.”
In his spare time, Tom enjoys hiking in the woods and bird watching. “The most relaxing thing is to go birding. It always calms me down. I’m no expert on birds, but it’s completely relaxing.” He has been lucky enough to see an elegant trogon, a rare bird of only 50 pairs in the United States.
Tom also likes to travel. “If someone asked me to go to Timbuktu, I’d go.” As a kid, Tom’s father worked for the state, and because he was transferred often, Tom is used to moving.
His love of travel is helpful since he has family in Alaska, Florida, Washington and California. He sees his 96-year-old mother in Philadelphia every three weeks or so, and looks after her. He said she is a very big part of his life and is his heroine, especially after watching her selflessly care for his father, who suffered a debilitating stroke in his 60s.
“That event was a very big thing in my life and it shaped me.” Tom was only 15 when his dad fell ill, and a lot of the family’s focus was on caring for him. “I learned about being handicapped, about suffering, and about the sacrifices my mother made to care for him, all in a very positive way.”
Tom admits to being a workaholic, but jokes that this energetic style is characteristic of his profession class. “All four of us are real workers,” he said, referring to Francis Kim, OFM, Patrick Tuttle, OFM, and Jud Weiksnar, OFM. Despite his busy schedule, he finds time for his secret vice — football.
He is happy to be part of Holy Name Province, and said one of the best aspects is the administration’s openness to friars engaging in new ministry. “They said, ‘yes,’ to my getting an advanced accounting degree. Their openness to new things and new ways of doing things is what I appreciate most.”
— Wendy Healy is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to HNP Today. Jubilarians who will be featured in upcoming installments of this series are Patrick Tuttle, OFM, and Jud Weiksnar, OFM.