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Father Thomas Michael Conway: Last US Chaplain to Die in World War II

Father Thomas Michael Conway

 (Much of the information contained in this post was taken from a post on Father Conway written by Bill Millhome.  Go here to read his post.)

Early this year the Navy rejected efforts to have Father Thomas Michael Conway awarded the Navy Cross.  I would be angrier at this injustice if I was not certain that the Chaplain had not been awarded the ultimate blessing of sainthood and the Beatific Vision immediately after his heroic death in shark infested waters at the tail end of World War II.

Born on April 5, 1908 in Waterbury, Connecticut, he was the oldest of three children of his Irish immigrant parents.  Ordained a priest in 1934 he served as a priest in various parishes in Buffalo, New York.  His main leisure activities was sailing a boat on Lake Erie.  On September 17, 1942 he enlisted in the Navy and was commissioned as a chaplain.

On August 25, 1944 he was assigned to the cruiser USS Indianapolis as a chaplain.

July 29, 1945 was a Sunday, and the Chaplain had said Mass for the Catholic sailors, and conducted a service for the Protestant sailors.  Fourteen minutes past midnight two torpedoes fired by the Japanese sub I-58 ripped into the starboard bow of the Indianapolis.  The ship sank in twelve minutes, taking 300 men to the bottom with it.  Nine hundred sailors, including the chaplain, were adrift in the pitch black shark infested waters.

Frank J. Centazzo, one of the 317 survivors of this ordeal, recalled what the Chaplain did, as he swam from group to group, tending the wounded, leading the men in prayer and giving the  Last Rites to sailors beyond all human aid:

“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 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.” Continue Reading